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Zoom in on Bogotá by virtual tour

Virtual tourism might help to quench your travel thirst and visit Colombia or anywhere in the world without leaving your home.

Sergio carries out a virtual tour. Photo: Sergio Navas

If travel restrictions have left you with a case of itchy feet, a new form of armchair travel might be just the ticket. With virtual tours, you can travel the world without worrying about Covid tests or quarantines.

Sergio Navas is one of the front runners of this progressive new approach to tour guiding – one of the hardest-hit industries by Covid travel restrictions. The concept of a virtual tour is novel yet basic. Guides conduct a tour on a digital platform, which is often live-streamed to viewers. Tourists can enjoy some of the aspects of international travel, all from the comfort of their own living room. 

“What we do is basically a walking tour that you normally would take in a city that you are visiting,” explains the Bogotá based tour guide. And the technical side? He explains the tour is broadcast live through a cell phone whilst a stabiliser transmits it around the globe to the public.

Some may see virtual tourism as nothing more than a short-lived gimmick. But given that the World Travel & Tourism Council estimates that one in 10 people are employed in the tourism industry, it offers a significant number of people a chance to work online. Even while travel remains heavily limited in many countries. 

Find out how to travel Colombia with Google street view

The World Tourism Organization has stated that only 1% of countries are open for international travel without any form of Covid restrictions. In the face of worldwide reductions in tourism levels, it has called for “collaboration”, digital solutions and clear rules’, even making the hashtag #restarttourism popular.

Clearly, the role of digital tourism has never been as important as it is now. 

Bogotá in all its glory. Photo: Sergio Navas

Virtual tourism has its benefits

Some may see virtual tourism as restrictive. But Sergio insists there are many benefits, such as being able to reach many more people at once. “If in real life I was walking with 10, 15 or 20 people maximum, in the virtual tours this number is multiplied by as many as you like,” he tells me. Some of his tours have even had audiences of up to 200 spectators. 

Beyond convenience, virtual tours can only be a good thing for the planet. Tourism has long been recognised as a leading contributor to climate change and pollution levels. The General Secretary of the WTO has called the Covid crisis an “opportunity that, by reconstructing it, the [tourism] sector will be better, more sustainable, inclusive and resilient”. 

So, could virtuality be the future of tourism?

Sergio isn’t sure. “It’s still a new business,” he said. “It’s not certain how sustainable it will be in the future and what market it will continue to have,” he adds. It seems the arrival of both the vaccines and the summer have led to a “quite important- drop in the number of spectators” he explains. “So, the fewer people at home, the fewer people watching tours.”

See the streets of Bogotá from your front room with a virtual tour. Photo: Sergio Navas

Local knowledge is key

If you’re unsure about taking a virtual tour, Sergio insists it’s more engaging than some may think. “You can expect it to be really fun; in truth it’s better than it sounds and I personally go on other people’s virtual tours,” he assures me. In part, this is because nearly all tour guides are locals. This allows the audience to tour the area alongside the in-depth knowledge of a resident, or as Sergio puts it “with a visa.”

Sergio’s virtual tours go far beyond just highlighting the cultural and historical highlights of Bogotá. Whilst you can tour the city’s flea markets or its historic centre, some of Sergio’s tours also have political and social themes. 

Sergio tells me “there are also tours which talk a little about the current situation, for example with all these protests and marches that took place in Colombia in the last two months.” He carried out tours during the protests which originally stemmed from the government’s tax reform and spiralled into almost two months of demonstrations.

Whether it’s learning about new political issues or just supporting local tourism, perhaps taking a virtual tour can do even more than just quench the thirst for travel during Covid times.
If you’d like to find Sergio online and check out some of his tours, you can find him on his instagram or on heygo to book a tour.

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Independence day: Celebrations and protests

Thousands of people took part in peaceful independence day protests throughout Colombia today.

Protestors gather in Héroes, the focal point for protests in central Bogotá today. Photo: Ethan Jacobs

Nationwide, Colombians from all sides of the political spectrum waited to see how today’s marches would unfold. Normally Bogotá hosts an independence day show of state strength, with parades from special forces and military hardware, capped off with a flypast from the Air Force. This year, there was a similar display, but it was not just for show.

The demonstrations that had been paused in June were set to restart and — fuelled by rumours of potential ELN activity — the police were out in force. 

A lot of people in towns and cities throughout Colombia did take to the streets today. But it was still a far cry from early May, when we saw tens of thousands of people. In part, that’s due to protest fatigue, in part a lack of focus, and in part the heavy police presence and government warnings.

A heavy police presence in Bogotá’s city centre. Photo: Oli Pritchard

Colombia’s independence day protests

Marches and activities took place across Colombia, from Bogotá and Medellín to Cali, Barranquilla, Cartagena, Manizales, Popayán and other major cities. In Bogotá, there were over 45 official points for protests, sit-ins, concerts, and artistic events. 

The police strategy in the capital seemed to be focused around keeping the centre clear and restricting major disruption to the periphery of the city. Plaza Bolívar and the surrounding area was completely barricaded off by police for around five blocks.

While the demonstrations unfolded peacefully for much of the day, as we write, there are reports of clashes with police in various places, including Cali which has been the epicentre of much of the violence this year.

Around lunchtime, a group of protestors in Manizales toppled a statue of Francisco de Paula Santander. In May, demonstrators in Popayán had also destroyed a statue of Santander who some see as a symbol of law and order.

Outside of these flare ups, for the most part, the protests were peaceful. The biggest upset was that transport in most major cities was disrupted.

Independence day protests in Bogotá

The Parque Nacional site was almost completely empty today, much like the centre. Only a few people gathered in Parque de los Hippies and there was a heavy preemptive police presence in much of Chapinero. 

Only a smattering of people by the Museo Nacional. Photo: Oli Pritchard

Héroes was the only major central gathering point, with around 5,000 protestors creating a sort of carnival atmosphere. Other sites ranged from just 20 at Banderas to around 500 at Portal 80.

It was a different story in the south and west of the capital though. Predictably, stone throwing started late afternoon at Portal de las Américas, followed by a similarly predictable police response of tear gas and water cannons. After that, now-familiar running battles between police and protestors continued. Similar scenes also broke out at Usme and on Calle 80 with Avenida Cali. Again, numbers remained small, with less than 500 people at each site.

After so many protests, this feels like a well-rehearsed routine. People gathered in certain sites, mainly Portales and a few monuments. Singing and dancing through the early afternoon in a largely peaceful manner. Sometime between 4pm and 5pm the Esmad riot police turn up and protestors throw rocks thrown. They then respond with tear gas, water cannons and batons, descending into running clashes until around 7pm. Transport also shuts down with the arrival of Esmad.

Independence day protests at the Avenida Cali today. Photo: Claudia Canizales

Why are people still protesting?

In mid-June, the Comité Nacional del Paro opted for a temporary halt to what had been almost two months of protests. At that point, almost 70 people had died in violent clashes with police. There were also reports of disappearances and sexual violence. With COVID numbers reaching a third peak, public patience for continued disruption was running thin. Numbers were steadily dwindling with each further week of protest.

So why are people protesting? The big issue is that so little has changed since the mass protests of 2019. Indeed, the pandemic has magnified inequality, poverty, and a host of other issues. The government’s implementation of the peace accord has moved incredibly slowly, despite promising progress from the JEP. Killings of social leaders continue at a worrying level and there’s been a dramatic increase in armed violence in rural Colombia. 

Today was not only independence day, it was also the beginning of a new legislative session in Congress and the day the strike committee had proposed to re-commence demonstrations. 

In theory, it was supposed to be a chance for people to show their support for the strike committee’s wish list. This includes money for the most vulnerable, access to free education, and health reform. But in reality, it is hard to pin down exactly what today was even about. 

The protests that started in late April encompassed many things, but were given focus by resistance to the Reforma Tributaria. Some union groups in the centre today were calling for changes to the healthcare system. But apart from that, there were few clear aims on display. What was present was the familiar howl of anger that has been reverberating around the country since at least 2019.

Independence day: No shame in waving the Colombian flag

The Colombian flag is waved by protestors and police alike. Photos: Oli Pritchard.

Love for the country is one of the few things that generally pulls Colombia together rather than apart. 

Tomorrow is Colombia’s independence day, and it’s hard to know what’s going to happen. There will be another national strike. It might be big, it might be small, there may be incidents or there may not. There have been all kinds of claims and suggestions. One thing we do know is that Colombian tricolores will be everywhere.

As a symbol, the Colombian flag is very much up for grabs. Álvaro Uribe plays on patriotism often, calling himself El Gran Colombiano. The C in FARC stood for Colombia, and they had tricolores on their uniforms, as do the Policia Nacional. Duque talks often of patriotism and flags fly on his desk and over his building, just as they do in the multitudes protesting against him.

So the tricolor is a banner that has many armies marching under it. Tomorrow, we’ll see protestors proudly bearing the flag to show they represent the people, facing off against police who have the flag sewn into their uniforms to represent their connection to the people. The president will stand under the Colombian flag, possibly with a tricoloured sash as well, showing that he represents the people too, as do all the opposition politicians. In the end, the flag represents everybody and therefore nobody.

Not just the flag, but in fact all the trappings of nationalism and patriotism (while they’re different, there’s plenty of crossover) are used in abundance. National team shirts are standard attire on protests, whether for the left or the right of politics. There’s a subset of protestors that retain the flag but invert it – showing that they believe the administration is betraying the country.

Footballer fans wave the Colombian flag, no matter what the team. Photo: Carl Worswick

Flag waving can have different connotations

For an Englishman such as myself, it’s all a little strange. The flag of England has had a bad reputation over the years, partially reclaimed by football. Certainly, for most of my life, it was explicitly connected to racism and violent neo-nazi groups. Of course, patriotism for the English is very different than for Colombians: many countries have independence from the British Empire, there is no freedom day for the English themselves, despite what Boris Johnson says.

Some of that carries over for me in Colombia – I’m uncomfortable with the flag-waving and chest-beating that still accompanies a lot of patriotic fervour. Luckily, Colombian flag fervour doesn’t seem to translate into xenophobia and racism. While both of those are problems that do exist, this isn’t the symbol that they use. The tricolor seems to genuinely include all Colombians, although some indigenous groups choose to eschew it.

The key in all this is trying to harness the power of all that nationalism and patriotism. While it might not be comfortable for someone like myself, the fact remains that Colombians are fiercely patriotic and rarely go too far into the darker depths of full-on nationalism. If a politician could subvert that for their own machiavellian ends, the results could well be horrifying. It’s a force that’s often gone that way – as Europeans have seen all too many times in the past. 

A pro-police rally also features the Colombian flag.

The Colombian flag symbolizes national pride

In the end, it seems that the flag is a symbol of unification. If you speak to ten Colombians you’ll usually get 11 or more opinions on most subjects. But there’s a widespread agreement that the flag matters and patriotism is important. While there’s often violent disagreement about the path the country should take, the vast majority care deeply about their country. After years of stigmatisation and emigration, Colombians from all parts of society are again speaking proudly of their country and haven’t allowed any single faction to place themselves as the guardians of patriotism.

Dispatches: Migración offices

Our series that gives a snapshot of different corners of Bogotá visits a place that’s familiar to many foreigners in Colombia. The offices of Migración.

The queue outside Migración. Photo: Ethan Jacobs.

Tuesday, 20 October, 2020 10:00 am

A nun, two blondes, and a member of the Ejercito walk into the Migración. They immediately turn around and walk back out – wrong forms. The first part could very well be the set-up to some Colombianised joke I haven’t heard before. The second could very well be a standard Tuesday. You never seem to hear anyone speaking in glowing terms about their experience at this place. 

It’s 10 in the morning. I got here 30 minutes ago, not wanting to be late for an appointment I was urged to make, and somehow it’s still unlikely I’ll get seen anytime soon. There’s a line but it’s unclear what purpose it’s serving. Everyone, at some point, makes their way to the front of the queue past those who’ve been waiting to plead their case. 

Dispatches: Parkway.

