EL TIEMPO
Founded in 1911, El Tiempo is one of Colombia's leading dailies. It is based in Bogotá and owned by Luis Carlos Sarmiento Angulo, the country's wealthiest business mogul.
COVID Is Pushing These 6 Cities To Bet On Bicycle-Friendly Futures
Society
Carl-Johan Karlsson

COVID Is Pushing These 6 Cities To Bet On Bicycle-Friendly Futures

After slowly shifting in some cities to a more bicycle-centric model, the pandemic has accelerated the shift from cars to bikes in cities around the world. Here are some prime examples

In the two centuries since they were invented, bicycles have tended to be much more about recreation than transportation. Sure, there's the occasional Dutch commuter biking through a small city or a poor person in the developing world who can't afford a car or an American kid delivering newspapers. But, otherwise, the bicycle has been meant for fun and exercise, and competitive sport, rather than as an integral part of the system of transport.

That may be about to change for good. After a gradual shift over the past decade to accommodate bicycle use, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the shift from cars to bikes in cities around the world. Beyond the long-term environmental and health benefits, the change of attitude is also linked to the lack of street traffic and pollution during lockdowns, and the social distancing that bicycles provide compared to crowded public transportation.

To give an idea: In Europe alone, cities spanning the continent spent an accumulated €1 billion on Covid-related cycling measures in 2020 — building some 1,000 kilometers of cycle lanes and car-free streets.

From Milan to Tokyo, here's what cities around the world are doing to support the two-wheeled world of transport:

BOGOTÁ

In Latin America's leading biking city, Bogotá, the daily number of cyclists increased from 635,000 in 2016 to 878,000 in 2020. Today, with the city authorities having added another 84 kilometers of bicycle lane during the pandemic, that number is set to increase even faster. In fact, the government has already announced the planned allocation of one billion pesos to extend the network by an additional 289 kilometers in the coming three years.

In addition, the extension of bicycle lane infrastructure has led to a 33% reduction in cyclist fatalities in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to a government report. This is good news, as safety has been given as a leading reason for why fewer women than men are riding bikes in the eight-million strong Colombian capital. While currently only one out of four riders is a female, the city looks to achieve two-wheeled gender parity by 2039 — with actions including increased personal and road security as well as the broadening of bike lanes to better allow women to travel in the company of children, daily El Tiempo reports.

Love of two wheels in Milan

Abi Schreider via Unplash

MILAN

In Milan, the city government launched its Strade Aperte ("open streets") program in 2020, which includes the construction of 35 kilometers of new bicycle lanes. While the northern Italian city was one of the hardest-hit early in the pandemic, the lockdown also cut motor traffic congestion by 30-75% — and air pollution with it. The regional government is now hoping that the bike boom will work to change Milan's status as one of the country's most polluted cities.

In April 2021— one year after Strade Aperte was launched — the cycle route on the major street Corso Buenos Aires had already become the busiest in town, used by as many as 10,000 cyclists a day — an increase of 122% in the first few months of the year. What's more, in a city where sidewalks were routinely used as parking spaces, Milano Corriere reports there are now fewer than 600 cars per 1,000 inhabitants — a new low in Milan's recent history.

According to the Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry, Italy is also one of the European countries that experienced the sharpest increase in bike retail last year — with more than two million sales nationwide.

PARIS

Two-wheeled transportation has increased in Paris for some time — with bicycling lanes increasing five-fold between 2015 and 2020 — and the city expects the trend to continue in full force in the years ahead. The first "de-confinement" led to the creation of coronapistes, or bike lanes — typically following metro routes — that the city's mayor recently promised to make permanent through an €80-million investment, French business monthly Capital reports.

Already in the year following the city's first springtime lockdown in 2020, cycling increased 70%, as the combined length of bike lanes reached 1,000 kilometers.

Other initiatives aimed at boosting bicycling culture include government-funded cycling lessons, a €50 subsidy towards the cost of bike repairs, as well as an ongoing project to make the notoriously busy Rue de Rivoli car-free.

Bike lanes in Paris

Ugur Arpaci via Unsplash

BARCELONA

In the city of Barcelona, the pandemic prompted a huge drop in the use of public transport (down 50%), yet only a small decline in private car use (down 10%) in the first year after the outbreak. Starting in the summer of 2020, 20 kilometers of pop-up cycle lanes have been installed to fill the gap in the bicycle network, while city officials are currently accelerating the construction of 160 kilometers of new or improved routes — with the goal to increase the network to 300 kilometers by 2024.

In June this year, bike use had shot up with 20% compared to pre-pandemic values, Spanish daily El País reports, while car traffic is 7.5% lower. The increase in cyclists has also had an impact on the number of subscribers to Bicing, a city-wide bicycle-sharing service launched in 2007. From May 2020 to July 2021, the app gained 17,000 new subscribers — an increase of 16%.

