Carnaval-Style Parade Continues Bogota Birthday Celebration – 27 Images

Yet another extremely pleasant Sunday afternoon surprise.

More than 2,000 dancers and musicians from the Colombian cities of Barranquilla and Pasto took part in a Carnaval-style parade in Bogota’s downtown districts yesterday as part of the city’s 477th anniversary celebration.

Several thousand people lined the parade route that snaked through the capital from the centro internacional to the central Bolivar Square. And in the case of many revelers who didn’t want to stop there, a bit beyond as well.

Those who came from Barranquilla brought with them pieces and parts of the Carnaval de Barranquilla, Colombia’s most important folklore celebration and also one of the biggest carnivals in the world which annually takes place forty days before the Christian Holy Week. In 2003 it was proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

The participants from Pasto were representative of the city’s renowned Carnaval de Negros y blancos de Pasto, or Blacks and Whites’ Carnival, the largest carnival in southern Colombia, held each January. It too received UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity proclamation.

The best sculpture was the one pictured at top. It was massive but well-balanced; I watched three men hold and position it as they handed it over from one dancer-carrier to another.

I was feeling a little burned out by Bogota’s grit and desperation over the past week so crossing paths with the parade was a chestful of much-needed fresh air. The color, the smiles, the moves and the grooves were just what the proverbial doctor ordered. All things considered, it was probably the best way to spend and remember my last Sunday afternoon in the Colombian capital.

Twenty-six more images below. For editorial use, check out the images I filed for Demotix / Corbis. Or get in touch. Enjoy and as always, feel free to share!

Dancer in Bogota Street Carnival 1

Fire breathers on stilts Bogota

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Colombian Opposition Protests Peace Process In Bogota’s ’March of Dignity’ – 13 Photos

Pro-Uribe protester in Bogota's Boliver Plaza

Above is who I presume to be an ex-soldier leading a crowd of demonstrators in the Colombian national anthem earlier this afternoon at Bogota’s central Plaza Bolivar. It was the end point of the so-called “March of Dignity”, a demonstration organized by supporters of former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and his right-wing Democratic Center party to voice their strong opposition to the ongoing peace negotiations between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels.

According to info distributed via Democratic Center’s social media channels, the event was a show of “respect for life, liberty and dignity of soldiers and policemen”, with marches and rallies taking place simultaneously in several Colombian cities.

Many signs carried by the marchers were of the “support the troops” variety, but most clearly indicated a disdain for Santos and the peace negotiations. Since he left office in 2010, Uribe has been Santos’ biggest critic, accusing his former defense minister of surrendering the country to the rebels who’ve been fighting successive Colombian governments for 51 years in what is Latin America’s longest civil conflict.

Anti-government protesters march by a mural in Bogota A mural by Colombian street artist Guache in Bogota

Unemployment, crime and general dissatisfaction over the lack of progress to bring an end to the half-century old conflict have forced Santos’ approval ratings to plummet to a record low of 22% in late April. They’ve improved slightly since but still hover at just about 30%.

Polls also indicate that few have faith that the peace process will lead to a signed agreement between the government and the FARC. According to a Datexco survey in early July, 75% of Colombians “were convinced there is no chance that a peace deal will eventually be signed”. That was the peace process’s lowest level of confidence since the talks began in late 2012.

Uribe, meanwhile, who rode approval ratings pushing 80% at the peak of his popularity in the waning years of the last decade, has watched his Teflon lose its luster. With links to right wing paramilitaries, relatives who’ve been implicated in drug trafficking and his name increasingly tied to old or newly-emerging scandals, Uribe has seen his approval numbers dip to just over 40%. He’s hardly the beacon of trust Colombians imagined half a decade ago.

Which is probably why the crowd here in Bogota today wasn’t particularly large; I estimated it to number no more than two thousand. The three police officers I asked agreed.

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On The Job With Guache in Barrio Las Cruces – Bogota Street Art

I was delighted to spend part of the past two days chatting with, photographing and getting to know Guache, one of Colombia and Latin America’s most respected street muralists, as part of a longer story I’m putting together on the street art scene in Bogota. It’s one of the most vibrant on the planet, and Guache is very much at its center.

Its such a joy, almost a rush, to watch mystical birds and proud mythical warriors emerge almost instantly from cans of spray paint, like pre-Incan genies let loose from their bottles.