You see it on their faces as they walk up: They believe their circumstances are unique enough to grant them expedited access. Surprisingly, they’re not. Listening in on the grace with which the civil servants – clad in polo shirts, cargo pants and, for reasons I still can’t wrap my head around, combat boots – turn these people away is one of the few treats of this whole ordeal. 

You can tell they have their lines memorised, though they never turn down the opportunity to take artistic license in deviating wherever possible. “Yes, this is the correct line. Yes, they all have appointments. I’m sorry, no walk-ins.” 

If you’re overly insistent, they may ask you what your appointment is for. You’ll tell them and they’ll ask to see your appointment confirmation email. They’ll pause, reflectively, before solemnly informing you that you’ve scheduled the wrong kind of meeting. You’ll have to reschedule for another day. Less-insistent visitors turn around and head to the back. I trace their path to the end of the line with more schadenfreude than sympathy, haphazardly sizing up everyone else as I do. 

It’s amazing that on any given day, Migración draws the most diverse cross-section of people you’ll likely find in one place in Bogotá, and still, each person has the exact same facial expression. It’s something between anxiety and exasperation, probably more of the latter the longer you’ve been waiting. Kids, thankfully, are immune to this, still too young to sense the crippling bureaucracy that has slowly crushed the spirits of everyone else in line.

I’m finally allowed in, processed, and shunted to the building’s fifth floor. There are no people there, just boxes and boxes of files – presumably of everyone who’s run afoul of those in power. I wait. Looking around this and other parts of the building, you become aware of how often the Colombian flag is displayed in various forms and sizes. 
They’ll tell you that the red strip at the bottom of it represents the blood spilt for Colombia’s independence. In reality, it’s a subtle reminder of the red tape that underlies every single legal process that transpires here.

Finally, a woman shows up. I pass her my papers and cédula, explaining my circumstances. She pauses, looking up reflectively before informing me that I’ve scheduled the wrong appointment. I’ll have to come back another day.

Film review: Sorry We Missed You

Ken Loach’s latest film is currently available in Colombian cinemas. 

Sorry We Missed You is available in cinemas this week.

The new film by acclaimed director Ken Loach Sorry We Missed You has just hit national theatres. It serves as a companion piece to his previous films  I, Daniel Blake. Both movies deal with the problems and struggles working class people in the UK have to endure in this modern society. The realistic approach boosts the story above the average social drama you can find in similar movies. 

The film cast consists of non-actors or lesser-known actors, led by an amazing performance from Kirs Hitchen. Hitchen portrays a father who not only has to manage to provide for his family but must also deal with his rebel young son and the financial problems surrounding his household. 

Ken Loach is known for his naturalistic approach to filmmaking, using as little film equipment as possible, and placing real people in front of the camera. This approach (quite common in the Colombian filmmaking landscape) allows the film to detach itself from artificiality. It makes everything more believable, more grounded. As a result, the film can be gut-wrenching at points — the struggles this family goes through can hit too close to home. 

Colombian cinema: Read all our reviews.

In Sorry We Missed You, we find the usual problems and dilemmas faced by working-class, low-income families. And, in this case, the decisions and the pressures they have to endure while dealing with marital problems. 

The director masterfully manages to make us empathise with our main protagonist. We just want him to get a break from all the bad things that happen throughout the film, to overcome the incessant obstacles that life throws at him. We are able to understand where he’s coming from and what’s keeping him away from obtaining what he desires. 

There are a couple of moments in the film that can leave the viewer exhausted, desolated, speechless. These are moments where we can see the true self of our characters, where they speak up their mind and we are confronted with the harsh reality the film wants us to be aware of. The film’s sincerity and brutality towards its subjects leave us feeling helpless. But that is also the point of it all, the main goal of Ken Loach’s filmography as well.

The movie is quite simple, but in its simplicity the film excels. The approach that Loach used to film this story not only can be called natural but also minimalistic. And that’s the secret to the film’s success, that’s why it is worth it. It does more with less and says a lot with a few details. This movie departs from narrative conventions: Here we do not have heroes or happy endings, only real life. 

Rate: 3.5/5

A jab in the arm: Getting vaccinated in Bogotá

If it’s your turn to get vaccinated in Bogotá, here’s how it went for our writer. It wasn’t quick, but it’s relatively easy.

Queuing to get vaccinated in Bogotá. Photo: Oli Pritchard

A couple of weeks ago my university told me that I was part of Group Three for vaccinations and as such could get vaccinated. I decided to wait a while as I still had classes and there were probably teachers more in need of it. Classes finished this week, so it was time to get vaccinated. I’d been told I’d need a certificado laboral to prove I was a uni worker, as well as the usual things such as my cédula. No problema. 

Navigating the website: Thursday 16:00

I log onto the website to organise my vaccine jab and am confronted by a range of options. San Ignacio is almost visible from my house, so I try that. There’s a lot of information to scroll through, but all fairly easy and fairly self-explanatory. Helpfully, there’s also plenty of information and advice about potential problems. Having navigated it all, there’s a separate page to register as part of grupo tres. Nice. I go and do that, then return to the main page. It’s all smooth sailing… And then I see I can only schedule today or two days hence. And all days at San Ignacio are fully booked. No worries, I’ll try early tomorrow to see if more appointments are available then.

Making an appointment: Friday 09:00

I log back on in the morning and find I have to navigate almost all of the main page again. Once again, there are no days free for San Ignacio. It’s small, I think, so I try going through the page for Avenida Chile. At 4km away it’s not far. Bingo! There are slots all through today, tomorrow and Sunday. Great.

I make an appointment for 14:20 this afternoon and that’s that. Instant confirmation, which I screenshot and call up on my phone. It tells me to download and sign a consent form. Nice and simple, so I get a few chores done (including printing that consent form), took the dogs for a quick walk and headed off to Avenida Chile for my date with the syringe.

Arriving for my vaccination: Friday 14:00

I arrived at Avenida Chile, found the correct entrance point and proudly showed the security guards my appointment and apologised for arriving early. Unimpressed, they sent me to the back of the line. The appointment turned out to have been a complete waste of time. All my queue neighbours hadn’t made appointments and we were all in the same boat. There are yellow strips on the floor indicating 2m distancing, but they’re largely ignored.

A few minutes later a miVacuna guy comes round with the consent form, so it turns out printing that off was also a waste of time. He refuses to believe that I can be vaccinated as a foreigner, but I stick to my guns. It helped enormously that I had data on my phone. I navigated to the relevant page and showed him my confirmation of Group 3 status. Grumpily, he handed me a turno ticket and told me to hold on to it. It must be important.

Getting vaccinated in Bogotá was pretty straightforward. Photo: Oli Pritchard.

Running late: Friday 14:20

The appointment will not be on time. We have moved around the corner, and I’m about 30 people further forward. After a little while, a security guard comes and checks with me, saying a Polish woman was turned away in the morning. I assure him that my papers are in order and he’s much nicer than the miVacuna guy was. He tells me that the system of appointments is useless. This is because the Pfizer vaccination is slowing everything down and also they have half the doses they should have. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not.

Moving along the queue: Friday 14:40

“Cédulas, consent forms and turn tickets in hand,” barks the head security guy. Twenty or so of us are called forward to check those three things. We’re let into the mall. For a minute it’s not clear where to go, we really are in the mall with all the shoppers. Eventually, a miVacuna shirt pops up and beckons us over to the side, downstairs, along corridors and all the way into the car park. 

There we are asked again for the consent form and verbal confirmation of EPS, although there’s no further check of the turn ticket or eligibility for vaccination. There are four lines for vaccination – SinoVac (first), SinoVac (second), AstraZeneca and Janssen. I choose Janssen and walk through to the first available seat. There’s no pressure to go one way or the other, although I imagine you’d have to show first vaccination proof if you wanted SinoVac two. Things are going smoothly so far.

A bit more waiting: Friday 15:30

Good thing I brought a book to read. This is by far the longest period of waiting and it’s not clear what’s happening. A lady eventually comes round to check our papers – she looks at the screenshots I’ve taken of my confirmations, takes my cédula and confirms my registration. She stamps and signs her part on my consent form. Doesn’t want to see my certificado laboral, so that was another waste of time too. On the other hand, there’s a dog in the queue, so that cheers me up.

Getting vaccinated in Bogtá: Friday 16:00

We’re called up, finally. Our consent forms are taken and back into the mall we go. This time we’re really in it, riding on escalators and everything. We arrive at a third-floor lot that’s been commandeered for vaccinations. This is it, the final boss stage. Our cédulas are taken from us and we’re asked to wait for a couple of minutes, before being brought into the room. There are three nurses there and 20 seats. We’re lined up in rows of five, but there are still three empty seats. The head nurse apologetically tells us that we have to wait to fill the twenty as the vaccine comes in rounds of five. That’s the most explanation I’ve had all day, I think. She runs through the basic details, does anyone have conditions etc or feel bad?

From here it’s fast. Two by two we go to the front, get a solid jab (I really felt it in the muscle) and that’s it. After a few minutes, everyone gets their vaccine documentation and cédula back. Mine has been filled out wrong, so I request a change, fearing officious immigration types in the future. That’s quickly done and the party is over. Two and a half hours after entering the line, I’m blinking into the setting sun and strolling to the transmi. It could have been worse. 

Six Colombians in Tour de France 2021

The Tour de France 2021 is about to start and after Giro d’Italia success with Egan Bernal earlier this year, cycling fans in Colombia can’t wait for a new grand tour. 

Tour de France 2021
In three weeks, the Tour de France will finish on the Champs-Élysées. Photo: A.S.O./Alex Broadway

The biggest chance of success for the escarabajos seems to come from Rigoberto Urán. El toro de urrao showed his form by winning the mountainous time trial stage in the Tour of Switzerland. In 2017, the leader of Team Education-Nippo was already close to the yellow jersey when he finished second, within a minute of winner Chris Froome. This time he isn’t expected to get any competition from Froome. The Brit will compete for Israel Start-Up Nation but after a crash in 2019, is far from the level he had before.

In Rigo’s quest for success, he’ll be supported by luxury domestique Sergio Higuita. The 23-year-old from Medellín already marked his name on the biggest stage in 2019 by winning a stage in the Vuelta a España, his first ever grand tour. 

Miguel Ángel Superman López will also fancy his chances in this year’s Tour de France, but as is usually the case with Movistar, he will first have to compete with teammate Enric Mas and good old Alejandro Valverde to see whether he will get full support from his team. Superman López impressed on Mont Ventoux a few weeks ago, by blowing his competition away in the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge. The competition wasn’t too strong, but his climbing time in the single stage race was a minute faster than Chris Froome recorded in his maiden Tour de France victory. With a double Ventoux ascent on stage 11 (July 7), that bodes well.

Nairo Quintana will also have another shot at a tour victory. The Boyacense, who twice came second in the competition behind Froome, has been racing for the smaller Team Arkéa Samsic, where he will get full support to go for the Tour de France victory. Nairo mostly played hide-and-seek in the preparation, so it is hard to say whether he has got a serious chance to win it, but he seems an outsider for the yellow jersey. 

After the big three and Higuita we will probably see Sergio Luis Henao for Team Qhubeka – Nexthash and Esteban Chaves for Team BikeExchange in a free role going for stage victories. 

The three leading Colombians are definite contenders for the top ten and maybe even for a podium spot, but the competition will be tough. Last year’s winner Tadej Pogacar is all set to defend his yellow jersey and Jumbo – Visma has built their entire team around getting Primoz Roglic his first Tour de France victory. 

Team Ineos comes to the Tour de France without Egan Bernal. The Tour winner from 2019 successfully set his sights on the Giro d’Italia earlier this season and will also be part of Team Ineos’s Vuelta a España line up later this year. Nevertheless, Ineos is probably considered the strongest team in the race. With Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz, Brits Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart and Richie Porte from Australia, they have four potential winners in their ranks. 

The Tour de France 2021 will start this Saturday and finishes on Sunday, July 18 on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. 

An end to COVID-19 restrictions in Colombia?