The growing interest in safer, more sustainable transportation has also given rise to a communal project dubbed Bicibús – or Bike Bus. It started in the Eixample district of Barcelona in September, when a group of parents organized a bike ride to school for a handful of kids. Today, more than 100 children gather each day at 8 a.m. with their parents for a 25-minute ride down Entença Street, where three schools are located. The parents are also hoping that their project will prompt authorities to build a school-friendly route that shields the children from the 20,000 vehicles driving down Entença Street every day.

TOKYO

The Japanese capital has been no exception to the global bike boom. With the government launching its "new lifestyle" campaign in May 2020 to promote more pandemic-adapted ways of transport, shopping and socializing, cycling became a way to avoid Tokyo's infamously packed subway trains.

A survey in June 2020 found that 23% of businesspeople had started cycling to work since the pandemic spread, according to the Japan Times. During the same month, national sales produced the largest year-on-year jump at 43.3% — that's despite nationwide bike prices having increased throughout the pandemic, Nikkei Asia reported last week.

Still, biking advocates argue that the increased number of cyclists demands new dedicated lanes rather than "vehicular cycling" — where geared-up road bike riders share the road with cars — that is typical of Tokyo. Some of the proponents are pointing to Beijing, which opened its first cycling highway in 2019 in the form of a six-kilometer bike lane designed to connect multiple cities.

TORONTO

From Toronto to Calgary and Halifax, bike shops in Canadian cities are slammed from a sales surge that started in March 2020, with popular shops receiving hundreds of purchase inquiries every day. In an interview with national broadcaster CBC, bike parts and accessories distributor HLC Canada predicted the industry will be dealing with the turmoil caused by the pandemic for years to come, as store backlogs show no sign of letting up.

Through the public initiative ActiveTO — a program aimed at limiting vehicle traffic and expanding the cycling network in Toronto — 40 kilometers of new lanes were added in 2020, with surveys showing that 29% of people rode a bike for the first time or rediscovered cycling throughout the year. It has also led to a membership spike for Toronto Bike Share, with the city-wide service counting half a million more trips in 2020 than in 2019. Trying to keep up with booming demand, the city added 160 stations and 1,850 bikes last year, bringing its fleet to 6,850 bikes docked at 625 stations.

However, as a large portion of the new infrastructure was built on existing networks, socio-economically disadvantaged areas are yet to enjoy the same benefits of the bike boom. The city now aims to focus on further extension of new lanes to poorer areas — using cycling as a tool to increase equality in society.

It is estimated that indigenous populations protect roughly 3,000 million hectares of land.
EL TIEMPO

Green Colonialism: The New Face Of Environmental Hypocrisy

If you hated greenwashing, you'll be appalled by green colonialism.

PARIS — From renewable energy solutions to recycling innovations, everyone is busy touting their so-called "green" credentials. But as we've seen with the term "greenwashing," the vocabulary of the environmental movement can be turned around quite sharply on any would-be hypocrites. Among those accused lately of exploiting the banner of ecology (while actually causing it harm) comes another term: "green colonialism."

Around the world, echoing political and territorial colonialism of the past, there is a growing number of examples of countries and companies crossing borders to make the same mistakes that got us into this perilous situation in the first place: mismanagement of land, destruction of ecosystems in the name of "progress," and a general disrespect for the quality of life for indigenous communities.

AGRA In Africa: In Africa, the "green revolution" that was supposed to help alleviate hunger and lift small-scale farmers out of poverty turned out to be doing the exact opposite, eradicating natural crops and undermining biodiversity while lining the pockets of multinational corporations.

• According to a report in The Ecologist, drawn from findings published by Tufts University, nonprofit groups like the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) are falling short on their initiatives to yield higher food production and income for farmers, and reduce by half food insecurity in 20 African countries.

• Over the past 14 years, AGRA has been promoting commercial seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides in 13 African countries.

• Research also concluded that the number of hungry people actually increased by 30% over a 12-year period.

Commodity crops: As a result, other more climate-resistant and nutritious crops which follow sustainable and local agricultural cropping patterns have been displaced in favor of commodity crops with high calories.

green_colonialism_inside

Two men of an indigenous family wear face masks to prevent the spread of COVID in Manaus, Brazil— Photo: Lucas Silver/DPA/ZUMA

Indigenous advantage: A recent report by the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) warns that safeguarding indigenous people is key to protecting 50% of the world's territory by 2030.

• The report estimates indigenous populations currently protect roughly 3,000 million hectares of land — an area greater than the African continent — from the loss of biodiversity and deforestation.

• Bogota-based El Tiempo notes that indigenous peoples and their lands are constantly being put under pressure and taken advantage of by international corporations.

Weight of extraction: Nearly 200 years after signing their Declaration of Independence, Uruguay is once again denouncing the neocolonial models that have promoted the extraction of natural resources under the influence of multinationals.

EL Salto reports that since the end of August, there has been a coordinated effort by the indigenous peoples of Uruguay to fight the construction of a massive paper pulp mill on the country's largest inland riverbed, the Río Negro, by Finnish company UPM-Kymmene.

