Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Border battles: What next for Colombia and Venezuela?

In many ways there is a sense of inevitability to all of this. Although those who call the shots in both Colombia and Venezuela are pretty much from the same stock, the ideologies they (claim) to follow are far from similar.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's actions have increased tension with neighbours Colombia.
Nicolás Maduro: quashing Colombians. (Photo from Facebook.)
Considering socialist Venezuela's anti-US stance, having a neighbour that is, politically speaking anyway, rather cosy with Washington has always been a sore point.

Throw in a president who has been feeling the heat both inside and outside his country since taking office in 2013 from a more charismatic and popular deceased predecessor, then attempting to unite the people against 'foreign insurgents' isn't without historical precedence. Problems at home? Create a distracting rallying point.

In fact, in this particular case, it's a line Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro (as Hugo Chávez before) has been spinning for some time: Colombian paramilitaries are active in his country, plotting to overthrow his rule. Colombia is also the source of narco-trafficking and other illegal activities that run into Venezuela. And all these actions are getting clandestine support from none other than former Colombian president and current state senator Álvaro Uribe.

This siege mentality, whether perceived or real, appears to have reached a head for the Maduro administration with its decision to expel over a thousand Colombian citizens from the country and close the border.

Understandably, the sight of their countrymen fleeing across that border, taking whatever of their belongings they can before their dwellings are to be, allegedly, demolished has angered Colombians at home.

So far, the reaction from Bogotá has been strong words only; President Juan Manuel Santos is hoping on finding a diplomatic solution to this mini-crisis. Such a position isn't surprising from a man currently trying to close a peace deal with guerrillas to end over 50 years of internal conflict in his country. The dove isn't about to turn into a hawk just yet.

If the more belligerent Uribe or any of his Centro Democrático party colleagues were calling the shots things could be far more delicate than they are at present. Indeed Uribe has already called the Venezuelan government's action as 'an attempt at genocide'. This came 24 hours after Maduro accused him of being a paramilitary leader and an assassin.

However, the idea of this escalating into anything more serious is unlikely at this remove. Alongside the Santos diplomacy, in many ways the Venezuelan leadership is on a tightrope. Engaging in what many at home would see as an unnecessary military confrontation with the neighbours could be the beginning of the end for Maduro and co.

We're not quite at the brink, but both parties would do well to recall their shared heritage. The many people in the two states who venerate the great liberator from old Spanish rule, Simón Bolívar, should remember that if he had had his way there would be no border. Yet right now that line in the map seems as pronounced as ever.
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Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Safety alert! Love building with shoddy scaffolding

There is a poem by the late Irish Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, entitled 'Scaffolding'. In it, he explains how builders rely heavily on scaffolding to aid them in the early stages of construction. (OK, they may be able to build something without it, but it's unlikely to be anything of note.)

Then, once the edifice is built, down come the temporary assists, discarded more or less for good, save for the odd repair every now and again.
'Romance scaffolding': it can be darn costly.
Scaffolding: important, but at what price? (Photo from Facebook.)
For Heaney, scaffolding is a metaphor for the early stages of a relationship. When you have a budding romance, the flowers, the chocolates, the dinners, the holidays, all that kind of stuff is similar to scaffolding. Vitally important at first, but once all necessary external works are completed and the 'love nest' is free-standing, what were once seen as romance essentials are then largely forgotten about.

Of course, before you go building any construct, prudent practice is to do a cost analysis. And when it's a partnership, as any aspiring romance must be, the costs should be split — or at the very least there should be some give and take in both the initial investment and subsequent labour. If the burden involved is falling all on one side, well the project is pretty much doomed.

This is one of the biggest issues facing many Western men in Colombia. The 'princess mentality' is still strong in these parts. The thoughts of anything approaching 50-50 are non-existent.

In such an environment, it's not too difficult to understand how a male-chauvinist culture exists. When you have a 'partner' who shows very little in the way of being equal, well it's then difficult to treat her as such.

