After a momentous last month with the start of the national strike and civic protests known as Paro Nacional, December should usher in much-needed moments for reflection and reconciliation, especially for those of us residing in Bogotá, the epicenter of the polarization and social discord. In the aftermath of the violence and fear that gripped the capital during the initial days of the Paro, which forced Mayor Enrique Peñalosa to enact curfew, anti-government rallies have so far maintained a peaceful momentum, but dwindling significantly in numbers, as the vast majority of Bogotanos try to end the year with some sense of “normal.”
While the causes of the popular movements cover plenty of social and economic terrain, political ambition by leftist leaders and organizations to pressure and even destabilize the democratically elected government of President Iván Duque is evident when tracking the vitriol that permeates social media, which translated on the street has resulted in more than 350 civilians injured and one student dead. Among the many victims of the Paro Nacional are also members of Colombia’s security forces, attacked in the line of duty during days and nights of confrontation with masked vandals.
In the eyes of Colombians who gave President Duque a majority mandate at the polls last June, the objectives of the violent episodes of Paro Nacional opaque the true value of social protest to achieve a national dialogue that includes all players, especially those not participating in the protests. While President Duque asserts that he is following through with the agenda presented to voters, the strike committee has opposed expanding the dialogue on reforms to education, pensions and taxation with the greater business community.
Just 16 months in office #21N is not the culmination of the student protests in favor of more state funding, but a continuation of demands presented to the previous administration of President Juan Manuel Santos. The timing of the Paro Nacional, following in the heels of months of civil unrest in Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador wasn’t a coincidence either, and Colombians faced with the specter of on-going violence were quick to realize that was presented to them as domestic grievance could have its share of regional backers.
The economic consequences of the Paro Nacional have been felt across the socio-economic spectrum, impacting sales for industrialists and small businesses alike. It also attempted to smear the integrity of Colombia’s security forces, and threatened the personal safety of millions of commuters who were forced to walk long distances at night – without any public transport – to reach their workplaces and homes. The dedicated men and women of Bogotá are the true heroes of a strike that torpedoed legitimate petitions from the country’s trade unions by impacting the livelihoods of the most vulnerable in society.
Colombia is a nation of staunch aspirational values, where hard work is rewarded with certain comforts and community recognition. These values are essentially the same as in other middle-class households around the world, and which, to a large extent, act as a unifying boundary against threats considered “external.” One only has to hear the many stories of how entire residential compounds gathered together on the night of the curfew in Bogotá to defend personal possessions and property from alleged vandals to understand the instinctive mindset of Colombians to protect all that they have worked for.
For trade unions to march in unison against the government is a common practice that tends to end with pacts forged on key issues: from increasing the minimum wage and greater protection of workers’ rights. But this Paro Nacional had no intention of ending November 21 in Plaza de Bolívar, and even though it continues to manifest itself with road blockades and cacerolazos resounding in city parks, there are many positive aspects to this strike, beginning with the consolidation among many Colombians of an already strong national pride; all-out rejection of vandalism to private and public property, and appreciation for having, even with all its problems and inefficiencies, a TransMilenio bus to ride in after a long day at work.
Bogotá is a resilient city that recovers quickly from events aimed at damaging its hard-earned reputation and entrepreneurial spirit. With a holiday agenda that brings world-class events to the capital, our focus should now be on celebrating our cultural diversity and assimilation. For me at least, this season culminates a rewarding year with The City Paper and one in which we delivered stories that show how inclusive and creative we are as a society. I have no doubt these values will endure in Bogotá and will continue to make us more united and tolerant. Given how hashtags have played such and important role in the way we share news, here is one for the holidays: #BogotáIsStrong; and from this page, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to all our readers and take the opportunity to wish everyone happy holidays and an excellent 2020. Gracias!