• The project will also directly affect the biodiversity and natural resources of the country by prioritizing the expansion of tree monocultures needed for pulp and paper, leading to the destruction of native grasslands and wildlife.

• A new high-speed railway stretching over 200 km will connect the pulp mill to the port of Montevideo, which will be transporting dangerous materials and highly polluting toxic chemicals.

Takeaway: "The powers and foreign multinationals are deciding for our country and our lives, so this year we once again interrupt the official act to say that, in reality, we are still not independent," says Sofía Taranto, a member of the National Coordination Against UPM.

No more wind farms in Norway: Examples of green colonialism in Sweden and Norway reveal the dichotomy between how Europe's "green" energy transition is marketed and how reckless practices are affecting indigenous communities and disrupting ecosystems.

• The Indigenous Saami people and their ancestral lands, which extend through parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, are being threatened by a wind farm project that claims to be "promoting growth, green industry and green employment through long-term investment in renewable energy."

• The company is not only encroaching on the ancestral lands of the Saami tribe, they will be directly affecting the sustainable livelihoods of these nomadic people and their semi-domesticated reindeer, according to Al Jazeera. If the Saami reindeer hear or even see a wind turbine they will not be able to migrate or feed in their natural habitat.

• The convergence and mutual dependence of humans, animals, land and water is an integral part of Saami ancestral beliefs and traditions. For the Saami people, reindeer herding is a way of life and it's even protected by law in Norway, the blockage of reindeer migration routes is prohibited.

People and land: "Humans are born, and they die, but the mountains live forever," says a 53-year-old reindeer herder, Heihka Kappfjell. "What frightens me the most about the wind industry is that without the mountains there is nothing left for us Saami. Nothing that protects us, takes care of us and gives us comfort."

wind_farm_norway_green_colonialism_inside

Work being done at the site of the Øyfjellet wind farm in Norway — Photo: oyfjelletvind.no

Europe's toxic exports: There are multiple examples of what Le Monde calls Europe's "eco-hypocrisy," particularly when it comes to exporting more than 80,000 tons of pesticides that are not allowed to be distributed within the EU's borders.

• In 2018, 41 toxic pesticides, some of which have been banned in the Union for more than 10 years, were sold abroad. One such pesticide, widely used on crops such as corn, soybeans and cotton monocultures, has been banned in the EU for its potential to fatally poison farmers.

• The UK, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Belgium are responsible for exporting more than 90% from the EU to 85 different countries.

• Top importers of these pesticides include the United States, Brazil, Ukraine, Morocco, Mexico and South Africa.

French trash In Asia: Although there is plenty being said and done about plastic's destructive effects on the environment, the reality of recycling is not always the dream that we imagine it to be in the West. A report that tracked down used plastics originating from France found that 385,000 tons of plastics used were sent abroad in 2019, according to the United Nations trade database. 60,000 tonnes of the debris went to Asia.

  • Eco-organization Citeo has been tracking France's progress when it comes to recycling plastics for several years and found that of the 70% of household packaging recycled last year in France, 27% was sent elsewhere in Europe and 2% abroad, Le Monde reports.

  • A large portion of waste leaving France is often declared as "recyclable plastic," when in reality, it isn't. Some waste will travel over 10,000 kilometers to the major ports in Malaysia, China, Hong Kong or Singapore, to be redistributed across the rest of Asia.

  • Landfills are then burned to make room for more plastic. Coupled with the runoff of chemicals and waste into groundwater and rivers, local residents face a myriad of problems from itching eyes and skin, to asthma attacks.

What to do: Countries and localities must organize against harmful outside interests, and see through their propaganda. After the 2016 release of the movie Plastic China, in which an 11-year-old girl is seen working in one of these landfills, several Asian nations pushed for reductions in the importation of foreign plastics. Ultimately, an end to green colonialism, like colonialism itself, will require concerted local will and a rising global consciousness.

New cycle path in Milan
Society

COVID-19 Sparks First Signs Of Worldwide Bicycle Revolution

Across the globe, the coronavirus crisis has forced people to change not only the ways they work and interact with each other, but also how they travel. And in several countries, one of the unexpected consequences of all this has been a renewed interest in transportation of the pedal-powered, two-wheeled variety.

In some places — the Netherlands comes to mind — bicycles were popular even before the pandemic. But elsewhere, people are rediscovering them as a good alternative to public transport, where commuters are more at risk of catching the virus. Bikes, in contrast, are great for keeping physical distance. Riders can also cover quite a bit of ground, and get some exercise while they're at it.

Little wonder that in some countries, bicycle sales are booming — to the point that stores can't keep up with the high demand. "We're the new toilet paper and everyone wants a piece," a bike-store manager in Sydney, Australia told The Guardian.

