The Colombia Herald will remain on hiatus

Due to several commitments at my job and new assignments as part of the brand new equinoXio english edition, I’m afraid this blog will continue on hiatus by now. Next week I’ll return to Global Voices, with a post on the reactions after 4 February’s march against FARC. Thank you.

The biggest hail storm ever recorded in Bogotá

Trying to rescue people trapped in cars

Photo by edahurtado/Flickr

Hail in Bogotá
Photo by lilianazombie/Flickr

On Saturday, a lot of rain and hail fell all over Bogotá, Colombia’s capital city. According to IDEAM, Colombia’s meteorological institute, the blame goes to La Niña, which will cause even more rain until January 2008. Most of the city became white around 3 p.m. Downtown, the water level, which reached 1.5 metres, trapped 20 cars; 100 people had to be rescued.

The first day of Rock al Parque festival, which began yesterday, had to be cancelled due to the heavy rain. There were no casualties, but some people were treated of hypothermia, since almost no one was wearing warm clothes, despite the fact that the rainy season started a month ago. Others where wounded by the ice balls. On Sunday, rescue and firemen teams were still taking ice out from building basements.
Rock al parque festival

Photo by asdrubalcolombia/Flickr

Despite its tropical location, there are hailstorms somewhat often in Bogotá. Nevertheless, yesterday’s was the hugest I’ve ever seen… on TV. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I was at home, northwest Bogotá, and though there was a heavy rain, we didn’t have more hail than usual here… which was one of the few parts of the city which didn’t turn white.

There are a lot of pictures of this event, from Italian newspaper La Repubblica to a lot of “Flickrs” and YouTubers. Some bloggers, like Gabriel Muelle, have referred to this event, maybe thinking this was the so-called “hecatomb” (translated as ‘catastrophe’ in some media outlets but with several puns possible in Spanish language) which would make president Álvaro Uribe seek a third term in office. Is this a “punishment from the Gods”?

In Colombia, even dogs are kidnapped (and freed) [video]

Colombia is the world’s kidnapping capital. Right now, more than 3,000 remain in captivity, most of them by FARC guerrillas. The so-called “humanitarian swap”, which is being pushed by senator Piedad Córdoba (Colombian Liberal Party) with Hugo Chávez, would only free around 50 people, including former presidential candidate and French citizen Íngrid Betancourt and three American hostages.

Meanwhile, kidnapping, while rejected for most Colombians as a huge demonstration in July (after the murder of 11 local lawmakers) shows, has reached another “creative” possibilities. On Friday, Colombian police found Aldo de Fescol, a dog who was kidnapped one month earlier, owned by an old, rich lady whose name was not disclosed. According to Reuters:

A kidnapped Colombian dog held for $350,000 (170,600 pound) ransom was recovered on Friday after his abductors dropped him off at a veterinarian’s office, saying he needed a bath.

When no one came to pick up the German shepherd after it was washed, the office called police who said they identified the canine as Aldo de Fescol, snatched last month from his home in a rich Bogota neighbourhood while his owners were away.

No ransom was paid, police said.

Aldo was in healthy condition but two of his kidnappers were wounded in a Tuesday shootout with police who ambushed them at a fake meeting staged to pay the extortion money.

False quake alarm in Bogotá [video]

Ignorance. That’s the word which would summarize what happened on Tuesday 28 August in Bogotá. After Peru’s earthquake, and as every time a quake happens near Colombia, Bogotans remember, again, they should be prepared for this kind of disasters, but they (we) don’t. Around noon, someone who had nothing best to do, called several companies and government offices, pretending to be an engineer of Ingeominas (Colombia’s geological institute), and told them that an earthquake was going to take place in the city around 5 PM. The emergency hotlines, as well as the National Seismologic Network phone lines, collapsed. The rumour had been around since several days ago.

Even though most people with some education -or with some kind of common sense- know that earthquakes can’t be predicted (so far, of course), some buildings, specially downtown, started to be evacuated, and panic started. As you can see in the video, a surveillance worker for a military hospital told Caracol TV: “the order was to evacuate the [normal] people, not the patients”.

Nevertheless, the fear a big earthquake will strike Bogotá someday is by no means groundless. As Víctor Solano reminds us:

All the city of Bogotá is located in an intermediate seismic threat area. (…) the impact of an earthquake in Bogotá would be huge because the norms for an earthquake resistant architecture were adopted too late and that’s why 80 per cent of the buildings could collapse loudly.

Solano also criticized the media coverage and asked them to be more “responsible”. For example, some media outlets, like El Tiempo or Caracol Radio, claimed the National University of Colombia campus was evacuated, which wasn’t true (later they corrected the wrong information they provided).

The worst thing is that for almost two centuries a “prophecy” by father Francisco Margallo y Duquesne rings the ears of a lot of Bogotans every August: “The 31 August a year I won’t tell / successive earthquakes will destroy Santafé” (Bogotá’s colonial name, which was taken up again on 1991-2000). Although in 1917 (when several earthquakes actually struck the then big town) and 1973 the Margallo prophecy was about to be fulfilled, the last time Bogotá has been hit by a high magnitude earthquake was February 1967. On May there was an earthquake which left no victims (it was a Saturday around midnight, so I didn’t feel it). Maybe some people let themselves sway because of the date. In a Catholic country, is not strange to find some devote souls asking to go back into praying, as if a natural disaster was a punishment from God. The fans of the “triangle of lifehoax also show up on the forums. Of course, not everyone is so ignorant.

