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The Year of the Plague – 15 – COVID 19 – Bogota, Colombia – Part One

April 21, 2020

Bogota, Colombia. Coabas strip mall, empty because of the Coronavirus pandemic


Bogota, Colombia

by Greg Rood

No one imagined the reality we all share today. Unknown frightening future has filled many with doubt, forced others to seek relief in their respective Religions, as for me I’ve turn to Science for my answer, Contributing to my uncertainty about our collective future. I desperately hope what I envision as the world’s future is wrong.

Crowded Bogota was showing signs of economic decline early last summer. The impact of the great Venezuelan exodus hit Bogota hard. Four years ago my barrio in Norte Bogota, Cedritos had beggars, their ranks slowly increased. By early 2019 the flow of Venezuelan’s crossing the frontera was endless.  Many of these new arrivals have settled in Ceditos or Cedrizuela as its new arrivals jokingly refer to it!

Tension between these two groups have slowly escalated as Colombians were forced to compete with this steady stream of new labor flowing across its eastern border. The Colombian government’s response is to the influx was to issue all Venezuelan’s a two-year visa upon arrival. Some years earlier the flow was in the opposite direction during Colombia’s time of need.

Businesses in the nearby Coabos strip mall have increasingly been replaced by Venezuelan entrepreneurs. Only those with deep pockets have managed to stay afloat more out of necessity than success. Venezuelan’s owning businesses have an easier time keeping legal status in Colombia.Nino a 29-year-old Cuban who was raised in Venezuela, was working repairing cellphones when we met. Nino’s dream is to one day visit the Estados Unidos.

Nino’s Venezuelan employer closed the business six months after opening its doors. What has happened to Nino is anyone’s guess. Nion’s cellphone repair shop was replaced by a box shipping business catering to Venezuelans wanted to ship packages home. The typical box contains a variety of used clothing, dry food, and assorted snacks. This business is rarely open and its business model questionable in the best of times.

By late December Caobos had lost all but one of four hair salons Today this hair salon has more employees than clients. Other long time business have also closed their doors . Astute business owners left one by one as their leases expired. For the last 29 days all non-essential businesses have been closed. Few business will reopen once the quarantine is lifted.

I mention all of this because the economy was on a downward spiral long before the Coronavirus became the concern on everyone’s mind. The Colombian work force is largely made up of Informal labor and small business owners. The minimum Colombian wage is 980,000 COP. Coffee bean pickers get 30,000 COP a day with room and board. 1,500,000 is the threshold for income tax. Everyone pays the grossly unfair 19% VAT. I have friends in the Plains that manage on 20,000 pesos or $5 a day.

COVID-19 Bogota, Colombia. Photo Credit: Greg Rood

So what is the impact of the pandemic on Colombian lives?

Well first they have no savings and must work to survive.

The poorest of the poor are still in the street with few to beg from. They have become more aggressive in their tactics, as their hunger pain overrides civility. Ladonoas have no moral code in the best of times and they too have become brazen; now emboldened by the masks being worn by most everyone today. Buses generally packed to overflowing are almost empty at times and few and far between.

Depending on the Zona one lives the number of people in the street differs greatly. Those with the means to stay home, do so for the most part. There are 11 million people in Bogota. Most shop daily and from my limited viewpoint most are still carrying out their daily trips to buy things for Almuerso the main meal of the day, which is eaten at midday.

Social distancing is being practiced and most are wearing masks. Public restrooms generally offer no soap or hand towels, but this too has changed. My efforts to decline handshakes is taken as an insult or affront by some of my acquaintances, my closer friends understand for the most part that the usual hugs aren’t going to be happening anytime soon. I’ve taken on the practice of fist pumping with a small air gap.

A week ago I witnessed a Hazmat extraction team remove a corpse for the neighboring building. The guard informed me that the authorities had called ahead and asked that everyone remain inside during the extraction. Shortly after the corpse was removed another hazmat crew arrived to clean the apartment. I mentioned this event to my friend Hernan and he reported seeing a body being removed in the blocks to the west 12 hours earlier. Sobering, something the both of us are unlikely to forget. That day the total victims count stood at 17 for all of Colombia. Which leads me to believe the official count is off by a factor of anyone’s guess.

On March 24, 3030 my friend Jean Paul a GP wrote

… I’ve been a little busy, I’m fine, The situation is very complex, as you should know, the quarantine has been extended for 20 days but people are not taking it seriously, there are many people on the street who do not need it. The cases are spreading across the country, but I’m sure there is under-reporting (sic) because the government only authorizes the test in some very limited cases.”

“The same is happening here. The Rulers of the Banana fields are only interested in saving companies and the banks”

Then again, more recently on April 12th 2020

“.… The situation is getting more complicated, please do not leave the house if it isn’t necessary… all eps’s follow guidelines of the ministry of health. Testing is only done for people who have been in contact with confirmed cases (I know it’s absurd, but it’s by orders) there are two new units dedicated to inclusively to people with suspected COVID but people continue arriving at normal clinics. In my clinic we have had several confirmed cases. “

“We don’t know if the government is hiding the actual number of cases or just inability to do the tests. The results of the few tests that are done take more than 10 days.”

“…the Situation is very scary, especially because the situation is being handled by incompetent people” 

On Friday March 20th the lock-down began amid street protest.

Venezuelan homeless demanding 60.0000 pesos due to a hoax that had spread on Whatsapp. Unrest soon followed in the form of nationwide prison riots leaving twenty-three dead. April 16, 2020 The prison population’s fears were validated as 6 confirmed case were report in the Villavicencio prison about 3 hours south of Bogota in the Los Llanos plains. Today overcrowded conditions prisoners face in Colombia is akin to an uncontrolled science experiment.

The South of Bogota particularly Soacha has been witness to looting of grocery stores in recent weeks. The government’s temporary moratorium on creditors goes ignored and unenforced. In the first two weeks of the quarantine people and their families were being forced into the streets by landlords. The stress has created a palpable tension everywhere. Standing in long lines has become common place. That said The Colombian nation pasttime is waiting. Those who can afford to avoid the streets do, having their groceries and services delivered to the safety and comfort of their homes.

Some Venezuelan’s had already started their 550-kilometer tract back to their homeland – some by foot – before Colombian President Duque announced the quarantine. A report this week showed the showed the Cucuta Border clogged once again with lines waiting to clear Venezuelan Customs each waiting their health evaluation in the form of infrared thermometer.

To be continued…Part two will explore commentaries of Bogotans on the pandemic in Spanish and English








One Comment leave one →
  1. April 21, 2020 6:24 pm

    Gracias Greg! Bien hecho! Vale la pena incluir un analysis del papel de la Alcaldesa de Bogata y su trabajo ejemplar para combatir el COVID. Aqui en Denver sintonizo Radio Caracol frecuentemente ! Abrazos!(Desde lejos)

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