The government announces ambitious plans to ease out of the crisis. But it could get worse before it gets better.

Front-line medical staff on a COVID-19 ward. In some parts of the country, intensive care wards have reached 100% occupancy during the latest peak. Photo: Steve Hide

After 14 months of crisis, and in the midst of a deadly third peak currently killing a record-breaking 500 people daily in recent weeks – including many younger deaths – Colombian health authorities have announced a phase-out of COVID-19 restrictions designed to contain the virus.

The question for many people, particularly in cities such as Bogotá, is: “What restrictions?” Apart from adherence to facemasks, to casual observers, the streets of the city have been operating near-normally for at least the last month.

Where we can expect changes now are in schools and colleges, international travel, sport and the hospitality sector. Key changes we can expect locally and nationally are:

  • No need for COVID-19 tests, tracing apps and quarantines for both national and international flights (inbound) from June 8.
  • Progressive return to presential school classes from July 15.
  • Near-normal operation of restaurants and food outlets
  • Easing restrictions on sporting and cultural events, late night bars and discos.

Another question for many Colombians is: “Why now?”  

The country is in 10th place worldwide for active COVID cases, and 19th place for accumulated deaths per population. But historically Colombia has done better than both the USA and UK in terms of accumulated deaths per population. This suggests some agility in its COVID-19 response. But cases are higher than ever. Can Colombia get the re-opening right?

Communities need fixing

One politician leading the charge for a return to normality is Bogotá Mayor Claudia López, the same who pushed for stricter lockdowns in April last year.

Undoubtedly, she had read the runes of social unrest that unravelled last month into six weeks of protests and deadly riots leaving 60 people dead.

The clashes were initially anger at tax reform, but then a dam-break of frustration in poor barrios left even poorer by COVID-19 – and its restrictions – even as wealthy Colombians were flying to Miami to jump the vaccine queue, gracias a Uncle Sam.

Read all coverage about the coronavirus in Colombia

Even the mayor admitted the contradiction in starting to end COVID-19 restrictions in the current peak. But she pointed out that communities need fixing.   

“From the point of view of the social, economic and political context, with deep institutional mistrust, unacceptable poverty and unemployment that is especially affecting women and young people, it is necessary to do so,” she explained.

Behind this realpolitik is some political handwashing. Bogotá’s supreme leader was widely ignored in May when she implored the city’s angry youth to “stay home” to avoid the protest marches which many predicted would create superspreader events.

A medical doctor working in COVID-19 expressed to The Bogotá Post last week: “There’s no point keeping half of Bogotá locked down if the other half are crowding the streets. And if the hospitals overflow, the protesters share some blame.”   

The fact remains that Bogotá’s buses were filling up even before the paros, and popular excursions such as the weekend walk up to Monserrate are more crowded than street marches.

But no-one doubts the dangers ahead for the capital, or where the blame will lie if it goes wrong.   

Is COVID past its peak?

For a start, the assertion by Mayor López that Bogotá has “past the COVID-19 peak” is probably premature. Cases are on a plateau and could rise again before they go down, raising the spectre of hospitals closing their doors to the dying – an uncomfortable scenario.

Bogotá, with ten million inhabitants, has already seen the lion’s share of coronavirus with 28% of the country’s 3.5 million cases reported to date, and nearly a quarter of the 90,000 deaths.

Mayor López announced the roll-back of restrictions the same week the city saw a record 160 daily deaths, and Intensive Care Unit COVID beds occupancy briefly reaching 100%. This is a tipping point where the survival chances of critically ill patients are reduced to zero as desperate families find hospitals to take in their loved ones.   

Studies have shown a correlation between ICU occupancy and survival rates: The fuller the beds the less chance individual patients have of making out alive as medical staff and supplies such as oxygen are stretched to the limit.

And it’s not just COVID: Bogotá counts on 2,736 ICU beds of which 2,262 are for COVID-19 patients. But as these fill up, and with general shortages of staff and supplies, there is also intense pressure on non-COVID beds which often cater for the city’s high levels of accident victims, often related to road carnage after late-night booze on weekends.

This was one reason that city leaders had imposed curfews and alcohol restrictions during the last year.

Step by step reactivation

How will the system cope with peak COVID and a population off the leash and on the lash?

This concern has led to some back-peddling from the health authorities with a narrative change from “raising all restrictions” to “step by step reactivation” across the country according to health indicators.

According to Health Minister Fernando Ruiz, the country’s towns and cities will be graded according to a system called IREM (Índice de Resiliencia Epidemiológica Municipal) that measures: 

  • The COVID-19 vaccine uptake and prevalence of COVID-19 in the community (immunity acquired by vaccination or exposure to the disease itself).
  • The strength of the local hospitals. 
  • The COVID test and trace levels. 

The system, which is not unlike some of the “traffic light” schemes in other countries, will give a score between 0 and 1 for each area. Areas that score closer to 1 will have fewer restrictions.

Like most countries, Colombia’s Health Ministry is counting on COVID-19 vaccination as the only sure way out of the crisis.

The IREM scheme gives a pay-off for local leaders to promote their local vaccine rollout as they can tell their communities: “Hey, you want us to open the discos – well get the jab.”  Keeping cases low and ICU occupancy rates below 85% will bring real benefits, the health minister explained last week.

In contrast, rising rates could bring new restrictions.

Key to ending restrictions will be the accelerating vaccination campaign. This month Colombia is vaccinating over-50s, some key workers and other vulnerable groups. To date, around 20% of the population has had at least one jab of Pfizer, Astra Zeneca or Sinovac vaccine and has secured enough vaccines for the coming months.

The Health Ministry has also announced the start of private jabs with the Chinese Sinovac vaccine – now WHO-approved – via companies wishing to accelerate vaccination of their employees.

Colombia’s COVID-19 deaths are on a high plateau of 500 per day in June 2021.

As we reported last month, the vaccine impact has already been seen in a massive reduction in cases and deaths among health workers, the first to be vaccinated in March this year. It is too early to see the impact on the general population. The high death rate is related to people infected before the vaccines, or in younger persons yet to get the jab.

A plan to level up

How will the IREM scheme work in the real world?

Probably not perfectly.

COVID-19 data is already weak in many areas of Colombia – some estimates suggest that real cases and deaths are 30% higher than reported. And tying benefits to results could create a perverse incentive for authorities to cover up COVD-19 cases, as is already happening.  

Poorer communities, already disadvantaged in terms of health services, are likely to see slower vaccination rollout and reduced chances to meet IREM indicators. A plan designed to level up the Estrato Unos could have the reverse effect as swanky areas pull ahead.

Still, most people in Colombia welcome any chance to get out of the COVD crisis and return to bars, dances, discos, church services, or football matches.

But, for many, the lurking question is this: Is the worst of coronavirus still to come?

Strikes and protests in May 2021 could have contributed to COVID-19 cases.

How Colombian students are fighting sexual aggression on campus

Universities won’t listen, but social media will. Here’s how student groups are making sure that cases of sexual harassment don’t remain hidden.

Every year, women at Universidad Externado uncover the pot and denounce sexual violence on campus. Photo: Daniel Figueroa

Sexual abuse and harassment in universities are more common than people may think. And protocols for these kinds of cases are even more outdated. In Colombia, the statistics are concerning. Teachers and students have been accused of sexual aggression. Women are tired and they won’t stay silent any longer. We speak to some of the students pushing for reform.

Female students have held protests and marches to fight against sexism and sexual aggression. Most universities have at least one public testimony of campus harassment. But the support systems and protocols for handling accusations of harassment are insufficient. Many victims don’t believe they will be supported if they come forward, and that universities won’t take their stories seriously. 

In fact, the few protocols that do exist in universities to handle cases of sexual aggression were introduced as a result of pressure from student groups — not by the universities themselves.

Harassment on social media exposed

In 2019 Rebelión en la granja, a movement created by female students at the Universidad Nacional, used Twitter to expose a group named FEDEGAN. This was WhatsApp group of male students who shared intimate pictures of female students from the university and schools nearby. 

The same year, the Bolivar en falda collective was formed in the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB) to address a case of campus harassment. A male student had lifted the skirt of a female student. The university’s response was basically to tell female students not to wear skirts or any kind of inappropriate clothes. Unsurprisingly, it created outrage. 

Maria Alejandra Restrepo, a UPB student, says that in 2020 a girl denounced harassment from a professor on Instagram. Other girls then added their stories to hers.

“She also told us that men will be men and that there’s much harassment in life so we better get used to it. There is so much effort by female students, but the university has to stop covering for aggressors.”

“An advisor told us that we shouldn’t damage the [university’s] good name on Instagram ‘without proof’, that we should report it to Bienestar Universitario instead. But we knew that some girls tried and it was even worse,” said Maria Alejandra. “She also told us that men will be men and that there’s much harassment in life so we better get used to it. There is so much effort by female students but the university has to stop covering for aggressors.”

Franja Roja formed in Medellín

The Universidad de Medellín didn’t have any procedures for dealing with harassment until last year. A group of students put forward a proposal for how victims could denounce sexism in the university. The gender collective Franja Roja was created in that year. 

“It’s very hard to discuss that with your female classmates and hear them say, ‘it happened to me too.’ There are too many cases and the institution does nothing,” said the co-founder of Franja Roja, Manuela Alcalá. “The university covers the aggressor, not so much for the person but for the name of the university”.

“We created Franja Roja as a proposal for a contest in the university, that’s why we have protocols. So what? Do we have to wait three years more so we can have protocols for every type of violence?”, said Mariana Giraldo, founder of Franja Roja.

Gender committees push universities to set up protocols

The gender committee of the Universidad Pedagógica y Tecnológica de Colombia (UPTC) was created in 2018. Alejandra Navarro, a member of the committee said, “Before the committee, there were no protocols in the university, when we started working on it we realized there was nothing”. Those protocols in the UPTC were the result of the pressure from the student movement and the committee.

Even though it is supposed to be a liberal university, the Universidad Externado is no exception. Before 2018, the university didn’t have any protocols to handle allegations of sexism.

Uncovering the pot

Destapemos La Olla (DLO) is the only feminist collective in the Externado University. It is a safe space where women can denounce harassment or sexual abuse and get support and advice. 

“There was a group of friends, two of them had suffered harassment by two men from the university. They wanted to denounce but there were no protocols without them being revictimized. Those girls decided to create the collective so they could have another “face” to denounce harassment without affecting themselves individually”, said Daniela López, a member of Destapemos La Olla

DLO was created on March 8, 2018, the members of the collective wanted to destapar la olla – uncover the pot of violence that takes place in the university. “We uncovered the pot for the first time because we were tired of the harassment and sexual abuse that is covered up in there”, they said. Destapemos La Olla has uncovered the pot every year since 2018.

“Uncover the pot is to take visibility and point out the gender violence that happens in the university”. Since 2018, DLO picks up testimonies of violence against women from female students to read them in a public place of the university to create awareness. 

3 Reasons Why Colombia Could Benefit from Mexico’s Outsourcing Ban

Colombia could be well-positioned to take advantage of changes in Mexican outsourcing laws.

Photo: Berkeley Communications on Unsplash

Colombia could be one of the big winners from the recent implementation of an outsourcing ban in Mexico, which is set to severely restrict a type of employment arrangement that is popular among foreign investors and potentially cost the North American country millions of jobs.

The outsourcing ban, which was passed into law on April 23 with the endorsement of populist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is designed to close a loophole that has seen companies avoid tax and employee benefits via outsourcing arrangements, and which has contributed to a major spike in outsourcing in the country over the past two decades.

President López, who is known as “Amlo,” had been promoting the legislation since the second half of 2020, despite suggestions it could cost millions of jobs, and he quickly moved to sign off on the new bill after it passed through both houses of the Mexican legislature in just a week.

It stipulates that workers engaged in “core business activities” cannot be outsourced, and that such outsourced workers must be brought onto company payrolls within three months. It also forces outsourcing companies to provide the same benefits to outsourced employees as they would enjoy if directly employed, improving profit shares. 

