Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Bogotá's perpetually broken windows

A couple of years back this blog looked at some of Bogotá's 'broken windows'. That is to say, in relation to the broken windows theory on crime and its prevention, things in the Colombian capital that could be seen as pointing to a lawlessness nature, or at least letting what seem like minor things get out of hand. With the city's mayoral elections just over a month away,* here we revisit those broken windows to see what, if anything, has changed:

Human faeces on the street; a common sight in city-centre Bogotá ...
Spot the poo ...
Faeces on the streets
Considering all the other problems Bogotá has, this one rates pretty low. However, it doesn't take away from the disgusting nature of it, made all the worse that the poo you see, or stand in, is just as likely to be from humans than dogs (or police horses).

From a city centre, La Candelaría/Las Aguas point of view, not much has changed with this problem. OK, some portable free-to-use public toilets have been installed in a few key locations, but they seem to be locked more than they are open.

The continued rejuvenation of the principle Carrera Séptima (Seventh Avenue) in the centre is bringing a new gloss to things around there; but that the lot for the main perpetrators of this particular problem hasn't changed, it's hard to envisage things staying clean and shiny for long.

Aggressive beggars
At best, we can say this one has stayed the same over the last few years. That's the optimistic view. Again, looking at it from a tourist/expat-heavy city centre perspective, it could be argued that things have actually regressed.

As stated in the original, it’s a thin line to cross from aggressively asking for money to aggressively taking it. Beggars aside, the more dangerous out-and-out thieves certainly appear to be as strong in number as ever.

Giving such types a more positive raison d'être is an ongoing challenge, one that neither the mayor's office nor national government seem capable of meeting.

Transmilenio delinquents
With the recent fare increase for Bogotá's flagship public transport system, we'll probably see more rather than less of these in the coming months and years. OK, the extra revenue will be used, so we're being told, to increase security and improve the overall service and infrastructure of the operation.

Chances are, if you can reduce the number of 'fare hoppers', you'll reduce the incidents of theft inside the system.

For good or bad, this is the area where outgoing mayor Gustavo Petro will be remembered the most.
Has his Basura Cero (Zero Rubbish) programme been effective? In short, no.

In his defence, securing a lasting peace in Colombia may be easier than dealing with its rubbish problem. In most barrios of the city if people used standard wheelie bins to leave their waste for collection, the bins wouldn't be in their possession for long.

Another manhole cover in a state of disrepair & left that way in Bogotá DC ...
Warning tape was actually put around this hole; it didn't last though.
You see anything that isn't firmly — firmly — fixed to Mother Earth or well secured in other ways generally goes 'missing' in these parts.

So the custom of leaving rubbish for collection in random locations on the street in easily ruptured plastic bags continues. And so does the custom of the city's many homeless ripping them opening looking for discarded 'treasures'. Such a sight to behold.

Infrastructure issues, neglected buildings
As mentioned above, if things aren't firmly secured around Bogotá, they will be taken.
In relation to manhole covers, their regular disappearance continues to be a problem for city authorities and citizens alike.

What's more, if and when they do vanish, it's normally some time before they are replaced. The practice of placing a 'warning stick' in them is still standard procedure.

Then you have ones that are just in a state of disrepair — as is the case for footpaths and roads in general. Be it a lack of resources or whatever, but the desire to get them up to a functional standard is obviously lacking.

Defaced buildings in Bogotá, Colombia.
There's graffiti and there's just defacing things as above.
This certainly hasn't gone away; in any case, in general here, it's not a crime. Plus, you'll see some very impressive graffiti in Bogotá — in fact, it has become a popular tourist attraction.
Nonetheless, not all of it is sanctioned and not all of it can be described as art; it's just vandalism, plain and simple. How about decoratively painting the building or monument in question guys, rather than just attacking it with ugly spray paint squiggles?

So it's pretty much a case of 'as you were' with these issues in Bogotá. The (slow) roll-out of the integrated public-private transport system could be seen as at least one positive development under Gustavo Petro's stewardship. And the asses and carts seem to have largely disappeared from the streets. If only some of the same old asses running the place would disappear, too. We can dream, can't we?

*For an earlier piece on the main candidates running for mayor see Broken Bogotá: Who can fix it?
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Monday, 7 September 2015

"Put the 'rucking' rugby on, ¡por favor!"

The bars/tiendas are stocking up. Replica jerseys of the competing nations are being sold on the street. There's giddy excitement in the air. Yep, Rugby World Cup 2015 is almost upon us and Colombia is gearing up for it with gusto.