Bogotá’s mayor office has been working for years in a campaign in order to teach Bogotans what to do and how to prevent these events. Though the campaign has been praised, it seems that, if you see what happened on Tuesday, most people don’t take heed of it. As Hodracirk says, “it was a flashmob known only by one person” (the pranker, of course). It seems that, on one side, that campaign and everything we can do in order to learn how to prevent these disasters need to be spread. On the other, that we must be responsible and not to believe everything we find or read on the net. Ignorance is not just “daring”, as we use to say here, it may also be dangerous.

Taxi drivers block Bogotá streets in protest [video]

Last Friday (27 July), Bogotá woke up with its main avenues blocked. The powerful taxi drivers’ group did it in protest because 8 of them have been murdered this year, the latest one, Mario Orlando Velásquez, 39, on Thursday night. The above 17-minutes Caracol TV report, broadcast at Friday noon (and co-presented by lovely Silvia Corzo), summarizes the chaos and everything most Bogotans had to go through in order to arrive to their workplaces or their schools or colleges.

It was too late when Bogotá mayor, leftist Luis Eduardo Garzón, himself elected mostly because of the votes of groups as the taxi and bus drivers’, ordered police to dissolve the protest and unblock the streets by force, after the local government and the taxi drivers’ representatives concerted a meeting for talks toward the resolution of their concerns around 10:00. The following video, posted by a left-wing group magazine, shows the police abuses in some points of the city. One taxi driver says they’re fighting for their own lives:

Since the Transmilenio system was blocked (their drivers were caught playing parqués), and some bus drivers joined the protest, people had to walk, ride a bicycle or trucks (even TV crew vans) in order to get to their destinations. Despite most people agree the drivers’ reasons to protest are fair and right, a lot of them don’t endorse the way they chose. The latest location unblocked was Quirigua, a neighbourhood northwest of the city, where the traffic started to flow again after 12:30.

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Colombian senators scorn victims of guerrilla and paramilitary violence [video]

The above Caracol TV news report compares the way Colombian Senate treated pro-Cuban ELN leader Francisco Galán and paramilitary leaders Salvatore Mancuso, Ramón Isaza, and Iván Duque alias Ernesto Báez three years ago, with its scorn and indifference towards 30 victims of the violence by these groups, FARC, and some members of the Colombian Army this week. While Galán and the Mancuso boys were listened and applauded, the relatives of the dead Colombian common people puts to this “40-year low intensity war” weren’t even heard by almost 80 of the 91 Senators (from 102). Most of them were from pro-Uribe parties, even though some of the victims have suffered from attacks, massacres, death threats and murders perpetrated by FARC or ELN guerrillas (Uribe’s enemy number 1), such as El Nogal car-bomb in 2003, or the violence from the drug-dealing cartels, as former police officer Ricardo Gómez. Victims from Machuca and Bojayá massacres, relatives of FARC hostages and people murdered by paramilitaries because they belonged to the Patriotic Union party in the 1980s narrated their tragedy, but around 24 July at 20:00 only 35 of the 91 Senators who signed the attendance list were listening their testimonies. Continue reading

Colombians protest against kidnappings

After the murder of 11 deputies by FARC guerrillas, Colombians decided to go to the streets and yell “No More Kidnappings“. It started as a citizen initiative, but soon the democratic security government, big companies and mainstream media supported it and invited people to join. The huge demonstration took place on Thursday 5 July at noon. Even Second Lifers protested. But leftist Alternative Democratic Pole preferred to convoke its “own march”, because it didn’t want to be supportive of president Uribe, who is also considered [by them] responsible for the death of the local lawmakers.

equinoXio had a big special with some pictures from its “correspondents” in 5 cities (Bogotá, Medellín [twice], Cali, Manizales, and Pasto). Padrino José, writing from Cali, recalls his experience:

They marched today, I was there, but what I felt was the loneliness of the deputies’ families, amidst callings from political caudillos taking advantages from banners, flags and puppets calling for rejection [of kidnappings], I saw the pre-candidates for next elections fishing in Cali river’s troubled waters. But the saddest thing and that what I didn’t want to listen was the way deputy [Carlos] Charry’s daughter [Carolina] was treated while she read a grateful letter in behalf of the families and who was booed by the crowd as she said:

“… Our deads belong to us. Thank you for mobilizing to reject the government’s policies…”

And it’s them, the relatives, who in a unobjectionable mix of pain and loneliness sheltered by a blanket have in my opinion the best version of what happened: unfulfilled promises, cancelled appointments, begs everywhere in a 5-year restless search for their release and nothing could achieve it, the will of the parts in order to help in the right moment was an already earned right and they couldn’t get it, and to their surprise, now, when they clamour for their deads the voices of pain seem to be selfish and strategic and they will surely hold up the path to reach an ending.

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