This will effectively eliminate a large portion of professional employer organization (PEO) services, a popular outsourcing option among investors because it allows them to hire staff overseas without having to establish a local legal entity. PEO services can also be known as employer of record (EOR) services.

Many of the staff employed via EOR arrangements throughout Latin America are engaged in what could be considered “core business activities.” That will leave EOR clients affected by the ban having to choose between business formation in Mexico or taking their business elsewhere. 

For clients who benefit most from the convenience of an EOR arrangement, and are not necessarily tied to having their outsourced staff in one particular place, Mexico’s biggest regional competitors, such as Colombia and Chile, as well as the nearby sub-region of Central America, appear to be well placed to benefit.

Why Colombia Could Benefit from Mexico’s Outsourcing Ban

Colombia stands to benefit from Mexico’s outsourcing ban because of a mix of its geopolitical location, well-established investment ecosystem, and growing tech sector and related workforce.

  1. Geopolitical location

There is no denying that one of the big draws to doing business in Mexico is its status as a trade hub and proximity to the largest market on the planet — the United States. While Colombia obviously doesn’t benefit from sharing a land border with the global superpower, it is still less than seven hours by plane between Bogotá and Los Angeles or New York, while Cartagena and Miami are just a three-hour flight away. 

What’s more, Colombia’s status as one of the closest regional allies of the US, as well as the large Colombian population in the North American country, means there are strong economic ties and significant commerce and traffic between the countries.

In terms of trade, Colombia also benefits from major ports that serve both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, while it is closer to some of the other key regional economies, such as Argentina, Chile, and Peru, not to mention the region’s powerhouse Brazil.

As such, for companies whose Latin American business is not concentrated in Mexico — or whose plans involve expanding further into the region — Colombia offers a central location with easy access to the entire Americas region.

  1. Business-friendly environment 

Another big pull factor in Colombia’s favour is the business-friendly conditions the country maintains and growing interest among international investors, which saw foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows grow almost ten-fold between 1999 and 2019.

Hiring through an EOR in Colombia is a popular option among investors, and is not going to be subject to the kind of ban that Mexico has implemented any time soon, making it a good alternative for anyone forced to look elsewhere by that ban.

Meanwhile, the country continues to promote entrepreneurship and innovation, as highlighted by the 2019/20 edition of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, in which Colombia scored better than the worldwide average in terms of government policies in support of enterprise, government-run entrepreneurship programmes, and post-school stage education.

That in part explains how Colombia has been able to emerge as a tech and innovation hub in the region, with Medellín and Bogotá boasting well-developed and growing startup scenes, and other cities throwing their weight behind support for innovation.

  1. Growing tech sector 

That leads to the final reason why Colombia stands to benefit: its rapidly growing tech and startup ecosystem, which means there is a ready supply of providers and talent in the country.

While Bogotá and Medellín are known as the major hubs of innovation, cities such as Cali and Barranquilla have seen significant growth in their tech sectors. This in combination with the educational opportunities on offer adds up to a growing pool of technicians and other skilled workers.

Such workers are commonly contracted via outsourcing arrangements to undertake what could be considered “core business activities,” making Colombia well-placed to sweep up contracts that can no longer be met in Mexico.

Meanwhile, Colombia also boasts growth in other commonly outsourced or increasingly in-demand services, such as the contact centre industry.  As such, the supply of talent on offer in the South American country will become increasingly interesting to companies forced to look beyond Mexico.

All of these factors add up to Colombia being in a particularly strong position to capitalize on the recent outsourcing ban implemented by Mexico, which could prove a boon to the country’s economy as it looks to battle back from the damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Craig Dempsey is the co-founder and CEO of Biz Latin Hub, a company dedicated to providing legal, accounting and back-office services to companies throughout Latin America and beyond.

Keeping tabs on Colombia’s deadly protests

We look at media sites striving to verify facts during a month of chaotic clashes.

Photo: Oli Pritchard

Colombia’s national protests have spiralled amid escalating violence from both sides: noisy demonstrators facing off with riot cops, while agitators in ski masks – los encapuchados – strike back with petrol bombs while smashing up bus stations and banks.  

It’s a regular scenario in Colombia, but this year more deadly with over 60 people killed during the protests, including two policemen, and thousands more injured on both sides of the barricades.

One motor of the crisis is social media. Videos and photos of the protests spread faster than you can say “Facebook”.  And mixed up in that is a huge dollop of misinformation in the form of exaggerations, fake news, recycled news, spurious announcements, and downright lies coming from both sides of a widening political chasm.

But there is also truth out there. And technology provides a way to lift the veil on claims and counterclaims filling the Twittersphere. Specialist media outlets are using forensic analysis of content posted to verify what’s true and what’s not.

Of course, it is still not the full picture; news media can choose which events to analyse which in itself creates bias. And verification results can lag behind the real time events by days or weeks, then be washed away by a new wave of incidents.

But for crucial events – and those forming public opinion – hindsight analysis can help understand the crisis. Here we summarise some recent finding from reputable sources.

ColombiaCheck: Clarifying fake news and controversial cases.

ColombiaCheck, an NGO formed of local journalists dedicated to verifying news stories across various platforms, has reported an avalanche of distorted data. It’s being spread maliciously or accidentally during the protests and includes “images from other years and other countries, videos and photos taken out of context, false audios and photo montages.”

One reassuring aspect of ColombiaCheck is its willingness to name and shame perpetrators from both sides of the political divide.

A crucial area of its current work is detecting fake news seemingly designed to create panic and unrest, often through bogus Facebook live feeds – and may take the form of old video reports manipulated to look like they are happening in real time, which Facebook allows. These frequently come from anonymous Facebook accounts seemingly created during the protests and seem designed to sow confusion among both protesters and police by sending them to non-existent flashpoints.

In one case, fragile peace talks between protesters and authorities in Cali collapsed after fake reports sent to protesters that the meeting was a trap by the police.

Other examples of reports analysed by ColombiaCheck are:

  • A mash-up photo of a news headline claiming falsely that a left-leaning senator was “paying Venezuelans to assassinate young protestors and blame the police”.
  • A widely circulated photo of a woman’s body was in fact a murder victim unrelated to the protests. Facebook users had spread the fake rumour she was abducted by ESMAD riot police. 
  • A document widely spread on Twitter claiming falsely that National Police were planning to “go on strike” in June, leaving people to “look out for their own security”.
  • Video and photos of “ESMAD agents breaking windows” during the Colombia protests was in fact film of police in Venezuela in 2017.

These ColombiaCheck reports reveal the high level of messages designed to misinform with the expected outcome to inflame factions and contribute to the cycle of violence.

The NGO also deconstructs cases crucial to the national discourse, such as the Cali police truck incident early on the protests – May 6 – when protestors in Cali posted shocking reports of coming under live fire from a large group of plain-clothes policemen.

Analysis of several videos shows a civilian truck approaching a protest blockade, then stopping and the police fleeing from the back doors of a truck, running on foot while at least one person is clearly seen shooting his pistol multiple times towards protestors.

The analysis vindicates the protestors’ claims of being shot at, but also reveals that protesters at blockades are demanding cash from passing motorists. This tactic has been denied by local protest organisers, but is now shown to be true, and surely only adding to tension in the streets.

Photo: Oli Pritchard

The Washington Post – Colombian police have overstepped the rules of engagement.

In its report Killed by Police in Colombia, the respected US newspaper uses audio and visual forensics to pick apart videos of four young protestors killed in the early days of the protests, here are the main findings:

  • In Cali, on April 28, a 17-year-old youth is shot in the head after kicking a policeman mounted on a motorbike. The cop fires seven shots towards the fleeing youth, according to audio and video analysis. The last shot hits him in the head.
  • Four days later, in the city of Ibagué, a 19-year-old man is killed by police gunfire two blocks from his house as a street crowd throws objects at an unseen target. Audio from video captures records 10 shots fired in 15 seconds. A week later, National Police accept their role in the shooting and two officers are arrested.
  • The same date, May 1, a 24-year-old protester is killed in Madrid, close to Bogotá, after riot police shoot tear gas canisters directly at protestors. These weapons are designed to send projectiles in safer arcs and not fired directly. One anti-riot squad (ESMAD) officer has been arrested.
  • On May 3, another youth was killed in Cali by a single small arms shot fired through a cloud of tear gas. Police would later state the situation followed looting of a supermarket, but the victim, who was distantly related to the city mayor, was attending a vigil for an earlier victim of police shootings according to the investigation.

These cases show that the police in Colombia have “overstepped the rules of engagement” and used disproportionate force, states The Washington Post. It also acknowledges the hard task of “guaranteeing the right to peaceful protests” during violence and vandalism.  

The Post also points out that the Colombian police have opened 119 internal investigations, including several related to homicides.

Another structural problem identified by The Washington Post is that the National Police report to the Ministry of Defence which meshes civilian security into a military mindset formed through years of internal conflict with left-wing guerrilla groups.

The New York Times – Police using lethal force against protestors.

The New York Times Visual Investigations Unit has combed through hundreds of on-line photos and videos and cross referenced them with interviews and from reporters on the ground, particularly in Cali the city most affected by protest violence.

The findings – like The Washington Post – show overkill by police and ESMAD agents, and the reckless use of firearms against civilian protesters. One incident backed by videos shows protestors being kicked on the ground then police firing live rounds by their feet. Some were detained, clubbed and threatened with murder.

Another video shows a Cali protester on the ground shot with a gas canister at point blank range, the same day another was killed in a similar incident in the city.

In Bogotá, riot police are filmed attacking medics with tear gas and water cannons, even as the volunteers are assisting injured protestors.

Cerosetenta: keeping track of “repression and death on the streets of Colombia”.

This online interactive dashboard, Cartografia de Violencia Policial is run by media lab Cerosetenta at Bogotá’s University of Los Andes and has been tracking open-source data of violence during protests in Colombia since 2019 and provides the most complete record of filmed events confirmed for date and geographic location.

Despite its name, the site also covers actions by armed civilians and attacks against police.

Cerosetenta is supported by global investigators Bellingcat who give technical support into verification of data, such as time and geographical location, and “crowd intelligence” such as cross-referencing of events from multiple media sources. Events are then categorised into deaths, injuries, shootings where police are present and other forms of aggression.

It also kicks out fake data, such as videos from Chile or Bolivia, or as far away as India, which have been posted as events in Colombia.

An early success for the Cerosetenta team was to investigate – and later to provide legal evidence – after the killing of protester Dilan Cruz, shot by an ESMAD agent during protests in Bogotá in 2019, and one of the triggers for more recent protests.

The website can be clumsy to use, and lacks context surrounding particular events, but provides the most complete record of filmed events verified for date and geographic location.

A posting analysed by Cerosetenta in recent days shows five civilian shooters colluding with a small group of police in Cali and firing repeatedly at protestors, a terrifying event caught close-up on camera by Jahfrann, a video photographer in Cali. It raises the spectre of paramilitarism that has plagued Colombia in recent decades.

The UN has since voiced “deep concern” at these civilian shooters, and the Colombia top police general has promised an investigation.

But in a twist in the tale, one of the civilian shooters filmed in Cali later revealed himself to the media as “a good person committed to the community” with no criminal record.

The shooter now states he was firing a gun with blank ammunition to “scare off vandals who were attacking a police station”, and was reacting to recent threats against him and his family. He apologised and told the cameras: “Guns and civil war are not the path.”

The interview with the civilian shooter highlights how quickly the narrative can shift during fast-moving events – though his words would sound hollow to families of protestors killed with live ammunition in recent weeks.

According to data collected by NGO Indepaz, at least seven of the 66 people killed in that period in the protests were shot by “civilians.” Another 36 were killed by police or ESMAD, and the rest by persons unknown.

The need for media verification is higher than ever during Colombia’s month of turmoil.

One month of protests in Colombia: What’s going on?

After a month of protests in Colombia, it’s time to take stock of where things are and what might happen next. 

Photo: Hans Luyckx

Stages have been erected across Bogotá today as focal points for today’s protests. As such, it’s a good time to reflect on the month since these protests in Colombia started. Numbers have ebbed and flowed and there have been plenty of incidents, alongside a lot of misinformation. What’s happened already, where are we now and what comes next?