OK, I might be in dreamland there. Yes, the tiendas are stocking up, but that's a never-ending process. Yes, replica jerseys are being sold on the streets, but they always are and there's not a rugby one to be found. And yes, there's giddy excitement (or is that nervousness?) in the air — in a land with so many gorgeous (flaky as some may be) women about, that's inevitable.

Paul O'Connell (and son) after his last home game for Ireland.
Ireland's talismanic leader, Paul O'Connell. (Photo from Facebook.)
Considering there isn't a Colombian link to rugby union's showcase event — not one that I know of anyway — that the tournament will pass off without registering much of a beat in these parts isn't surprising. There's also the fact that rugby is very much a minority sport here. It is played in some universities and elsewhere but it's generally expat-led. The vast majority of football-mad locals have no idea of what rugby is about nor, understandably enough, do they have any interest in it; indeed even those who actually play it here don't seem to get it.

Thankfully, via ESPN Latin America, the battle for the Webb Ellis trophy will be broadcast on TV in the region. The only snag is convincing my local tienda owner to put it on; a Spanish football second division match would take precedence over the likes of Ireland-France. Perhaps I can arouse the locals' curiosity sufficiently enough to get them slightly interested (and supporting Ireland of course) in order to watch the games.

There's always the internet or an interested party's house (somebody who has a TV that is), but it can be nice to watch these things in a bar/tienda, if you could just get people not to interrupt your viewing.

As for the competition itself, well despite the genuine effort that will come from the other nations involved (20 in total), you can be pretty certain that the winner will come from one of the top-seven ranked teams in the world. Those are, in current order; New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England, Wales, Ireland and France.

There are those who say you could narrow it down even further, to simply one — New Zealand. That's being a little disrespectful to the others, especially previous winners South Africa, Australia and England, but there's no doubt that the All Blacks, like always, are the team to beat.

What makes them more formidable this time around is that what had been a recurring theme for them in renewals prior to 2011 — cracking under the pressure of expectation — doesn't appear to be part of the equation this time around. Winning on home soil four years ago, their first global triumph in the professional era, has only added to their aura of invincibility.

Yet, the bookmakers aren't about to pay out on them just yet. Of the chasing pack, it could be argued that the big Northern Hemisphere sides come into this as strong as ever. And that it is being held in England and Wales, that should be a help to both those sides, as well as Ireland who go into the tournament as the best team in Europe for the past two seasons.

The All Blacks perform the Haka before the 2011 World Cup final.
Formidable: the All Blacks. (Photo from Facebook.)
Indeed expectations for the latter — although tempered somewhat by previous demoralising experiences when hopes were high as well as warm-up defeats to Wales and England which have left some doubts — are that at least a maiden semi-final can be reached. In this regard, defeating France in the pool stage and thus avoiding a potential last-eight clash with the All Blacks could be key to attaining that goal.

That brings us on to the South American powerhouse in the mix, Argentina, Ireland's other possible quarter-final opponents. Los Pumas in many ways have been world rugby's breath of fresh air in recent years. While they have long been producing top-class players, it had been difficult for them to maintain consistency against the more traditional rugby-playing nations.

A lot of this was down to their geographical isolation and relatively poor organisational structures back home, meaning their most talented plied their trade miles from Argentina. Both drawbacks still exist but their merited inclusion to the Rugby Championship (formerly the Tri-Nations) in 2012 has seen them play Australia, New Zealand and South Africa on an annual basis.

Such tests have only helped to improve their competitiveness — note their historic first ever win over South Africa this year. Were they to meet Ireland in the last eight, they'd certainly fancy their chances of another World Cup success against their old foes.

South America has another representative in the shape of Uruguay. Their best hope will be to keep losing margins respectable in what is the toughest pool in the tournament with England, Australia, Wales and an unpredictable Fiji expected to lead the charge, perhaps in that order.

So who can we expect to see going head to head in the Halloween final? Well, at this stage it would be a shock if the All Blacks weren’t there. Who will join them is a far trickier prediction. Depending on how the pools go, we could end up with an Australia-New Zealand final. Ireland had been touted as potential finalists, but as mentioned their lead-in games have watered down such thoughts. The smarter money might be on hosts England, with fortress Twickenham giving them an extra edge, making the final cut.

But as anyone who has ever kicked a rugby ball knows, it can bounce in strange ways. Perhaps France have been saving themselves for this moment; a coup de foudre of sorts, on enemy territory? The next six weeks or so will tell a tale.
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