Interestingly, the bicycle bump is also, in some cases, the product of public policy, as governments on both the national and local level are encouraging the use two-wheelers with concrete actions and incentives:

  • In France, that means tapping into an existing but neglected resource: the approximately 9 million "dormant" bikes ​thought to be collecting dust and rust and garages or sheds. To get all those bicycle back on the streets, the government has introduced a 50-euro voucher that people can claim and use for repairs. The voucher system is part of a global 20 million-euro package called "Coup de pouce vélo" to encourage more people to bike, with temporary bike parking and free educational sessions. And it seems to already be bearing fruit: More than 4,300 people living in the Ile-de-France region have already used the voucher, the daily Le Parisien reports.

Riding a bicycle on the famous Rue de Rivoli in Paris — Photo: Aurelien MorissardXinhua/ZUMA

  • Authorities in Italy are dangling money incentives as well — to the tune of 500 euros! — which residents in cities of at least 50,000 can use to buy a bicycle, Segway or even a scooter, Il Messaggero reports. This is part of a "Relaunch Decree" announced on May 14 that also promises to extend cycle lanes. The city of Milan had already released an ambitious plan called "Strade Aperte" to transform 35 km of city streets to make them more accessible to cyclists and pedestrians with new bike lanes, widened pavements and reduced speed limits.

  • In Colombia, authorities in the capital city, Bogota, are also offering bike riders extra accommodations. The city already has an extensive cycling network with 550 km of bike routes as well as "La Ciclovia," a program that involves closing main roads to cars every Sunday for cyclists and pedestrians. But in March, Mayor Claudia Lopez extended the program, closing more than 76 km to add new temporary bike routes during weekdays. The authorities are now considering making these changes permanent, according to the Colombian daily El Tiempo, adding that this has facilitated the circulation of around 922,000 cyclists so far. The mayor also insisted that bike shops be included on the list of essential services, thus allowing them to remain open during the lockdown.

Watch Video Show less
Two men of an indigenous family seen wearing face masks for protection against the coronavirus in Manaus, Brazil.
REUTERS

Indigenous People: Isolated And Exposed To Coronavirus

The novel coronavirus currently sweeping the globe can, of course, infect any of us. But it poses particular dangers for indigenous and forest-dwelling communities attempting to live isolated from the modern world, and who in some extreme cases fear for their very survival.

History is littered with tragic episodes of exposed communities decimated by imported disease. It's paramount, therefore, that governments make every effort to prevent a repeat. But where official action is missing, fundraising and volunteer workers have stepped in to fill the void and help save not only lives, but also the old-world know-how and intimate connection to local ecosystems that such native groups represent.

Here are some examples from around the world of measures being taken to protect indigenous communities from the pandemic:

Advocates in Brazil have been warning of an impending health crisis since the deaths last month of two Amazon-area indigenous people. Though there has been federal policy barring outsiders from entering indigenous territories since 1987 — mostly to protect the tribes from contact with communicable diseases against which they have no immunological defense — many gold prospectors continue to enter and mine illegally.

Tribal leaders and activists suspect this is how the coronavirus entered their communities. Over the course of one month, the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Basin (COICA) estimates that at least 180 of the 600 indigenous tribes of the Amazon basin have been infected by the coronavirus, and that 33 people have died.

COICA is also leading the Amazon Emergency Fund, intended to supply the people with food, medicine and basic protective equipment, which they say regional governments failed to supply. "We cannot wait any longer for our governments... We are in danger of extinction," says José Gregorio Diaz Mirabal, general coordinator of COICA and a member of the Wakuenai Kurripaco people of Venezuela.

There is serious concern too about the spread of disease among indigenous groups in Colombia. The far-southern Amazonas region went from having zero confirmed cases to 230 in less than two weeks, and is now "by far the region with the most coronavirus cases and deaths per capita in the country," the Colombian daily El Tiempo reports.

In Ecuador, near the Peruvian border, another indigenous community — the Siekopai nation — are fleeing to the Amazon rainforest after a rise in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths, reports Al Jazeera. In an attempt to avoid infection, dozens of children and elderly Siekopai set off on canoes for Lagartococha, a large Ecuadoran wetland in the heart of the Amazon, while those who stayed behind are turning to homeopathic remedies to try to cope with the illness.

The nation of fewer than 750 people fears for its very survival following the deaths of two elders, the Ecuadoran daily El Comercio reports. "When our people were taken to medical centers, they were told it was just the flu, tonsillitis, pneumonia. They didn't even test them for COVID-19," said Justino Piaguaje, the president of the community.

After the first deaths, Piaguaje and other Siekopai leaders asked the Ecuadoran government to fence-off the community and test inhabitants but received no response.

Indigenous people living in the Amazon basin from nine different countries have joined together to create the Amazon Emergency Fund, hoping to raise $3 million in the next two weeks and $5 million throughout the month to protect the 3 million rainforest inhabitants, whose vulnerability to the novel coronavirus in compounded by lack of modern health care.

The call for an emergency fund for the Amazon people was preceded by an open letter to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro urging him to protect the country's indigenous population or risk ethnocide. The document was signed by dozens of international artists, musicians, actors, writers and scientists.