Protests in Colombia: Where are we today?

Protests continue. For the past month, there have been gatherings of mainly young people throughout Bogotá and today is no different. Right now, there are groups in Hippies, Héroes and the Parque Nacional. There continue to be daily clashes at Portal de Las Américas. And Usme appears to be the latest scene of confrontation. Various TransMilenio stations remain unusable.

The biggest questions revolve around the degree to which Colombia supports the protests – or not. Here in Bogotá, they have become more and more sparsely attended, but that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. We don’t know how many people who’ve stayed home still support the protestors and how many oppose them. Perhaps even more importantly – how many care? Polls show that most people share the general air of unease about the country’s direction, but also that they’d like the disruption to stop.

The police have received a lot of criticism for their heavy-handed response to the situation, especially in Cali. At the moment, representatives of the International Court of Human Rights are being begrudgingly admitted into the country and the International Criminal Court has intimated that Duque could face charges for failing to protect civilians.

Worryingly, despite a noisy and impassioned outcry on social media, it seems that a lot of Colombians remain indifferent to or even supportive of police brutality. A move against Defense Minister Diego Molano was quickly rejected by the Congress, with politicians seemingly unbothered about the effect this might have on their electability next year.

On the other hand, these protests come on the back of sizeable protests 18 months ago in 2019 and stretch back to the marches for peace in 2016. Not to mention ever-swelling shows of support for marches like Women’s Day and Pride. There’s certainly enough support to keep things rumbling on, albeit with reduced numbers. In terms of attitudes towards police, that’s been volatile for a while, with unrest and violence breaking out last year.

Outside the capital, many roads remain blocked across the country and some cities still have shortages of certain goods. There is heavy unrest in various parts of the country,  especially in the Pacific region. Cali, Yumbo, Popayán and Buenaventura are all currently volatile.

Photo: Hans Luyckx

Protests in Colombia: What’s happened so far?

The tax reform was rejected, along with health reform, and Carrasquilla, the Finance Minister, resigned. That led to a downgrade of Colombia’s credit rating and it now languishes in ‘junk bond’ territory.

Duque’s administration has been shown to have no political support and many believe he’s essentially a lame duck until nest year’s elections. It’s hard to see any sort of tax reform being pushed through at this stage. He can’t get tricky bills through the senate and no-one seems to want to work with him. Claudia Blum resigned from her post as Colombia’s Foreign MInister, and no one seemed to want that job. Eventually, Vice President, Marta Lucía Ramírez, stepped in – her presidential candidacy appears to have stalled through association with Duque.

It is hard to see how much the Comité del Paro (strike committee) actually represents or speaks for the protestors. Nonetheless, they have put forward a list of demands that are utterly ludicrous and have no chance of being accepted in their current form. That could be a negotiating gambit. But it’s interesting to note that the government has put in early offers of schemes to incentivise youth hiring by businesses. Ironically, much of this was in the now-abandoned tax reform.

A few police officers now have Fiscalía cases outstanding against them in what looks like a token scapegoating. Colombia’s hosting of Copa America has also been scrapped – it’s hard to see how it could’ve taken place in the face of widespread protesting and soaring COVID cases. It probably would have become the scene of ugly demonstrations.

Protests have dwindled in intensity and number, from a high early start to a lower but ongoing presence. TransMilenio stations have taken a fair deal of damage and there has been immense disruption to the service. There was a shortage of goods as the trucker’s strike kicked in, but that seems to have passed in the capital for now.

The most intense zones of Bogotá’s unrest have been in the south, where Portal de Las Américas has been the scene of conflicts for a couple of weeks, with frequent clashes every night between ESMAD and the Primera Línea. The indigenous guard have also shown a presence recently. Usme has flared up as well, with reports of police attacks there too.

Outside the capital, Valle de Cauca has been the centre of much of the unrest. There have been many claims of police and military brutality. But with the heavy presence of armed gangs, it is hard to untangle exactly what has happened. Especially as conflicting reports abound. 

It’s certainly true that there were clashes between the indigenous minga and local residents of Cali, in which the residents opened fire on the indigenous people, forcing a retreat and hospitalising eight. Residents have also taken to the streets in counter-protests against the roadblocks and wearing white shirts.

However, all major cities have seen unrest. In Pereira, a young protestor lost his life in a suspicious incident which remains shrouded in mystery. Many people hold the government responsible. In Popayán, a young woman died by suicide after alleging that she had been assaulted by police officers. 

Violence has gone both ways, it must be mentioned, with police also injured. Protestors have thrown petrol bombs and acid, and there’s also a particularly worrying assault on a female officer in Cali.

Roadblocks in many parts of Colombia have also affected the delivery of goods. That’s led to shortages of certain things, including groceries, petrol, insulin and other medical supplies.

Protests in Colombia earlier this month.

Protests in Colombia: What happens next?

The most important impact of all this unrest is likely to be seen in 2022, as Colombia goes to the polls in almost exactly a year’s time. With 84% of Colombians saying they wouldn’t consider voting for anyone who supported the tax bill, it’s difficult to see that coming back in any form until a new president is in power. However, economically, Colombia needs to show the international credit rating organisations that it can handle its fiscal responsibilities. 

Whoever does come into the Casa Nariño will inherit a tricky situation. The books aren’t balanced (although the economy performed better than expected in the first quarter), so tax income will have to increase or cuts made. Neither are going to go down well with the country.

It’s also difficult to see where negotiations between the nominal protest leaders, the Comité del Paro, and Duque will lead. So far, the administration has held out olive branches which have been rejected by the Comité. The talks appear likely to end with some sort of concession to the Comité, but that’s likely to be limited and nobody knows whether it will then be accepted by the people who are actually protesting. The Comité are probably looking to the future and hoping to attract support from candidates rather than concession from the current administration.

Iván Duque

It’s hard to predict who – if anyone – will benefit from this in the end. It’s certainly true that the ruling Centro Democrático administration looks bad in everyone’s eyes, and it’s likely that the main party will try to distance itself from Duque himself. That’s a tricky act to pull off. Others believe that if the civil unrest continues, Duque may be able to earn political capital by taking hard action against the protestors. This harks back to Uribe’s playbook and only time will tell if society is now less susceptible to such fear-mongering.

Gustavo Petro

Gustavo Petro has stayed away from much of the protesting, only recently turning up in person. Nonetheless, expect a lot of flak to come his way in the next weeks and months. People are already accusing him of stirring up tensions as the establishment seeks to push the blame elsewhere.

Venezuelan sentiment

Rhetoric around vandals and the much-vaunted idea that Colombia will be the next Venezuela has started to pick up steam and we’ll likely see that growing further yet. In addition, anti-Venezuelan sentiment is growing as some of the blame for the more violent aspects of the protests gets thrown towards some of the migrant population.

Fragile rule of law

What’s worrying is that an already fragile rule of law appears to be fracturing. While we don’t see so much in Bogotá, there are reports of vigilante groups, an increased distrust of police and authorities, and ordinary citizens feeling the need to take up arms. Given that Colombia’s road to a long-term peace is already fragile, outside of the political repercussions, it’s hard to know how far these fractures – especially the cases of police brutality and the involvement of armed players will set us back.

It’s hard to know whether there is any appetite for police reform or serious reprisal. There’s not a great public call for reform as of yet and plenty of powerful opposition to it. However, the unpopularity of the police remains high, especially in certain quarters and they are losing support.

Bogotá mayor Claudia López has changed her stance recently, saying that after reflection, she can see that the protestors are suffering and fighting for change. She has been quick to condemn police violence in the past, and there is a chance that she will champion police reform.

This is not just one month of protest

In terms of numbers on the streets, it’s again hard to call. Numbers dwindle, but then surge up again on certain big days and there appears to be a hardcore of protestors that are unwilling to give up completely. As time marches on, it’s unclear how long that will be tolerated, either by the government or by the citizenry.

What is clear is that the roots of these problems are not being addressed and not going away anytime soon. Even if things simmer down for a while, but we’ll probably see a resurgence in the future. Looking at recent events in the context of what is now 18 months and counting of unrest, it’s unlikely that this is the end.

Bogotá reopening from June 8

COVID restrictions will be lifted in less than two weeks as authorities try to respond to people’s needs.

Bogotá reopening last September – things were different then.  Photo: Jared Wade
Bogotá reopening last September — things were different then. Photo: Jared Wade

Do you remember how it felt eight months ago when Bogotá reopened after the first peak? Well, it’s that time again. Though this time it’s different since fewer people stuck to the rules in the first place and we’re still in the midst of nationwide protests. Oh, and last time the COVID case numbers had fallen significantly.

But, open we will. Bogotá mayor Claudia López announced today that the capital will reopen from June 8. The reason? Economically, people are desperate and the restrictions are not helping. The mayor feels that it’s time to put people’s needs above the COVID restrictions.

“It sounds absolutely contradictory from an epidemiological point of view, to announce a reopening when ICU occupancy is at 97%,” she said. “But looking at the social, economic and political context – with deep institutional mistrust, unacceptable poverty and unemployment that is especially affecting women and young people – it is necessary to do so.”

The hope is that by June 8, the protests will have died down along with the case numbers.

Bogotá reopening: June 8

Here’s what will change:

  • The night curfew and ley seca will be lifted completely.
  • Bars and gastropubs can now open until 1am, but they’ll need to have biosecurity measures in place.
  • Schools, nurseries and universities will be able to fully open again.

Big events like football matches and concerts won’t restart until the numbers go down.

Why the new attitude?

A few days ago, López apologised to the young people of the city, saying she had not fully understood the “magnitude of their anguish and their claims.” She said that she understood people were more worried about hunger and unemployment than they were about COVID. 

https://twitter.com/ClaudiaLopez/status/1397019002149474304

According to Nicolás Uribe, from the Bogotá Chamber of Commerce, “about 27% of young people in Bogotá neither study nor work; and there are about 585,000 young people for whom the business sector must build opportunities so that they can get ahead.”

The mayor has been recovering from contracting COVID herself and now wants to take steps to rebuild trust. Re-opening now is one of those steps.

Bogotá running out of drinking water

Chemicals needed to purify the city’s water are not making it through the blockades, and the capital faces the possibility of running out of drinking water.

In Bogotá we might not be able to drink water from the tap soon. Photo: Imani on Unsplash

Authorities have warned Bogotá is days away from running out of drinking water. A press release from the city’s water company, Acueducto de Bogotá, warned that the chemicals they need aren’t making it through the blockades.

The company needs lime and aluminium sulfate to arrive from Barranquilla to process the capital’s drinking water.

Three water filtration plants serve Bogotá and neighboring municipalities of Gachancipá, Tocancipá, Sopó, La Calera, Cajicá, Chía, Funza, Madrid, Mosquera, Soacha and Cota. 

Of those plants affected by the shortages, Francisco Wiesner supplies 70% of the water, and Tibitoc and Dorado supply 25% and 5% respectively. 

Demonstrations continue

The challenge is that we’re now in the third week of protests and every new story of state forces misusing power breathes new life into the demonstrations. The latest press release from NGO Temblores says that 39 people have been killed by public forces.

In Popayán, a seventeen-year-old girl died by suicide this week after accusing police officers who detained her during protests of sexually assaulting her. These stories have generated a cry of SOS Colombia both inside the country and around the world. 

Government talks with the National Strike Committee will begin tomorrow. Given the way the protests have evolved — with different groups demonstrating against a range of issues —  it’s not clear to what degree the committee will be able to speak for all the protestors.

Unfortunately, the blockades are having an outsized impact on the poorer groups in society. Trucks containing some basic foodstuffs are not getting through, which is pushing up prices and causing shortages.

Many figures have called for an end to the blockades, including President Duque and Bogotá mayor Claudia López. Both point out that the blockades stop ordinary Colombians from getting to work and putting food on the table.

But as people rally around a cry of SOS Colombia, the stories of misuse of state force are making the situation worse.

