Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Putting Colombia right, the 'Wrong Way'

As has been well documented, the ‘Wrong Way’ crew is a modest bunch. Sometimes though we have to go against our natural instincts and give ourselves a modicum of praise (it’s unlikely anyone else will). So as we prepare to depart Bogotá for what at this remove is an unspecified period of time, we’re going to take a look at some of, ahem, our ‘achievements'* in the region over the last 20-plus months.
Sunset in Bogotá
The sun is setting on this latest (but perhaps not last) stint in Bogotá

Peace talks
Considering the bridges we built during our time living in ‘divided’ Belfast (a nice little chat with the Reverend Ian Paisley outside City Hall being one of the highlights), it was only a matter of time before President Juan Manuel Santos called on us to set the Colombian peace process in motion. Cynics out there may say that the whole thing is just an expensive talking shop that’s going nowhere – the violence hasn’t stopped for one – but at least they’re talking, right? (For an earlier account of this, see

‘Revitalised’ Bogotá
Where do we start with this? There’s the partially pedestrianised Carrera Septima (7th Street) in the capital’s centre – a rare victory for humans over vehicles (kind of anyway). We stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Mayor Gustavo Petro during the controversial change in rubbish collection that has ‘revolutionised’ waste collection in the city (well maybe not quite revolutionised, but it sounds good – for background see
What's more we finally initialised the programme to rescue the metropolis’ overworked horses – it’s taking time to get them all off the streets, but we’re getting there (see
It’s not only the equines we’ve saved, but also some human beings. Our cleaning up of Bogotá’s notorious Bronx barrio (and other dangerous barrios in other cities across Colombia) has been a roaring success – we just haven’t been there in a while to check on progress (it’s too dangerous).
A rally for peace in Bogotá City Centre
Carrera Septima –take away the cars & the people will come (and march)

Transport matters
An ever-extending (it goes to the airport now, almost) efficient (at times) Transmilenio service linked up with an integrated public bus system (SITP – okay, hardly anybody uses it yet and its operation is divvied up between nine companies, but change takes time you know) is something we’re pretty proud of. We’re not resting on our laurels though – Metro Bogotá is more than just a pipe dream, it is on the way, trust us. (For more on transport in the city, check out

La grande
Las Grandes; The BIG beers
Las grandes in our favourite tienda...
For some reason, the big beer revolution that swept through the rest of South America some time back passed over Colombia. That was until we arrived and got Bavaria – the country’s main beer producer – moving on this front. Since ‘La grande’s’ (750ml bottle) introduction, through hard work, dedication and repetition, we’ve been persuading the locals to take up the ‘big’ habit. Come on guys, above all it makes economical sense.

Vamos a Brazil
There’s no doubt Colombia has produced some exceptional football (soccer if you will) players through the ages, but ‘La Selección’ – the national team – has very often flattered to deceive. Thanks to our, erm, support that has all changed. All they need is a couple of points from their final four games of the South American World Cup qualifiers and the ‘Los Cafeteros’ will be on their way to Brazil next year – their first World Cup finals appearance since 1998. Chévere.

Thespian talent
Before our arrival Colombian ‘telenovelas’ (soap operas) were renowned for their cheesiness, terrible acting, ridiculous storylines and just all round bad quality. Now however, with our help, they are, well, erm... Right, let’s just say we did some interesting extras work from time-to-time. The ‘gory’ details of that can be found here
'Wrong Way' hard at work...
Hard at it; but whose is that banana skin?

Educating excellence
While we may have occasionally showcased our acting ‘skills’ on Colombia’s small screen, the arguably more lasting, beneficial legacy we’ll leave behind has been our ability to pass on the English language – with an Irish twist albeit (more detailed thoughts on our teaching 'talents' can be read here Whether any of our alumni actually learned anything is open to debate. At the very least though, some of them have a better understanding of Irish history and culture, 'Wrong Way' style. We'll miss imparting that knowledge; as well as all the free coffees and the odd free lunch. Heck those latter two 'treats' are enough to entice us back (we're easily pleased here you know). Time will tell on that one.

*Discalimer: We would like to point out that some of these 'achievements' may not be directly attributed to us. But...

