Señor Bello


The Economist started a new column this week on Latin America. The column sets out to provide deeper coverage on Latin America. After much deliberation, it earned the name Bello, after Andrés Bello.

Bello was a “Venezuelan-born polymath, educator, writer and diplomat.” Not surprisingly, Bello seems to fit the mold of The Economist’s liberal (in the classical sense of liberal) set of attitudes. Bello believed in strong state institutions, free trade, and public education for all.

That being said, he was against the top-down attitude that the 19th-century Latin American fighter-for-independence Simon Bolívar pushed on the region. Instead of believing that new republics coming fresh out of the gates from colonial rule needed strong, top-down authority, Bello wanted to see the development of citizens sow the seeds for civilization in Latin America.

From The Economist…

The causes espoused by Bello—the rule of law, education and openness—are enduring ones. They loom especially large in Latin America today, as the great commodity boom wanes. Populists peddling an inward-looking nationalism, who have ruled by state diktat and political favour rather than by law, are being found out at last, as this month’s devaluations in Argentina and Venezuela show.

What would he say in response to Latin America today? That is a secret no one will ever find out. The Economist is honest with its feelings though: “In 21st-century Latin America the teachings of the region’s greatest 19th-century public intellectual are more relevant than ever.” No secrets here.

photo Universidad de Chile

Neo-Pentecostal in Colombia

Wesley Tomaselli 2013

“The devil is afraid of me,” said the woman who has recently found herself in the limelight of Colombian media drama. The drama came after video footage revealing that she condemns disabled persons’ participation in her church hit the screen.

Her name is Maria Luisa Piraquive, a Colombian Neo-Pentecostal leader.

Who Maria Luisa Piraquive really is, is a question with more than one answer though. She is Maria, the brave heir to a church started by her and her husband after he succumbed to a heart attack in 1996. She is also Sister Maria Luisa, the charismatic leader of more than 750 congregations where believers of the evangelical Christian faith she preaches have cropped up across Colombia, Spain, and the US. But she is also Big Mama Piraquive, the head of a family that has ascended from modest beginnings to a wealthy, upper class status, with houses sprinkled around Colombia and Miami. And she is a singer, too.

In response to the release of the footage, which Piraquive’s followers say is private and was never allowed to slip into the hands of Colombian journalists and news agencies, members of Piraquive’s church are protesting what they say is unfair play by the country’s media machines.

They protesters are a minority voice, but theirs is a voice that’s growing louder and louder in Colombia. Neo-Pentecostal Christianity, like other forms of evangelical Protestantism, take scripture seriously, almost literally at times, and preach a direct relationship between worshiper and Holy Spirit through baptism.

As her members defend her, citing constitutional rights to freedom of religious expression in Colombia, Piraquive’s harsh critics in the media keep up the attack, equating her metaphorically (in one instance) to a disease. At this rate, it doesn’t seem like the noisy theater swelling around Ms. Maria Luisa Piraquive is due to die down any time soon.

photo: LatAm FM

What is .Co?


Quartz recently reported that more than 1.6 million users have registered their web properties with Colombia’s domain name: .co

It does seem like a wise idea for those trying to beat the clutter in .com world, where 111 million users means most of the good names are taken. Getting to a point where the domain was marketable wasn’t easy though.

From Quartz…

…it’s a country domain that was assigned in 1991 to Colombia. Juan Diego Calle, a Colombian-American entrepreneur, won the contract to run it in 2009, after years of effort and a 1,165-page bid. In exchange for exclusive rights to market .co, Calle pays a fee to the Colombian government that goes towards improving the country’s internet infrastructure.

Many registrations come from the country where the domain was born. But not all of them. Companies like Vine, in New York, Up Global out of Seattle, and Recommend out of Paris have snatched up short, sexy, twitter-friendly domain names with the .co brand.

photo credit: .co

What is the GAULA?

Wesley Tomaselli 2013

When Basque photojournalist Borja Lázaro Herrero went missing in Colombia’s Guajira province in early January, it was Colombia’s GAULA who investigated.

GAULA (Grupos de Acción Unificada por la Libertad Personal) is Colombia’s elite anti-kidnapping unit, a special division of Colombia’s military born in 1996 in response to a rising wave of kidnapping and extortion events throughout the 1980s, 90s and into the 2000s.

According to Dialogo Americas, GAULA has started training other countries in Latin America against kidnapping and extortion, especially in Central America and Mexico.

From Dialogo Americas…

GAULA officers have spent more than five years training Honduran security forces in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. GAULA officers are helping Honduras develop a professional anti-kidnapping unit and an anti-extortion team, according to Guatibonza. The Colombian military has plans to engage in anti-extortion training programs in 2014 with Guatemala and Mexico.

In early September 2013, Colombian Marines trained members of the Honduray Navy in maritime interdiction of drug traffickers. The training took place on board the ARC Caldas, a Colombian missile frigate, in Puerto Cortes on the Northwest coast of Honduras.