Colombia protests: What’s going on in Cali?

Cali has become the epicentre of Colombia’s protests. With an already heavy presence of armed gangs and high rates of both unemployment and poverty, it was a tinderbox.

Cali protests: ESMAD riot police are accused of police brutality. Photo: CRIC
Cali protests: ESMAD riot police are accused of indiscriminately firing at protestors. Photo: CRIC

Cali, Colombia’s third biggest city, is well known as the salsa capital of the world. Before the pandemic, the city, which is not far from the Pacific coast, was beginning to grow its reputation as a hub for tourism, sports, and business.

However, the music, colour and cheer belied another story. Cali is in the Valle del Cauca department, which, along with fellow Pacific departments Chocó and Cauca, have borne the brunt of the violence that has proliferated in the vacuum left by the FARC. Coca growing, drug trafficking and violence between armed gangs is rife.

In recent weeks, this hidden side of Cali has made front page news. The extraordinary scenes of looting, destruction, and police brutality have shocked the nation. Road blockages have stopped food and medicine from reaching the city, leaving empty shelves in supermarkets. And public transport is barely working because of the damage to the city’s infrastructure.

What began as a nationwide protest against an unpopular tax reform turned violent, especially in Cali. NGO Temblores, which has been collating data on police brutality, estimate that 40 people have died nationwide during the two weeks of protests. At least 24 of them were in Cali. 

Why Cali?

Cali has been hard hit by the pandemic. El Espectador’s analysis of DANE figures shows that 37% of people in Cali didn’t have enough money to cover their basic needs in 2020. That’s up from 22% pre-pandemic.

Plus, 59% of people in Cali are categorised as poor or vulnerable. And Cali’s unemployment rate at the end of last year stood at 19% (up from 12% in 2019). Nationwide it was 14% nationally, up from 9.5%.

In addition to high rates of poverty — and high numbers of people who have fallen into poverty during the past year — Cali has to contend with high levels of gang violence.

Since the peace agreement was signed in 2016, various armed groups have been competing for control of former FARC territories. Valle del Cauca, Chocó, and Cauca have all suffered. From illicit coca cultivation to illegal mining, there’s a lot of money at stake in areas that don’t have much government presence. 

Each year, we’ve seen an increase in reports of threats, forced displacements, killings and kidnappings. And the lockdowns and travel restrictions of the pandemic have made it easier for armed players to act with impunity. The pandemic has put pressure on an already fractured society, and in Cali, the cracks are really starting to show.

What about the reports of police brutality?

It would be difficult to deny the instances of brutality and excessive force we’ve seen in the past two weeks, from both the police and the military. There are reports of shootings, beatings, arbitrary arrests, and rapes — particularly in Cali.

On May 4, the Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Marta Hurtado said. “Our office in Colombia is working to verify the exact number of casualties, and establish how this terrible incident came about in Cali. “

She continued, “We are deeply alarmed at developments in the city of Cali in Colombia overnight, where police opened fire on demonstrators protesting against tax reforms, reportedly killing and injuring a number of people.”  

Other international organisations such as Amnesty International have also condemned the disproportionate use of force. “Police have used force indiscriminately and disproportionately, and there are alarming reports of sexual violence and disappearances,” it said in a press release.

During Duque’s trip to Cali he said there would be zero tolerance towards any police or military actions that break the constitution. He said, “Already, by the will of the commanders, the work of the Procuraduría, Fiscalía and others, 65 disciplinary actions have been adopted: 27 for abuse of authority, 11 for physical assault, 8 for homicide, 19 for other behaviors.” He also said that 667 people had been arrested for vandalism.

However, it remains to be seen what those investigations will uncover and whether all those responsible will be prosecuted. Moreover, there’s still no commitment to any kind of police reform or even an examination of the structural issues in the police that allow such violations to take place.

What about this standoff between residents and indigenous groups?

On Sunday, violence broke out between residents of Cali’s comuna 22 area and indigenous minga who were passing through.

You’ll find very different reports about what happened in the Colombian press. Some report that indigenous groups attacked local residents. And others report the opposite — that residents attacked the indigenous groups.

What appears to have happened is that chivas carrying indigenous people were trying to travel to support the protests in the centre. Organised groups of people in cars and vans wearing white t-shirts tried to block their way. At some point they opened fire on the chivas. At least eight indigenous protestors were injured, and, from the videos, it looks like they then retaliated.

Residents justified their actions to the press, saying it wasn’t right that the indigenous communities could move freely while they were suffering restrictions and shortages because of the blockades.

We’ve seen other instances of citizens arming themselves and taking the law into their own hands to face protestors in recent weeks. Let’s hope it isn’t a growing trend.

What’s a minga?

A minga is an indigenous word (coming from Quechua minka) that can encompass various meanings – it’s all about coming together for a common purpose. 

Most recently, the word has become associated with peaceful demonstrations and resistance. The indigenous communities in Colombia have called mingas to rally against the killings of social leaders and indigenous people, mining, environmental destruction and forced displacement.

One member of the CRIC (Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca), Leonardo Saavedra, said “The organisational plan that the central area of ​​the Kokonuko people has proposed is to make visible the actions of injustice, […] such as the one generated by the public force and its excessive way of acting and responding to the needs and demands of the Colombian people.”

What’s the government doing?

After initially saying he couldn’t go, President Duque has been to Cali twice this week. He first made a middle-of-the night whistle-stop trip to Cali on Monday night, arriving shortly after midnight and leaving around 4am.

He returned yesterday, and met with local authorities, including mayor Jorge Iván Ospina, local businesses and young people.

Here are some of the announcements he made during his visit:

  • He said that attacks carried out by state forces during the demonstrations will be fully investigated.
  • He promised free public university and college for estrato 1, 2, and 3 students for the second semester of 2021.
  • He committed to a ‘Gran Pacto’ — a process by which young Colombians will be able to make themselves heard, beginning  in Cali. 
  • He called for the end of all blockades. Duque said these infringe the rights of all Colombians to access food, medicine, and vaccinations.

Have the ELN infiltrated the protests?

Colombia’s defence minister, Diego Molano, told CNN that some of the violence we’ve seen was committed by organisations linked to the FARC and ELN. “What is happening in Colombia is that groups of organised criminals with connections to organised groups seek to generate instability, and they do it systematically, deliberately, and with illegal financing connected with drug trafficking,” he said.

It’s not the first time the government has blamed the ELN and other armed groups and there’s likely some truth to it. But it’s also not the whole truth. 

It’s too easy to blame the FARC dissidents and the ELN for everything that goes wrong. Not only does it make it easier for them to justify the actions of the public forces in killing civilian protestors, it also undermines the protests themselves.

It’s rarely as simple as having “good” protestors and “bad” protestors. And if you break it down that way, the violence becomes the fault of those “bad” players rather than an overwhelming anger at the establishment.

On top of which, there are also claims that other parties — including the authorities — infiltrated protests to deliberately stir up trouble. Such things muddy the waters even further.

What now?

Today, the indigenous minga returned to Cauca where they plan to continue the strike. Aida Quilcué, national coordinator of the CRIC, told El Tiempo: “What brought us to Cali was the killing of young people at the points of mobilisation. We came to complete a task which was partly to accompany them, to minimise the deaths within the framework of mediation.” 

It looks like Duque’s visit to Cali has helped calm the situation somewhat. At least he’s shown the leader of the country is not ignoring the problem. The city is working on getting rubbish collection and public transport back up and working. And the Defensoría del Pueblo — Colombia’s ombudsman — has negotiated some humanitarian routes through the blockades, but several routes into the city are still blocked.

Unfortunately, many of Cali’s problems can’t be tackled overnight. 

Authorities need to open enough dialogue to stop the protests — and convince people that brutality from public forces won’t go unpunished. Then they need to fix the infrastructure that’s been destroyed or damaged, such as the bus network, so that people can get back to work. 

And then they need to find ways to rebuild Cali’s economy, provide jobs, especially for the city’s young people. That’s no mean feat for a government that’s grappling with high unemployment and the economic impact of COVID.

Colombia mourns Lucas Villa

Hospital confirms brain death of Lucas Villa, the protestor who was seen shaking hands with riot police on the day he was shot.

Lucas Villa marching on the day he was shot.
Lucas Villa marching on the day he was shot. Photo: Taken from Twitter

Lucas Villa was shot at the Pereira viaduct on May 5. He has been in hospital ever since, receiving treatment for eight bullet wounds. However, the manager of the San Jorge de Pereira University Hospital, Juan Carlos Restrepo, told reporters this afternoon that there was nothing more doctors could do. The 37-year-old student has been declared brain dead.

According to a joint report released yesterday from Indepaz and NGO Temblores, 47 people have been killed since Colombia’s national protests began on April 28. The two organisations estimate 278 people have been victims of physical violence.

Every death is shocking. These protests are already far more violent than those of 2019 and 2020 combined. And every new act of violence fractures an already polarised nation further.

Personification of peaceful protests

Lucas caught the nation’s attention for many reasons. He was photographed talking and shaking hands with riot police on the day he was shot. He also messaged a friend the day before, saying, “We can all die here, but how can we leave our people?”

This is a sentiment expressed by many who protest, especially after police killed Dilan Cruz in 2019. However, it is unclear who killed Lucas.

Unknown men opened fire on a group that had gathered for a sit in at the Pereira viaduct after a day of demonstrations.

Lucas Villa was hit eight times and two other protestors were wounded. The student at Universidad Tecnológica de Pereira was also a yoga teacher, who just hours before had been seen singing and dancing during the march. 

Authorities have promised to find the perpetrators quickly. The mayor of Pereira, Carlos Maya, offered a COP$50 million reward for information that leads to the arrest of those responsible for Lucas Villa’s death.

Yesterday, hundreds gathered for a session of group yoga at the viaduct where Lucas was shot.

Colombia’s civil unrest

What began as demonstrations against an unpopular tax reform have spiralled into an ongoing expression of general discontent. And unfortunately, the violent altercations between police, protestors, vigilante groups, and the military are pouring oil on the fire. 

The government continue to label protestors as vandals. There are reports of state actors deliberately infiltrating peaceful protests to incite violence. But even a small number of non-peaceful protestors can do a lot of damage. Ultimately, however, no amount of vandalism begins to excuse the use of lethal force.

Peaceful protestors like Lucas feel they are taking their lives into their hands when they go out to demonstrate against a government they feel is deaf to their pleas.

If the government can’t change their ‘vandal vs. state’ mentality, it’s hard to see how things won’t accelerate further. For now, our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of Lucas and all those who have died in these demonstrations. 

Colombia protests May 7: Follow the protests as they happen

Bogotá protests are still going, with students in the Parque Nacional already.

Police and protestors gather in the Parque Nacional. Photo: Oli Pritchard

9.30am: Students and other protestors were gathering already in the Parque Nacional. Others grouped near the Universidad Distrital Jose Del Caldas just down the road. The entire séptima running along the park has been covered in flyers asking thought-provoking questions, and they’re hanging signs denouncing the government and police.

The group was joined by a handful of Misak indigenous people and a healthy sprinkling of unionists. There’s also plenty of traditional musicians and dancers. As usual, there’s drumming, dancing, and singing, but the banners are back, especially supporting the CUT and the Comité del Paro.

Unlike yesterday or even Wednesday, the police presence is very much visible already. On previous days they’ve hung back at the start, only making their presence felt relatively late on or at potential conflict points such as Ecopetrol or outside government buildings.

Today, there was a line of riot shields (not full ESMAD) bizarrely protecting the monument of Rafael Uribe Uribe in the park. Perhaps they are worried about vandalism (which hasn’t affected the monument yet), or simply want to make their presence known. So far it’s hard to say.

The rain won’t arrive for a while, so the party seems set to continue.

The Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá (Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra) were playing again this morning, at the Plaza de los Artesanos. The musicians want to promote a message of peaceful protests and encourage Colombians to get vaccinated.

Photo: Kike Barona – Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá

Early this morning the UN in Colombia responded to reports of violence and called on the government to ensure the right to peaceful protest.

https://twitter.com/onucolombia/status/1390632132821852165

1pm: The number of students had grown significantly and séptima was briefly closed in both directions. 