The attitude that some men may have when dating these types, in its mildest form, is that they're with an escort girl rather than actually going out with somebody by mutual consent. In stronger forms, and as oft happens, the door to abuse is left open.

There's a lot at play in all of this. As mentioned, Colombia and Latin America in general still have societies that are largely male-dominated, more so than many Western countries in any case. What's more, from personal experience and anecdotal evidence — allowing for a few refreshing exceptions — many women seem content, in monetary terms, to be 'submissive'. And when there are plenty of men willing to pay for their every need (it's what we're for, isn't it?) you can't blame them really.

You see, one of the principal rules of reproduction, as this is what it basically comes down to, hasn't changed since our caveman days — the dominant male gets the lion's share. What has changed in modern society is how that dominant male rises to the top. While physical strength and cunning can still play a role, what is more significant now is money and prestige, alongside, importantly in this context, a strong belief in monogamy, something that could be seen as a mitigating factor in a few powerful, rich males 'sweeping the board' so to put it.

Whatever the case, Heaney's belief in the importance of 'romance scaffolding' is hard to argue with. However, both the cost and reliability of it seems to be a little different in certain parts of the world compared to others.
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Thursday, 6 August 2015

Going underground

By the very virtue of the fact that I maintain a blog as well as being a paid contributor to an on-line media group, the internet and its associated tools are important for me. Indeed for practically all journalists and writers these days, it's almost an essential part of the gig, especially for those trying to get their name 'out there' or build up a following. Of course the same could be said for most, if not all, professions.
Colombian wilderness, Pandi, Cundinamarca.
A life in the wilderness ... ... perhaps it'd get boring after a while ..?

Therefore, and only looking at this from a work perspective not a social one, when it fails you, it makes your working life damn difficult, frustrating and close to impossible. You could say it's like an old-school trench digger without a shovel; the whole operation becomes infinitely harder.

OK, while a man being asked to dig trenches mightn't be too bothered if he's without his shovel through no fault of his own — it should mean a less taxing day — the majority of us who rely on the internet tool get stressed out when we don't have it.

In Bogotá's historical centre La Candelaría, where only one seemingly incompetent operator, ETB, is the provider, irregular, unreliable service is par for the course; as is the case for many things throughout Colombia you could argue.

Now I've been trying to let it slide, to not get worked up about it. There are far worse, life or death problems both here and elsewhere that make no internet connection pale into insignificance. It's a First World issue being played out in a Second/Third World country. But when you pay for a 'service' where a large part of your income depends on it functioning as promised, it can be hard not to lose the cool when it frequently fails.

It does, however, make me dream about being in a position to leave the communications loop, to go underground so to put it. That is, not to be reliant on the internet and all associated with it; both good and evil as these things can be. About the only way you can do that, though, is if you escape from the 'madness' and go to live in the middle of the jungle or some other wilderness, completely removing yourself from the modern world.

Trench digging in World War I.
Maybe it's time to return to some more 'honest' work? (Photo: firstworldwar.com.)
It must be said that in many ways I am a conservative technology user as is. I'm still pretty much a smartphone novice, with my use of it limited enough. It enables me to write practically anywhere I am and WhatsApp is a cheap way of maintaining work and social contacts. For both monetary and 'switching off' reasons I don't have a data plan. So I can only use the phone to its fullest when I'm connected to Wi-Fi and that's enough; when I'm out socialising I don't need to be checking e-mails nor engaging in virtual chats.

Yet the idea of totally withdrawing from technology and virtual communication while still living in the modern world is akin to becoming a nobody (I'm not quite there yet, so I like to think). Invasive technology has come to dominate our lives in almost every facet; not being part of it puts you at a distinct disadvantage.

That being so, the key is to try and take control of it, not let it control you. We need to find the balance and know when to step back from it. The machines may be rising, but we're still the ones at the pulley.
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