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Bogotá's 'broken windows'

Right, it might be a question of where do we start with this one. Applying the broken windows theory to Bogotá might seem futile.* In brief, this is the idea that if a window is broken and left that way in a neighbourhood, this gives off a signal to others that nobody cares about the place. Thus more windows are broken and a sense of disorder soon spreads throughout the area with a feeling that nobody is in control. In other words, the premise is that when trying to implement law and order, small, seemingly minor transgressions matter in a big way.
A typical 'colourful' building in Bogotá's La Candelaria district
A cause for concern or not?

It is this thinking in operation that is credited by many in overseeing the dramatic reduction in crime levels in New York City in the late 1980s and ‘90s. For much of the 80s the city was going through one of the worst crime epidemics in its history. But by coming down hard on what appeared petty, insignificant unlawful behaviour in comparison to the daily homicides that were occurring at the time – a policy that started on the subway before later being introduced on the streets under the guise of ‘zero-tolerance’ – the city’s crime levels plummeted.

So looking at Bogotá in this light, there are plenty of ‘broken windows’ – in the literal sense and otherwise – which the authorities here could start making a concerted effort to fix. Below we take a look at the ones that cause us the greatest annoyance:

A Bogotá street replete with faecal matter
Watch your step...
Faeces on the streets**
When we lived in working-class north Belfast, good practice on the main street outside our house was to walk with your head down so as not to step on the ubiquitous dog poo lining the concrete. The same advice goes for Bogotá; however not only is it dog excrement you have to avoid but also human.
Yes, most of the latter faeces are the product of the homeless, but perhaps the introduction of some basic public toilets (we’re not asking for a shelter just yet) for these guys and gentle persuasion not to ‘decorate’ the streets with their waste would be a start.
As for the dogs, fine owners that are caught not cleaning up after their canine’s mess, simple as. The unaccounted for street mutts? Round them up.

Aggressive beggars
In a city where a big number live well below the poverty line, beggars are a sad fact of reality. When there is a lack of any meaningful social programme to help them it’s difficult to be critical. However, the in-your-face, give-me-money-now types need to be systematically tackled – it’s a thin line to cross from aggressively asking for money to aggressively taking it. Fining these types is obviously a waste of time but setting up some sort of community scheme where they are housed and put to work might be one solution.

Transmilenio delinquents
It was on New York’s subway where Broken Windows first hit, tackling fare-beaters for one. When these offenders were apprehended, it was often found that many of them were carrying weapons or had previous convictions. There are plenty of abusers of Bogotá’s main public transport system, Transmilenio, who no doubt would fall into the same category. Deal with them. Of course, to help in this you need a streamlined system where these crimes are punished quickly and effectively – in a country such as Colombia that could be the downfall.

This just adds to the overall environment of carelessness, and there’s plenty of it to be found blowing around the capital’s centre. Inadequate public bins, poor storage facilities for waste yet to be collected, a lack of litter awareness among the populace, and homeless people who rip open rubbish bags looking for hidden ‘delights’ are all parts of the problem. Mayor Gustavo Pertro’s coveted ‘Basura Cero’ (‘Zero Rubbish') programme (see for background) has a long way to go.

Infrastructure issues, neglected buildings
A standard open manhole in Bogotá
'Holy' ground...
Footpaths and roads in perpetual states of incompleteness and/or disrepair, ‘new’ buildings not finished or older ones lying decrepit, again like the rubbish and the broken windows themselves, these send out negative signals. It’s not just faeces that you have to avoid on Bogotá’s streets but also the risk of falling down a manhole – it’s normal for the covers of these to go missing and then rarely replaced. This goes for the highways and the pavements. At best some thoughtful person might place a stick protruding out of the hole to act as a warning. It’s a start anyway.

Another ‘crime’ that came in for heavy treatment on New York’s subway, for many of course it’s just an expression of art. From that point-of-view, Bogotá has plenty of interesting, impressive murals that are now tourist attractions. So when graffiti brightens up an area and has a story to tell then its fine. But vandalising protected public buildings or transport with paint is not art – this is where heads should roll.

It must be pointed out that we’re not in favour of a zealous police state. For us, Broken Windows should be about implementing an attitude change. Therefore, to set an example you may have to be strict and unwavering at first, but over time people should come to know what’s acceptable and what’s not. Some, though, take longer than others to learn.

*See for a more detailed explanation of broken windows.

**A good Dutch friend sent us this photo – the infamous s**t-hand of Bogotá. Nice.

A human hand 'poo-print'
Toilet paper? What's that?