It’s Better on a Bike! The CELA Bicycle Workshop-School

Summer/Fall 1999 InGear

As Latin America grapples with the inter-linked challenges of poverty, urbanization, and environmental deterioration, a new generation of citizen activists is arising within the market economies overseen by still-fragile democracies. A good example is the Centro de Asistencia Legal Ambiental (Center for Environmental Legal Aid—CELA), based in Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, which in November 1998 received a grant from Pedals for Progress, Mediterranean Shipping Company, and the Friends of Colombia, of a 40-foot container of 392 used bikes, plus parts.

CELA, through the affiliate Asociación de Cicloamigos “Mi Bicicleta”, has long sponsored the “It’s Better on a Bike” campaign. As a logical and concrete extension of this public education and advocacy program in favor of bicycle transportation, CELA established a Bicycle Workshop-School, adjacent to its offices in Cali, to train youth apprentices in bicycle mechanics, repair, and assembly, and to offer bicycle sales, repair, and maintenance services to the public.

The sale of P4P-donated bicycles and parts generates funds to operate the training program, including salaries of the administrator/trainer and stipends for the apprentices, as well as a reserve fund to pay for subsequent P4P shipments, including international freight, customs duty, and inland transportation costs. Discounts on purchases are provided to members of the Asociación de Cicloamigos, and preference is given to those demonstrating use of the bicycle for daily transport and as a means for generating income.

Through the summer of 1999, CELA has sold the bulk of the P4P-donated bicycles and trained three apprentices, who will shortly return to their communities to set up their own independent businesses. CELA is engaged in discussions with other civic groups and municipalities to identify joint initiatives to build cycling infrastructure and otherwise advance the use of the bicycle as a means of transportation.

Unfortunately, Colombian customs authorities have not been as supportive of the CELA bicycle initiative as local elected officials, interpreting Colombian law to require payment by the group of upwards of $8,000 in import duties, value-added tax, storage charges, and in-country freight from the port inland to Cali. Given the unanticipated financial burden, CELA is uncertain as InGear goes to press whether it will be able to pay future international shipping charges and continue receiving support from Pedals for Progress. For P4P and its partners to succeed, governments must do their part and remove those trade restrictions, which often protect monopoly importers and are biased against the poor.

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