Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Our flight from San Francisco went to Houston, where we had to wait a considerable time because of delays. I happened to speak to several people were going to Bogotá for major petroleum industry conference regarding. They regarded Columbia as an important new frontier for petrochemicals.

We arrived in Bogotá where our hosts took us to an elaborate five-star hotel, where they put us up in an apartment rather than an ordinary hotel room. The hotel is a gigantic five-story complex, which probably covers two city blocks with a very large courtyard in the center, complete with a church. Blanche was told that foreign service officers used to stay here very frequently, but not so much anymore. Not surprising, quite a few of the people here are wearing apparel that show an affiliation with petrochemical industries.

We went to the University the next day to meet with the president and vice president, then went to a small auditorium, where the faculty, who already some of my books, posed questions to me. It was a very pleasant experience, except that in the course of our discussions, I learned that the country has no new petroleum deposits. Instead, the petroleum industry will use more intensive methods of extracting the remaining hydrocarbons.

I asked a group, if they knew anything about fracking. To my horror, they knew nothing about it. I showed them the trailer for gasland and the cover page for the New York Times series, Drilling Down. They were shocked at the trailer.

The economics department is quite large, with 442 students. Eduardo Samiento, an American trained economist, who was once quite influential in the country, but was somewhat marginalized after his criticism of the government became too irritating. Even so, he seems to have been able to create his own department with his own heterodox faculty, something almost unthinkable in the United States.

This afternoon, I will give my first address. I was told that people will be coming from other cities to share the address and the University expects that this will be the first time that the auditorium is expected to be filled. I will find out later how true this is, but for the moment I will enjoy the thought.

Finally, I will mention how much I enjoy the people here. The staff in the café in hotel struck up a conversation with Blanche, who told them that I was interested in environmental questions. One of them has invited me to give a talk Saturday evening to the local Greenpeace chapter. I just told him this morning about fracking, and he too was unaware. I mention him because he and another worker who of gone out of their way to procure food that would suit our the diet. In the supermarket, people routinely struck up conversations, especially with Blanche.

Regarding security, when our host took us to a shopping mall to get Sim cards for phones, the guards had to open the trunk and use dogs to check for explosives. Similarly, when I went there myself with my computer in my large fanny pack, I was checked with some electronic device.

At the same time, everybody who talks to us is curious about our own fears about security. They tell us that the elaborate security procedures are meant to put people at ease, rather than as necessary precaution. Even so, my host told us that we should be cautious about using a cell phone in public, because people snatch them whenever they see a target. At the little stand, where someone cracked our cell phone to make the sim card works, a young man came with a handful of cell phones to have some sort of work done on them.

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