Guache at Las Cruces 3

I was first introduced to his work while exploring central Lima, Peru, just over two years ago, and was immediately hooked. His use and choice of color and design and the dignity and pride his subjects exude is a blend you rarely ever see. It’s one I relish whenever I do. You feel the connection he projects to the past. It’s strong, undeniable.

This week he was leading a community project in Las Cruces, a marginalized barrio less than ten blocks from Colombia’s main seats of power, but a reality that’s an entire world away.

Guache at Las Cruces 2

Guache at work on a corn stalk in Las Cruces

The project involved painting the north-facing wall of the Escuela Antonio Jose Uribe, a school attended by 3,000 children every day. I wrote a little bit more about the setting yesterday; it’s one in which Guache feels very much at home as he works with members of the community to learn about it from them in order to help create what he calls the area’s memorias historica, or historical memories.

Projects of this kind, where he’s working with municipal government agencies, are generally conducted in three phases over a period of 15 to 20 days. In the first, Guache meets with locals to discuss the history of the muralism tradition in Latin America, particularly its social and political aspects. In the second, the group discusses the locality’s history, its architecture and its cultural and culinary traditions. And in the third, he and community members share their sketches and then formulate a plan.

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‘I’m a beautiful man’ – The Homeless and Colombia’s False Positives

The newest building in Bogota’s central Plaza Bolivar is the Palace of Justice, a light brown marble structure that dominates the 350-year-old square to the north. It was constructed in 1989 to replace the structure that was destroyed four years earlier in the aftermath of an infamous siege by members of the M-19 guerrilla group. The battle to retake the building left 120 dead on both sides including 11 of the 24 Supreme Court Justices who were taken hostage.

I slowly turned my attention from the building towards the early 19th century cathedral 45 degrees to its right, trying to imagine the chaos than must have enveloped the square on that November day three decades ago. My reconstruction was interrupted by a gentle tug on my camera strap from behind.

I turned quickly to find a slight man, dressed in a dirty loosely fitting suit jacket, sporting a friendly smile.

“Hey! Want to take a picture of me?” He said. “A perfect souvenir of Colombia!”

The man was as dirty as his clothes, his thick dark hair greasy. His beard and mustache were gray as the day surrounding the scene except for the patch that covered his upper lip, stained by years of tobacco abuse but given shape by his round genuine smile.

“I’m a beautiful man,” he said this time in English. “Take a photo.”

I had a pocket full of change and some small bills.

“I’d be happy to,” I said.

He took a step back, and smiled again. This time it reached his eyes. He raised his soiled right thumb and I snapped three quick shots.

His spiel was standard fare; he was hungry, he hadn’t eaten all day, he needed money, he wouldn’t spend it on drink. He then asked for a thousand pesos.

I emptied my pocket of change and handed it to him along with a thousand peso note. Combined, a little over two thousand, less than a dollar.

“That’s what I pay my models,” I tried to tell him. I began to walk towards a vendor who was selling grilled sausage and asked him to join me. But he had already begun walking in a different direction, toward another stand where two young women were selling bootleg CDs.

“I’m beautiful man,” he said to one of them. He then turned towards a couple. Each held a camera in their hand.

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According to government figures, nearly 10,000 people live on the streets in the Colombian capital, a city of about seven million. (Given that just about every day I’ve seen several dozen people lying in alleys, parks, and parking lots in just a few small areas of the city, that figure seems suspiciously low.) And like the marginalized elsewhere, Bogota’s homeless have been easy targets, whether on the receiving end of harsh “cleansing” ordinances by local governments, or the victims of straight up violence at the hands of other residents.

Or, in the case of the Escándalo de los falsos positivos, or False Positives scandal, one of the more sinister war crimes in Colombia’s recent horrific history, they’ve been targets of extrajudicial execution by US-funded and trained armed forces.

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The Dandy Dozen: My 12 Favorite Street Shots For May 2015

The shot above was taken during an opposition May Day parade in Quito last month. I covered a handful of demonstrations while in the Ecuadorean capital, knew what to expect, and decided to focus some attention to what was happening on the fringes, which at times was even more interesting.

The man had an audience of thousands, but none were in the market for reading glasses. Not even at three dollars a pop. By the time he moved on, his expression turned grim. That departure from the scene remains one of the most poignant memories of that morning and afternoon that I spent walking among tens of thousands of people.

It’s also one of my favorite street shots snapped during the month of May, leading off my monthly dandy dozen street shot compilation which I began in late April. (It’s here if you missed it.) I’m happy to report that for the fifth consecutive month, none of the subjects flung sardines at me or punched me in the crotch. Not one.

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