That didn’t last long, though, and the protest formed in two different groups: dancing and drumming just away from the Uribe Uribe monument and students making signs and placards by the 39.

The dancers and drummers numbered maybe 100 for a long time, but were eventually bolstered by other groups – one coming from the north and the other coming from the south. The northern group blocked the roads, while the southerners brought more drums. It morphed into a kind of mini-Love Parade.

By 2pm, about 500 people were gathered at the Parque Nacional, with smaller groups reported at various points across the city. There were road blocks on Calle 80 with Carrera 120 and Avenida Boyaca with Calle 71.

At 5.30pm, the TransMilenio reports the following stations are closed: Caracas, Caracas Sur, Calle 26, Calle 80, Troncal Suba, and Troncal Américas.

As night falls, the techno-car is heading north on Septima towards Hippies, we imagine. It’s slowly making its way up the road with a large contingent of police in attendance. ESMAD were stepping up their presence as we left the park, and it’s hard to know what will happen next. For now, it’s been quiet and relatively peaceful, but there’s an edge coming into the air.

Violent protests in Colombia: Seven days of protests

Simmering social and economic tensions have led to violent clashes. What now?

Violent protests in Colombia
Heated protests in the centre of Bogotá on May 5. Photo: Hans Luyckx

The nation again woke up to videos of violent scenes after protestors clashed with police and military overnight in violent protests in Colombia.

Today is the eighth day of protests in Colombia, and the disturbing scenes have only served to push more people out onto the streets today. Up until now, the daytime demonstrations have been mostly peaceful. It is at night that things have turned ugly.

From videos of police on motorbikes tasering pedestrians to beatings, shootings, and arson, it is difficult to keep up with all the reports of brutality in the week. Cali has been at the epicentre of the violence. That’s partly because the city is already the centre of three regions hard hit by armed gangs and drug trafficking. 

One video showed tear gas being thrown into a bus in Manizales as passengers struggled to escape. Another showed a vehicle circulating and shooting in Bogotá, and in Cali, another showed police firing at demonstrators. 

It is difficult to untangle what’s real, and ColombiaCheck is in overdrive. But what’s clear is that civilians are dying at the hands of the police and military – and it isn’t over yet.

How many people have died in the violent protests in Colombia?

According to NGO Temblores, who are working to document the claims of police brutality, there were over 1,400 reports of police violence between 6 am on April 28 and 8 am on May 4. The NGO reports 216 people were victims of physical violence and 31 people were killed.

Colombia’s ombudsman, Defensoría del Pueblo, said on May 3 that it was investigating 19 deaths during the protests. These were in Valle del Cauca, Bogotá, Neiva, Cali, Soacha, Yumbo, Ibagué, Madrid, (Cundinamarca), Medellín, and Pereira.

Although the estimates vary, it appears clear that more people have died in the last week of protests than in the mass demonstrations of 2019 where a student was shot dead in broad daylight or the violent clashes of last year against police brutality which left destruction throughout the city.

In addition to the injuries and loss of life, much of the country is at a standstill. Many of the country’s main roads are blocked, as are a number of entry points to the major cities. Buildings and buses have been set alight, and there are plenty of stories of looting and vandalism.

What is the government doing?

President Duque has already withdrawn the unpopular tax reform that sparked the demonstrations. That hasn’t worked. Yesterday, he called for an “open space for dialogue” with public and private sectors, civil leaders, and political parties.

He defended the levels of force that had been used, saying that the majority of protests had been peaceful, but that a “few misfits have resorted to vandalism, terrorism and irrational violence.

“Faced with these forms of criminality, we have to respond forcefully from a legal perspective, but with the necessary caution when their dark motives are to provoke even more violent reactions and thus spread the flame of their incendiary interests.

Resign Duque! Painted on the ground. Photo: Oli Pritchard

At the same time, the president did commit to investigating the activities of the police and military. He said he would not accept any actions that fell outside of the constitution. The question remains over whether this will really be punished and whether anyone really controls the police.

How has the international community reacted?

The United Nations have condemned the violence. Marta Hurtado, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner, said in a press release yesterday: “We are deeply alarmed at developments in the city of Cali in Colombia overnight, where police opened fire on demonstrators protesting against tax reforms, reportedly killing and injuring a number of people.”

She added, “We remind the State authorities of their responsibility to protect human rights, including the right to life and security of person, and to facilitate the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.”

Others, such as Peter Ptassek, the German ambassador to Colombia, have also criticized the use of force. His tweet yesterday said “Peaceful protests are a citizen’s right and a democratic achievement. Violence is not: We condemn it, wherever it comes from. Facts of injuries, deaths of protesters and the police must be investigated. We trust in prompt clarification by the authorities.”

I thought Colombia was in the midst of a third COVID wave?

It is. Although the Bogotá mayor is relaxing rules, COVID ICU occupation was at over 96% in the capital yesterday, and there are almost 100,000 active cases in the country right now.

One concern is that the protests are slowing the country’s vaccination drive, as well as hampering efforts to slow the spread. But as one protestor told reporters, people are more scared of hunger than they are of the coronavirus. Also, vaccine jabs have increased, with a high point this week.

Remind me why people are protesting?

There are a myriad of reasons why people are protesting. The most obvious is that — like many countries in the world — Colombia’s anti-COVID measures have hit the country’s worst off the hardest. 

But even before the pandemic, social, economic, and political tensions were high. The demonstrations at the end of 2019 were extraordinary and violent as many ‘ordinary’ people took to the streets to express their dissatisfaction. And since then, things have only got worse.

People are unhappy with Duque’s government. Photo: Steve Hide

That’s why withdrawing the unpopular tax reform has done little to quell the unrest. Especially as the killings of civilians has yet again given people an even stronger reason to protest.

What now?

That’s a good question. Leading environmental activist, Francia Márquez tweeted yesterday, “The discontent of the people is not dealt with violence, dialogue is the way @IvanDuque. You were chosen to guarantee the lives of all Colombians, not to order the public forces to assassinate civilians.”

It is not clear whether people will buy into Duque’s idea of an open conversation. Some have already rejected it, and unfortunately he made a similar move during the 2019 protests that lead nowhere. In 2019, the protests simmered down partly because of Christmas. But December is a long way away.

If the authorities cannot win enough public confidence to even begin some form of dialogue, it is difficult to see what will change the status quo. Right now, we can only hope we won’t be reporting on more deaths and injuries tomorrow.

Colombia national strike: May 5, live, as it happens

Bogotá’s protests against recent state killings started off in a passionate yet peaceful manner. Here’s how the day unfolded.

Colombia national strike, May 5. Protestors gather to demand an end to the killings. Photo: Oli Pritchard.

9am: Protestors gather early

At 9am, a few people started to gather in the shadow of the Rafael Uribe monument in the  Parque Nacional. Their chants of “Uribe, Uribe” were aimed at Álvaro, not Rafael though, and were less than complementary. With transport closing at 3pm, there was a need to get out early – the Bogotá philharmonic orchestra kicked off proceedings in Parkway at 8am.

At half nine the demonstrators were loud but still outnumbered by the groups of police waiting further up the park. Half an hour later, that had changed as the gathering of various anti-administration groups rapidly swelled to hundreds, then up to a couple of thousand. From there it stayed constant, some people staying and others moving away or sitting on the grass. 

The atmosphere was deeply passionate, befitting a protest against the killings of young people. But it also stayed positive. This was no wake, but rather a call to arms and resistance. There were chants. Flags and banners were unfurled and everywhere there were drums to keep up the energy. The most common sign by far was a simple Colombian flag, sometimes inverted.

The police, to their credit, have so far stayed at the extreme fringes and not yet intervened in the main demonstrations. It remains to be seen how long that will continue. Last week everything started off peacefully and only later turned ugly.

Now that the unpopular tax reform is gone, the theme of day appears to be calling for president Duque’s resignation, which seems optimistic. It’s unlikely he would consider retiring with a year to go on his mandate and no pressing scandal directly connected to him. An important secondary call is for the reforma de salud to be withdrawn as the tax reform was.

11am: On the march

Around 11am, the protests became more fluid, as some groups headed north up the séptima, seemingly heading for Parque de los Hippies and/or Héroes. There was some chatter among the groups of going into Cedritos again as well. Other splinters preferred to head south towards the Plaza Bolívar as is traditional.

Colombia national strike, May 5. Thousands of people gather near Parque de los Hippies.

There are big groups at the Universidad Nacional, according to our reporters there. The centre and Parque de los Hippies are both getting busier, with thousands at both points. It’s clear that recent police and military action in Bosa, Buga, Cali and other parts of the country has simply led to more people protesting.

1pm: Dampened but undeterred

With thunderstorms overhead, some sheltered from the rain while others continued to march.

Bogotá mayor Claudia López said it was a miracle that nobody had died yet in the capital. “Life cannot continue like this,” she insisted, saying the mayors of the country spent their nights trying to control the violence and their days visiting hospitals.

She went on to say, “Every day we have fewer peaceful protests and more vandalism.” Calling it a vicious cycle, she said that when there is more vandalism, there is more intervention from the police and ESMAD. 

She added, though, that it’s not enough to reject the vandalism without also rejecting the abuse of force.  The mayor called on the government to find a way to dialogue with the young people who are protesting. “These are our young people,” she said. “These are young people who are hurting, who are attacked, who are unemployed, who are poor, who are in the streets of Bogotá.”

By 2pm, almost 5,000 people had gathered in the Parque Nacional, and another 2,000 were estimated to be by the Universidad Javeriana. Another 5,000 had massed by the Universidad Nacional, 6,000 at Heroés, and 1,500 motorcyclists were converging on Campín. There were groups of anywhere between a few hundred and a couple of thousand reported in various other parts of Bogotá. With transport almost non-existent in places, many people just couldn’t get to the central protests and had to demonstrate locally. 

https://twitter.com/IvanDuque/status/1390021915235000324

As the afternoon wears on, President Duque attempts to continue the narrative that vandals – and not the police force – are to blame for the destruction.

There’s some truth in that: The Plaza Bolívar was only cleared after an hour or so of stone throwing and a half-hearted attempt to storm the senate building. We hold state actors to a higher account, but it’s fair to mention that in this particular case there was provocation.

As the rain cleared, the séptima saw marches both north and south. Some headed to reinforce the centre and others migrated to Parque de los Hippies on Calle 60. The atmosphere there was akin to the day’s start, with drummers, flags and bonfires on the street. The road was blocked to traffic and resistance took the form of a party. It was reminiscent of 2019, when Hippies became a sort of free zone for a few days. Interestingly, the police presence there was limited and non-confrontational.

Late this afternoon, various hospitals called on protestors to respect medical missions and supply trucks. The road closures mean that hospitals in Cali and Medellín are running short on supplies, including oxygen for ICU patients.

6pm: Rain stops play

Police use tear gas to clear protestors from the centre of Bogotá on May 5. Photo: Hans Luyckx

Darkness falls, along with rain, and the protests are dispersing. The city centre has been cleared and other groups are fading away. Even the large takeover of Parque Hippies has been forced away by the downpour. Stories of violence are already emerging. 

As with previous nights, we can hear the cacerolazos as we type. The spontaneous pot banging became a way for people to peacefully protest police violence in 2019. The tradition has continued in the last week, both from the streets and from peoples homes, as Colombians make their discontent heard.

So far the use of force seems to be less intense than in previous nights, and we can only hope that continues.

Bogotá May restrictions: No quarantine this weekend

The capital is not past its third peak, but the COVID rules have been relaxed.

Bogotá restrictions: curfew still on but the weekend quarantine won't be extended.
Bogotá restrictions: curfew still on but the weekend quarantine won’t be extended.

Speaking yesterday, Bogotá mayor Claudia López announced a surprise relaxation in restrictions. The quarantine has been lifted, and pico y cédula will be suspended, so you can go shopping any day. 