Indigenous women in Brazil wearing face masks with the inscription ""Indigenous life is important" — Photo: Lucas Silva/DPA/ZUMA

"This pandemic is not only a humanitarian emergency, it is also an environmental emergency," says Suzanne Pelletier, executive director of the foundation. "Indigenous people across the Amazon are the last line of defense against forest destruction and our best hope of mitigating climate change."

In India, meanwhile, many forest-dwelling tribal groups, also known as Scheduled Tribes, find themselves in a state of disarray with their movements restricted, yet also cut-off from the rest of the world. The news site The Wire reports that the Indian government has restricted tribal movement through the forest, which many rely on to sustain themselves through minor produce collection of things like honey, gum, bamboo, beedi leaves, broomstick grass, tamarind and Indian gooseberries, which they also sell for profit.

Groups like the Koya Tribe, which inhabits the foothills in the north of the Eastern Ghats in Andhra Pradesh, are now becoming reliant on government agencies and even a few compassionate law enforcement officials to help them get their staple foods like rice as their incomes are being decimated. Many tribes also live on settlements on the borders of what have been declared tiger reserves. Following news that tigers could also be infected by the coronavirus, the National Tiger Conservation Authority banned all human movement inside all 50 tiger reserves, leaving tribes like the Kani effectively trapped and cut-off, now completely reliant on the forest department for rations.

On the other side of the planet, in the United States, Native Americans living in the Navajo Nation, which spans portions of the Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, are facing unique challenges to their way of life as coronavirus takes hold. While the Navajo Nation has the third-highest infection rate per capita of any region in the U.S., social distancing and staying away from the elderly aren't exactly options for most Navajo people. Many extended families live under the same roof, and many also have to travel long distances to go to one of the 13 full-service grocery stores that serve a population of about 174,000 residents.

One third of reservation residents, furthermore, don't have access to running water or stable health care. And compared to parts of the reservation in other states, the Navajo Nation in Utah receives little help from the state government.

"A lot of the times, the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation kinda has to fend for itself," says Pete Sands, who coordinates a food delivery program for the Utah portion of the tribal lands. "That's the reason why I started my program."

Sands also works with the Utah Navajo Health System (UNHS), a nonprofit that was started in 2000 and offers dental and medical care to rural Navajo communities. Together, the UNHS, Sands' program and a group of volunteers are at the forefront of the response to the pandemic for Navajo people in Utah, providing staples like food, water, detergent and more to at-risk people and elders with their delivery program.

Before India's lockdown, pro-democracy activists in New Delhi.
Algeria
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Algeria, Hong Kong, India: COVID-19 Halts Protest Movements

A "pause sanitaire" is the phrase El Watan, the French-language Algerian daily, used. Such "health pauses' have been happening among popular protest groups in a number of countries, either imposed by the government or self-imposed by the demonstrators in the face of the threat of spreading coronavirus in the close proximity of street protests.

  • Algeria: Recently inaugurated President Abdelmadjid Tebboune banned street protests as of last week, bringing to an end regular mass anti-government demonstrations that began in mid-February last year after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced he would seek a fifth term in office. But few are criticizing the move: "It does not mark an abdication of the movement," El Watan"s editorial board wrote. "Just the opposite, it is the sign of true lucidity...facing the urgent question of saving thousands of lives."

  • Hong Kong: COVID-19 has in the last two months put a damper on the anti-government protests that defined 2019. But as the South China Morning Post reports, the outbreak has fueled further resentment against authorities that now fear even more violent clashes might occur as the spread of the virus dwindles.

  • Chile: The 90-day state of emergency announced by President Sebastian Pinera last week coincided with the five-month anniversary of nationwide mass protests against structural inequality. El Tiempo reports that the move was seen by many as a way of curbing the protests that had been escalating throughout March, especially as the government simultaneously postponed a referendum on a new constitution scheduled for April 26.

  • India: The government last week banned gatherings of more than 50 people, putting a stop to the long-running protest against a controversial law that bars Muslim refugees from citizenship. More bans have been imposed in other cities since, including south Mumbai, where a dispersing protester told the The Times of India: "We may have differences with the government ... but we are with the government in the fight against COVID-19."

Watch Video Show less
Coronavirus home schooling in California
EL WATAN

Coronavirus — Global Brief: Education In A Locked-Down World

For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus global pandemic. The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt reminder of how small the world has become. Our network of multilingual journalists are busy finding out what's being reported locally — everywhere — to provide as clear a picture as possible of what it means for all of us at home, around the world. To receive the daily brief in your inbox, sign up here.

SPOTLIGHT: EDUCATION IN A LOCKED-DOWN WORLD

How will today's children look back on this moment? Beyond the fears about contagion and rumors circulating on social media, many will no doubt remember the coronavirus outbreak with two words: school's out. With UNESCO estimating at least 130 countries facing nationwide closures, and some 80% of world's student population shut out of the classroom, educators are forced to improvise.