In addition to those training efforts, the Colombian Air Force and the Honduran Air Force have an agreement to exchange intelligence and participate in joint training programs, said Gen. René Osorio Canales, the leader of the Honduran Armed Forces. The Colombian Air Force has agreements with Mexico, Brazil Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Peru to cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking.

“We welcome the recent visit of Colombian Defense Minister Pinzón as part of his Central American tour,” Osorio said. “”The idea is that Honduras can join its friends in the region against the common enemy and we appreciate Colombia´s help in this.”

Colombia’s interest in exporting GAULA’s expertise outside of Colombia reflects the fact that the ugliness connected to illicit drug-trafficking has quieted down some in Colombia. But it’s not gone from the region.

photo credit: Vanguardia

What is a ‘Taita’?

“Out of all the medicinal plants, it’s the father of all of them,” Martín Ágreda tells Colombian news magazine Semana.

Mr. Ágreda is a Taita – a kind of traditional doctor who prepares and administers ayahuasca, a super potent psychedelic tea made from brewing Amazonian vines. It’s an infusion. And you drink it.

But guys like Ágreda are also viewed as shamans – spiritual leaders of indigenous communities who guide people through the experience of ayahuasca.

From Colombian magazine Semana (español):

“Es uno de los remedios de la medicina indígena amazónica que más se ha popularizado en el país. Los Taitas (médicos tradicionales) son los encargados de preparar un jarabe con el bejuco para luego ofrecerlo en un ritual que permite a quienes lo ingieren limpiar su cuerpo y su espíritu. Actualmente, el yagé corre varios riesgos. En la selva es afectado por los químicos rociados para la fumigación de cultivos ilícitos, la construcción de megaproyectos y los hostigamientos provocados por los grupos armados…”

“It’s one of the remedies of Amazonian indigenous medicine most popularized in the country. The ‘Taitas’ (traditional doctors) are in charge of preparing a syrup from the vine of the plant in order to later offer an experience that lets those who take it clean their body and soul. In reality, drinking ayahuasca runs various risks. In the jungle, it’s affected by chemicals for the fumigation of illicit crops, the construction of infrastructure projects and harassment from armed groups…”

Check out these other resources about Ayahuasca

First-hand account of drinking ayahuasca – Benjamin Hansen-Bundy @ Wine & Bowties

Open your mind to the new psychedelic science – WIRED Magazine

New Information on Old Resources: Coverage of Mining in Colombia

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I once asked a Colombian business leader why her business publication was set to cover topics like Electric Power, Oil & Gas, and Infrastructure… but not mining.

“It’s very difficult to get accurate data on that sector,” she said. She also added that there is a mix of legal and illegal actors in the mining sector, making it very difficult to profile.

La Silla Vacia, a Colombian digital magazine, is doing something about that difficulty. They’ve just launched a special page (español) that will cover Colombia’s complex mining industry.

From the site…

Aunque la locomotora minera que prometió el presidente Juan Manuel Santos apenas prendió motores y todavía no ha comenzado ningún proyecto nuevo en su gobierno, la minería ya se convirtió en uno de los temas de debate más polarizadores en el país.

Even though the mining engine that President Juan Manuel Santos promised is hardly turning, and none of the new projects of his government have begun, mining has already turned into one of the most polarizing matters of debate in Colombia.

La Silla Vacía covers the mining sector, but also provides a database of the companies, players and interest groups that make it go.

More on Colombia’s mining sector here (español)

Who is Alejandro Ordoñez?

Wesley Tomaselli 2013

Who is Alejandro Ordoñez? is a question more and more people are asking since the Inspector General fired Bogotá’s Mayor Gustavo Petro from his post in December.

Medellín-based Colombia Reports has an in-depth profile on the man behind the drama here.

“Devout Catholic, anti-abortionist, Inspector General by landslide election and the man behind the political death of almost 800 public officials, Alejandro Ordoñez is a polarizing figure in Colombia. “

“He has risen through the ideological ranks of conservative politics to a position of great power, all the while guided by an unyielding moral vision that has made him a righteous crusader to some and a dangerous zealot to many others.”

Read more at Colombia Reports

Life in Colombia, Beyond the Violence

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Today I’m launching a storytelling project on Beacon Reader, where I will be writing a series of stories called Life In Colombia, Beyond The Violence.

It’s a collection of profiles, narratives, and personal essays describing Colombian life beyond the drug-trafficking and the violence that you usually think about when you hear about Colombia.

I’m really excited about this opportunity. Beacon is an innovative new platform for writers and journalists to connect directly to readers like you. And it lets you get stories that aren’t being told inside the the old model of journalism.

Here are some of the people in the stories I’m going to tell you about:

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But in order to tell these stories, I need to have at least 30 people commit to a subscription. Otherwise the stories sink.

Please check out my page to learn more about subscribing to my channel.

You’ll also get access to nearly 100 other writers and their stories on Beacon too. I’m really hoping to get this off the ground soon so that I can start telling you great stories from Colombia!

If you have any questions about a subscription, my stories or Beacon Reader, please just shoot me a message. I’d be happy to chat.