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lundi 28 septembre 2015


Or China’s Contribution to the Obesity in Developing Countries, in this case Colombia
It was in Leticia, a small delightful town along the Amazon, I first heard the lament: I bought a motorcycle and soon I became Fat!!

IV, a good Cuban friend of mine, a teacher of Piano Music, ended up in this part of the world, thought as desolate by other Colombians, but where for millennia Indians have lived in harmony and happiness. Many new comers arrived, along with the rubber boom of Putumayo River. When the Peruvian town of San Antonio was transferred to Colombia it was renamed Leticia in 1934. Colombia decided to make the town Colombian by bringing in immigrants from Bogota, Antioquia and Tolima among other provinces, who remained in Leticia.
The town now is inhabited by three more or less distinct groups, even though there is generally no discrimination which is evident. The large presence of Coast Guard, Military and Police add to the mélange (and prostitution and further mixing of the races)
Within the short range of generations, Indians who identify themselves as Indigenous, along with full blooded Indians who do not identify themselves with any particular tribe (Mezclados or Leticianos in general with other descendants of people from the Interior, the history of this being Peruvian for nearly one century might have had an influence on this) and the Colones, brought here or sent here by the Government(mostly white but more recently some brown and black as well) live side by side and work in this river port city of Colombia and became the capital of Colombian Amazon province. Drug barons and large buildings and FARC all moved in during the fifty year civil war in Colombia (FARC and Colombian Government signed a peace treaty in La Habana just this past week). While small and easily navigable by foot, prosperity set in with Federal Help, Military expenditure, Drug cartels and trading. As is evident elsewhere in South America there are traders of Lebanese origin here. Drug barons wanted to build a road to the nearest River to transport their goods but only 11 km were finished and thus city remains more than 500 km further from the nearest road. Things that could be shipped in had longer and chemically altered shelf lives that also influenced the Leticia population. The infrastructure of the city improved including an airport with twice daily flights to the Capital, hotels and restaurants, supermarkets all arrived as part and parcel of civilizing Amazonia.
This period of economic revival in this outpost of Colombia coincided with the economic revolution happening in China and everything of Chinese manufacture flooded the market (with the distinct exception of Bajaj Auto Rickshaws from India!), among them, motorcycles, scooters. Now any one, with a regular salaried job, regardless of his level of income, could afford to own a motorcycle. It was a boon to this sun drenched with occasionally tempestual downpours, with annual temperatures hovering around 30 C (Ninety plus F). Walking in that heat is stressful and the motorcycle shortened that transit. Now young and old could reach home quicker from work or job or siesta. Bicycles have all but disappeared
Two unwanted side effects became prevalent, perhaps related to the ubiquitous presence of Motorcycles
1.     Proliferation of Fast Food places (bad quality, imported from Bogota and usually highly preserved food)
2.   Complete absence of Exercise, as in walking to your destination.
I did a small experiment
Without motorcycle, daily activities may get you walking for around 6 miles per day
Using motorcycle taxis (you ride as a pillion passenger, and it is 1000 cop per ride, less than 30 cents usd) that number goes down to about 3 miles per day of walking
If you own a Motorcycle, your walking goes down close to ZERO miles per day.
A disastrous combination and the result are in... just within ten years of its ubiquity, almost everyone in Leticia is overweight or Obese and needless to say the Indians and Indian descendants are affected disproportionately, for the same reasons as the Indians in North America and First Nations in Canada, Aboriginal Australians as well as Maori of Aotearoa—not beneficial cultural contact affecting alimentation, activity and stress. The descendants of the Colones are not exempt from this “contagious” disease which we in the West know how to prevent but we are indirectly responsible for the Overweight and Obesity in such isolated outposts of our “civilization”
Sadly Obesity has become a symbol of Letician Identity. Soy Leticiano, they would say, a full bodied and full blooded Indian said to me, who does not identifies with no tribe
Soy de ninguna tribu, I don’t belong to any tribe.

(A sudden realization occurred to me, this is what might have happened in Mexico, where the tribal affiliations have disappeared but Indian faces remain etched in their descendants without a particular cultural identity but part of a larger cultural identity. An Identity without power...