In some parts of the world, schools have set up online classes on platforms like Zoom and Skype that have offered the possibility for the learning to continue in ways that wouldn't have been possible even just a few years aog. Still, as Le Monde reports, even in France's robust national education system technical glitches have slowed down classes since the country was put on lockdown last week. And of course many students without digital access simply remain shut out from learning for months at a time.

Beyond such digital divides, television and radio (which more families have access to) has come in handy: Argentina"s public television and radio are broadcasting special educational programming, with a website with e-books, interactive tools and other learning materials was set up to complement the broadcast programs. The Czech Republic"s Ministry of Education also instated educational public television programs — in a mere 5 days. TV editors were originally sceptical as many teachers had no experience in front of a camera, yet the first episodes proved successful with high viewership among 4-12 year olds. In Norway, the prime minister herself lent a hand, holding a national press conference for children, explaining the measures put in place to fight the virus and answering questions ranging from "Can I have a birthday party?" to "What can I do to help?"

Meanwhile, China gave us a reminder that no matter how much young people still need to learn, they're bound to outsmart us. Students in Wuhan flooded their homework app with 1-star reviews in a collective effort to try to get it kicked off the App Store. School's out!

— Rozena Crossman

THE SITUATION - 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

  • Olympics postponed: The Summer Games in Tokyo have been postponed until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Open or close? India orders nationwide shutdown of the country's 1.3 billion people for three weeks. UK government introduces new stricter restrictions, closing "non essential" shops and banning gatherings of more than two people. Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump announces the country will "again and soon be open for business." In Wuhan, where the epidemic began, China will partially lift lockdown on April 8.

  • Moving faster: The World Health Organisation warns that the coronavirus spread is "accelerating" around the planet, and the US could become new epicenter of outbreak as the number of cases has jumped to more than 46,000.

  • Toll: Italian death toll passes 6,000 mark, as Spain registers a record 514 deaths in 24 hours, confirming it is on a similar trajectory as Italy.

  • Eurozone economy suffers "unprecedented collapse in business activity" in March, with services sector, especially tourism and restaurants, taking the biggest hit.

  • Where next: Myanmar reports first two cases in men returning from abroad. The country of 54 million was the last world's most populous country not to report a single case, despite sharing a long border with China.

  • Prominent deaths in Africa: Cameroonian saxophone star Manu Dibango dies at 86 after contracting the virus. A similar fate for a top Zimbabwe broadcaster, Zorozo Makamba, who is dead at the age of 30.

Watch Video Show less
Poster Image from the TV-Series 'Garzón Vive' which aired in Colombia in 2018.
EL TIEMPO
Juan David Romero

Profile 360° → Remembering Jaime Garzon, Colombia's Brave Comic

This coming August will mark 20 years since the death of Jaime Garzón, an unlikely martyr in Colombia's long-running battles with organized crime, drug trafficking and government corruption. Despite studying law and working in politics, what eventually turned him into one of the country's most influential figures through the 1990s was his sense of humor. His comedy routines, often critical of corrupt politicians, earned Garzón enemies in the highest of ranks of Colombian public life. At the pinnacle of his fame on August 13, 1999, after getting involved in a hostage exchange and peace negotiations with the guerrillas, he was shot to death by two hit men on a motorcycle in Bogotá. He was 38. The entire country mourned the man who'd given Colombians an outlet for their frustration and hopes of changing a fundamentally violent and corrupt nation. Though progress has been made in Colombia, notably the end to decades of civil war, the case of his murder remains unsolved.

FLASH BIO

Place of Birth: Bogotá, Colombia

Date of Birth: October 24, 1960.

Education: Studied law and political sciences at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia.

Previous Experience: Mayor of Sumapaz, a district in Bogotá.

Breakthrough: In 1987, former director of newscast "Noticiero de las 7" Antonio Morales heard that "some mayor" had become a local sensation as a skilled and talented impressionist. Captivated by the story, Morales invited Garzón to his show for a demonstration, thrusting Garzón into the national spotlight.

Watch Video Show less
Esteban and Sebastián at the Kiss-a-Thon with a sign saying 'Faggots, but not cowards.' 
LGBTQ Plus
Juan David Romero

Furia Marica - The Meaning Of 'Faggot' And LGBT Rights In Colombia

A nation became so attached to a nasty word that it has lost some of its edge, but not all of it.

PARIS In a country like Colombia, which has somehow taught itself to use the word gonorrhea as a term of endearment, it is not surprising that the word marica (or faggot) has also indelibly established itself into our everyday jargon. Except for its obvious use as an insult or when reappropriated by the LGBT community, the word seems to mold itself to any situation. "Quiubo marica!" we yell to greet our friends. "Que maricada," we say when we make a mistake. "Usted si es mucho marica," we tell each other when we are doing something stupid.

It's so ingrained into our society that at times one could almost say the word has been utterly extracted from its ignominious past. But don't be fooled.

Personally, I loathe the word and find it offensive. So last week, when I saw that the hashtag #FuriaMarica (FaggotFury) had gone viral on Twitter, both my stomach and my mind started turning. The backstory of what had happened will shed light on more than just words.

It all began on April 14 in the capital of Bogotá. A man named Pedro Costa approached a young gay couple near a children's play area inside Andino, a shopping center, and began to push and threaten them, yelling obscenities.

"It disgusts me!" Costa furiously screamed at the victims, Sebastián and Esteban, on a video posted on Twitter. "An animal like you, watching kids while you and your "girlfriend" touch each other...you are a pedophile and this we won't allow!" Later in the video, Costa's wife also chimed in, calling the couple pedophiles. "That my son may be gay, cool, but a pedophile like you, never!"

Video recording of the incident at Andino — El Espectador

The couple said they were simply hugging and kissing and were not doing anything that a heterosexual couple would not do in a public space. In the video, you can see bystanders coming to the couple's defense. But then the story turned uglier when the police arrived and instead of protecting Sebastián and Esteban (they were, in fact, the ones who'd called the police), issued them a subpoena for exhibitionism and indecent exposure. They were fined nearly 2.5 million pesos ($800), which they are contesting.

The next day, El Tiempo daily published a video from the mall's security cameras on their website, which Costa claims were tampered with in order to hide the moment the gay couple was apparently not kissing, but touching each other explicitly. As it was rapidly turning into a national drama, Pedro Santos, LGBT activist and son of former Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos, launched the viral "Besatón" or "Kiss-a-Thon" with the hashtag #FuriaMarica to take place on Easter Wednesday outside the shopping mall, reposting on Twitter a phrase by cartoonist X-Tian: "Let's all kiss! On the streets! Man with man, woman with woman, woman with man, in the same manner and in every direction!"

In an interview with RCN Radio, Santos said the only thing he wanted to show is that a kiss is never an act of violence and that it should never be a reason to discriminate. The night of the event, more than 300 people, including Sebastián and Esteban, gathered outside the shopping center for the #FuriaMarica "Kiss-a-Thon."

Pedro Santos' original tweet calling for a "Besatón" (Kiss-a-Thon) — Photo: Pedro Santos via Twitter

This is just the latest chapter of the LGBT civil rights movement in Colombia that reveals many of the contradictions of this nation of 49 million people. In 1977, we had the first LGBT publication "El Otro" and our first pride parade in 1982. Fast forward to 2016 when Colombia legalized same-sex marriage, and a year later, when it recognized the union between three men, the first time in the world. However, much of Colombia is still deeply attached to its Catholic traditions, which often brings awful sexist and homophobic tendencies. In a way, everything about the incident at Andino is shocking, yet not surprising at all.

And, for me, it all comes back to the paradoxes of that word.

Marica. Furia Marica. Faggot. Faggot Fury. With our pain and anger, we need to reappropriate these terms that the world has always pointed at us like bayonets. Right? If we, as the LGBT community, do not take charge of the terms that have been used to define us, we are doing a disservice to ourselves and to those before us who have fought for the rights we enjoy today. But, reappropriating something that brings so much pain is not so simple. It's worth first digging into the roots.

Since the Middle Ages, the word marica was utilized in Spain as the diminutive form of the name Maria, and somewhat also in Greece and Hungary, though spelled as Marika. By the 16th and 17th centuries, the word signified a puppet doll, faintly alluding to later definitions that referenced a person that was "easy to manipulate." As such, by the 1730s, when the Royal Spanish Academy published its dictionary Autoridades, the word was described as such:

"Name given to an effeminate man of little courage that lets himself become subordinate and handled, even by those who are inferior to him."

During the early 1800s, the word for ladybug, or mariquita, also became directly linked to the meaning, and to this day, is used both to describe the insect and as a diminutive form of the word marica.

According to Francisco Molina Díaz in a paper titled Homosexuality in the Real Academia Española. An Analysis of Its Treatment in the Academic Lexicography, after the 1880s and in editions in the late 20th century, more derogatory definitions and adjectives were added into the word marica, such as "sodomite," and "despised or undesirable person."

Not much has changed since the 1700s. The mean-spirited significance of the word is the same as it was back then, which says plenty about our society today. The way in which the word has entered the Colombian lexicon as something very much disassociated from its intended meaning, yet so tightly associated with it at the same time, is the work of the heterosexual — and still too often homophobic — society in Colombia. It is a direct lack of care for the term and the truth is that, when it comes to the final say on what this word is, what it should mean and when and how it should be used, it is never up to the LGBT community to decide.

What do you want me to say, that I use it? Yes I do.

Not every LGBT person from Colombia is a supporter of the Kiss-a-Thon or the way in which the campaign reappropriated the word marica. I spoke by phone with Juan, a Colombian living in Chile, who said that the Kiss-a-Thon was simply a political strategy by Pedro Santos to hurt the LGBT community.

"The word marica is just a word. What do you want me to say, that I use it? Yes, I do. Do you use it? Sure. We all use it within the LGBT community. All the time. The problem here is not words... ‘#FuriaMarica". As if they could somehow give the word its adequate place, but they have in fact disfigured the word. They've turned the word and all of us into a cartoon."

But for supporters like Mauricio Albarracín, lawyer and LGBT activist in Colombia who attended the Kiss-a-Thon, it's important to recuperate the word marica and rid it from all hate. Writing to me via Twitter, he said the word marica is normally used between friends in a colloquial fashion, but when it is used as an insult against LGBT people, the word maricón is more common.

"Insults must be unveiled, analyzed, inverted, appropriated, left without the power to hurt," he says. "I don't know how exactly... It's good to reflect on the question of insults."

In today's Colombia, one sees the same heterosexual people who turn to each other and say "What's up marica?" also go on Facebook and use this word to insult the LGBT community. Thankfully, in 2017, the country's constitutional court ruled that calling an LGBT person marica is considered discrimination. It is good to have another legal tool on paper to protect ourselves, but we will have to look for real change in conversations at the local shopping mall — and on Facebook.

blog

Local Daily Names Cost Of War As Colombian Peace Deal Signed

[rebelmouse-image 27090451 alt="""" original_size="750x1398" expand=1]

El Tiempo — Sept. 26, 2016

"Peace after 267,162 dead," declares the stark headline on the front page of newspaper El Tiempo on Monday as Colombia gets ready for a historic accord between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The Latin American country has seen war for 52 years in a conflict that's claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

El Tiempo newspaper paid homage to those victims by including a list of their names in the backdrop of its front page.

President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC Commander Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, known by the nom de guerre Timoshenko, will sign a 297-page agreement at a ceremony in Cartagena in northern Colombia later today. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon are expected to attend the event.

The peace deal was first agreed upon on Aug. 24, with a ceasefire coming into effect five days later. "The signature of the deal is simply the end of the conflict. Then the hard work starts, reconstructing our country," Santos told the BBC.

Actually, there's one more step. The agreement must be approved by citizens in a national referendum scheduled for Oct. 2.

blog

Extra! FARC Cocaine Labs Go Up In Smoke

[rebelmouse-image 27090378 alt="""" original_size="750x1399" expand=1]

El Tiempo, Aug. 3

"Police destroyed 104 FARC laboratories in Guaviare," reads the Wednesday front page of the Colombian daily El Tiempo. An accompanying image shows security forces operating in the nation's thick southeastern jungle.

The head of the anti-narcotics police announced yesterday that the 104 cocaine laboratories, run by the FARC (or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrilla army, produced some 100 tons of the drug annually.

Police have adapted their strategy over the past few months, targeting traffickers and producers rather than farmers who grow the coca plant, the daily reports.

The southeastern part of the nation has been battling drug trafficking for years. "This is a structural blow to the finances of drug trafficking," Gen. Jose Angel Mendoza, the anti-narcotics police director, said.

This major drug bust comes just weeks after the Colombian government and FARC rebels signed a historic ceasefire deal in hopes of ending more than five decades of civil war.

blog

Extra! Colombia Court Says "Si" To Same-Sex Marriage

[rebelmouse-image 27090116 alt="""" original_size="750x1442" expand=1]

El Tiempo, April 8, 2016

"Court says "yes' to gay marriage in historic decision" reads the Friday front page of Bogota-based daily El Tiempo, a day after Colombia's highest court ruled to legalize same-sex marriage.

Members of the Colombian LGBT community, pictured on the daily's front page, gathered outside the court in Bogota's historic center to celebrate the decision. Same-sex couples will have to wait a little while longer before they can be married, as the ruling still needs to be put in writing — a mere formality, according to El Tiempo.

Colombia, a conservative and historically Catholic country will then join the ranks of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil in Latin America in giving the green light to gay marriage.


Same-Sex Marriage Goes Global by Worldcrunch

blog

Colombian President, Rebels Set 'Deadline For Peace'

[rebelmouse-image 27089442 alt="""" original_size="750x1441" expand=1]

El Tiempo, Sept. 24, 2015

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and rebel leader Timoleón Jiménez of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) agreed Wednesday on a "deadline for peace," promising to end the country's half-century-long civil war within six months, Colombia's daily El Tiempo reports.

The two men sealed the deal with a historic handshake in Havana, Cuba, which has hosted the nearly three-year-old peace talks. Cuban leader Raul Castró also joined hands with Santos and Jiménez, who "took a gigantic step," El Tiempo's front-page article explains, of committing to a series of legal mechanisms to treat war-related crimes perpetrated on both sides.

"We have agreed to create a special jurisdiction for peace that is going to guarantee that the crimes committed during the conflict, especially the most serious ones, will not remain unpunished," Santos said.

The mechanisms include special courts, an amnesty in the case of lesser political crimes, and alternative forms of punishment for rebels willing to confess to their misdeeds. The two sides promised to sign a peace deal by March 23, 2016, at the very latest. The FARC will then have 60 days to relinquish its weapons.