Read all coverage about the coronavirus in Colombia

The lighter restrictions come in spite of the fact that we haven’t yet passed the third wave and UCI occupation remains above 98%. 

Mindful of the fact that Mother’s Day would normally be this Sunday in Colombia, the mayor asked people not to hold social gatherings. The government has postponed Mother’s Day until May 30.

The following restrictions apply:

  • Schools and universities will stay shut until May 9.
  • Ley seca will continue, meaning alcohol can only be consumed at home and ordered by domicilio.
  • The nightly curfew will continue, including at the weekend. Everything will need to be shut by 7pm and people need to be home by 8pm.
  • There will be no ciclovía this Sunday.
  • There are still restrictions on travel. While you can travel by air, you may need to explain why you need to leave the city.

Related: Can I get my vaccine yet? What is going on with vaccination in Colombia

The difficulty with a nightly curfew is that nationwide protests show no sign of stopping. And violence has been worse once night falls. Last night at least five people died in Cali in violent clashes between police and protesters. The country’s ombudsman, Defensoría del Pueblo, says at least 17 people have been killed in total since the demonstrations began last week.

Tax reform scrapped, but protests in Colombia continue

The resignation of the finance minister and withdrawal of reforms has not stopped nationwide demonstrations.

Colombia protests: thousands of protestors turned out on April 28
Colombia protests: thousands of protestors turned out on April 28

This morning, Alberto Carrasquilla, the man responsible for the controversial tax reform, resigned his position as finance minister. One of his deputies, Juan Alberto Londoño, also stepped down.

Carrasquilla has been replaced by José Manuel Restrepo, currently Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism. The new job is somewhat of a poisoned chalice as the economist will need to formulate a new tax reform. And it needs to be one people can agree on.

Speaking yesterday, President Duque withdrew the current tax reform and committed to coming up with a new initiative based on “principles of consensus.”

He promised the controversial increase in VAT would be scrapped and said it was time to work together to protect the most vulnerable. “The reform is not a whim. The reform is a must,” said Duque. “To withdraw it or not, was not the discussion.”

According to Reuters, the Colombian peso fell 2.15% to 3,834 pesos to the dollar on the news. That’s the lowest it’s been since October last year. 

Some politicians, such as senator Roy Barreras, described it as a win for the people. He tweeted: “The people won! Withdrawal from the tax reform is a popular achievement. Now we must stay alert until the health reform is withdrawn.”

So, does that mean the protests are over?

No. Protests have continued throughout the country, making today the sixth day of demonstrations. That said, the protests on Wednesday, April 28 were much bigger than on subsequent days. The Central Union of Workers (CUT) announced another national strike would take place on May 5. 

Today there have been demonstrations in various cities across Colombia, including Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Cartagena, Barranquilla, and Ibagué. There are roadblocks in several major routes, as taxis and truckers join the protests. Several TransMilenio stations in the capital are closed and the riot police have already clashed with protestors in several cities.

Plus, as Barreras mentioned, there’s another controversial reform on the table — the health reform. It’s come under fire from all directions, primarily because people say it doesn’t fix any of the fundamental problems the health service faces. We’ll come back to that in another article.

So, did the people really win?

It’s difficult to say. To claim people had won would suggest they had a common cause, and it’s not clear that they did. People are clearly furious about the tax reform, but there’s frustration about environmental rights, the progress of the peace process, the killings of social leaders – the list goes on.

As with the protests in 2019, it feels more like a manifestation of general discontent that unified around the tax reform than a protest with one specific cause. It’s almost easier for Duque to pull back the tax reform than to try to tackle the other reasons people are angry. 

Colombia protests; motorcyclists gearing up for a protest.

Plus, there really were elements of this tax reform that really were aimed at helping the worst off. There were also parts that didn’t, but it did include money for social spending and VAT rebates. Moreover, if Colombia can’t pass a tax reform, the country will be in more trouble economically, as it’s currently running a deficit. Its credit rating will be cut from investment grade to junk bond status by various international agencies.

Whether or not the people have won comes down to two factors: What the government can come up with in place of the now-defunct reform. And whether these protests will continue to slide towards violence.

There’s violence?

According to NGO Temblores, over 1,100 cases of political violence were reported between 6am on April 28 and 10am on May 3. It says 26 people have been killed, 142 people have been victims of police violence and nine were sexually assaulted. The NGO accuses the police of deliberately killing at least five people yesterday (May 2).

It reports that the ESMAD riot police have thrown tear gas canisters into buildings and stopped people from getting medical attention.

As we saw in the 2019 protests and the violence last year, when police kill protestors, it is a lot harder to stop the demonstrations from increasing in scale. When Dilan Cruz was shot by riot police, it was only because the majority of marchers were determined to ensure protests would continue peacefully that we did not see large-scale riots.

In September last year, when Javier Ordóñez died after being repeatedly tasered by police, violent protests rocked the capital. Small police stations were set on fire and TransMilenio stations were trashed.

After a year of coronavirus restrictions, people are angry. Peaceful protests in Colombia have escalated to violent clashes at several points already. And if the beeping horns I can hear in the distance are anything to go by, these protests are not close to burning out.

Story updated following announcement that José Manuel Restrepo would be the new Finance Minister.

National strike in Colombia: How it unfolded

As darkness falls, protests in Bogotá continue. Here’s what happened today.

The national strike in Colombia started with music and dancing.
The national strike in Colombia started with music and dancing.

Today’s protests in Colombia passed mostly peacefully, though there were some violent clashes as the day wore on. The paro nacional, or national strike, saw students and workers take to the streets to protest various issues, chiefly the government’s unpopular tax reform.

In Bogotá, protestors blocked roads and prevented TransMilenio buses from running early doors. Only about 5% of TransMilenio stations were in operation for much of the day. And at lunchtime, Mayor Claudia López announced the whole service would stop at 5pm.

https://twitter.com/ClaudiaLopez/status/1387471583736995844

People gathered early in a number of points across the city. By mid-morning, the séptima was filled with people. Some wore masks and observed social distancing, but most did not.

“We won’t be silent,” during the national strike in Colombia.

At lunchtime, heavy rain in the capital pretty much stopped play. 

Countrywide protests

People mobilised throughout the country, in spite of COVID fears. Cali saw the most violence. Protesters pulled down a monument of Sebastián de Belalcázar (a Spanish conquistador), damaged buildings, and set fire to a DIAN office. Cali’s mayor told reporters that one person had died during the demonstrations, but it’s not yet clear what happened.

According to reports, protests in Barranquilla, Cartagena, Bucaramanga, Manizales, Neiva, Villavicencio, Cúcuta and other parts of the country were mostly peaceful. In Medellín, the demonstrations were strife-free to start with, but there were confrontations with ESMAD riot police by the end of the day.

Several cities — including Cali, Pasto, and Medellín — have introduced curfews.

Unfortunately, another protestor died in Neiva. The student, Juan Diego Perdomo Monroy, collapsed during protests in the city centre where there had previously been altercations with police. It’s not yet clear what happened. Some bystanders think it could have been an epileptic attack.

Why are people protesting? Ostensibly, the unpopular tax reforms, along with a number of other serious frustrations — from the progress of the peace process to environmental concerns. After a year of closures, job losses, financial struggles, for many Colombians, the tax reforms are rubbing salt in the wound. Moreover, it has provided a rallying cry and focus for people’s COVID anger.

Clashes with ESMAD

Back in Bogotá, by 2pm — the time the mayor suggested people head home — Plaza Bolívar was full. 

And by mid-afternoon, there were reports of violent clashes with ESMAD. In the city centre, protestors set fire to a police motorbike and riot police used tear gas to disperse the crowds. Police prevented more people from entering Plaza Bolívar and further disturbances took place in the Parque de los Periodistas and by the Museo del Oro.  

At the end of the day of national strike in Colombia, protestors turned a mobile CAI from the police on the side. Photo: Carl Worswick

In Kennedy, the RCN building was attacked by various protestors, with missiles flying in both directions in running battles along to the Banderas monument. Similar scenes unfolded in several parts of the capital, with violence reported in Suba, Héroes, Banderas, Campín, and in the north exits of the city. The mayor of Soacha also declared a 6pm curfew.

With no TransMilenio and many roads closed or affected, hundreds of people had to walk home, all trying to get back before the 8pm COVID curfew. Occasional shots still ring out and groups of both police and protestors still roam the streets. Now, as darkness — and more rain — falls, we wait to see if either can calm tensions. And whether protests will continue tomorrow.

Colombia national strike: Strike a light

There’s another national strike — paro nacional — this week, and it’s difficult to see how it’ll pan out.

Colombia national strike: Police prepare for tomorrow’s demonstrations. Photos: Oli Pritchard

You’ve probably seen signs up saying #paroya, or seen memes online that want you to #tumbarlareforma. It’s all part of another Colombia national strike taking place on Wednesday, which could be very big. If you’re confused about what’s behind it all, 

So what’s the fuss all about?

There’s a whole smorgasbord of discontent, but the broadly unpopular tax reform (reforma tributaría) has become the main focus in the last couple of weeks. Then there’s the opposition of a lot of Bogotá to the ruling Centro Democrático in general and president Iván Duque in particular.

A smorgasbord of discontent? What else is on the menu?

Following on from the last big protest, it has many roots. Fundamentally, a lot of Colombia (77% according to Invamer) thinks the country is on the wrong path, but can’t always articulate why. Like a patient who received the wrong blood in a transfusion, there’s a vague sense of dread in the air.

Is there anything more specific?

If anything, there are too many issues. Supporting the peace accords is a big factor for a lot of people, although others won’t care. Some want Venezuelans to be sent home. Environmental protection is a common theme. Indigenous rights will be important to many, afro-Colombian rights to some. People are unhappy about corruption, unemployment, and inequality. Expect a heavy dose of anti-uribismo, with not as much pro-Petro. The FARC will be there in their new guise as partido comunes.

What do they actually want?

The reforma tributaría to go away, which is achievable. There’s also a broad wish for president Iván Duque to resign, which is extraordinarily unlikely. He was elected fairly, hasn’t been directly connected to corruption, scandal, or massive incompetence. And there’ve already been points in his presidency when he’s been much more unpopular. 

Past those two aims it gets really vague. Protection for the environment, but no suggestion of how. Indigenous people should be given more rights, but no suggestion of what. Corruption should stop, but no concrete proposals this time. Most of all, inequality should end and the poor should have more money, but without anyone paying more tax. Big questions with difficult answers.

What happened in the end in 2019?

It was utterly bizarre and it’s still not fully clear. A young man was killed by police action and there was mass unrest for a week or so. We have some basic numbers, but beyond that, it’s incredibly hard to work out what actually happened. What changed is an easier question to answer: nothing. For all the passion and fury, the strikes ultimately went nowhere and were ignored.

Establishments board up their windows in preparation for tomorrow’s national strikes.

Bloody hell, is that likely to happen again?

Probably not, although it’s really hard to predict. There’s a bigger support for the paro now than in 2020, but there’s a pandemic and curfew to complicate matters. It’s really hard to call. The pandemic has magnified many people’s economic woes and feelings of frustration.

So what is happening tomorrow?

There will be large groups gathering at various points around the city, such as Transmilenio stations, parks, and plazas. The biggest are usually the Parque Nacional (Séptima), the Universidad Nacional (Calle 26), Banderas (Calle 6 with 78), Universidad de Cundinamarca (Soacha) and Héroes (Autopista and 80). They’ll all start heading towards the Plaza Bolívar mid-afternoon and arrive in stages late afternoon to listen to a succession of dreary speeches. That’s where it gets complicated. 

It’s likely that somebody will start some violence. Could be a police infiltrator, could be a disgruntled anarchist. Either way, the police will take the opportunity to charge in. If that doesn’t happen, likely things will simply dissipate into cafés and the like before getting home.

Who’s behind all this?

The Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT) is the main driving party behind the protests, but as in 2019, they’ll have many people joining them from elsewhere. This creates a certain amount of discord, because CUT have quite clear views which won’t be shared by all the protestors. Expect a certain amount of chaos as certain groups pull in different directions. The ex-guerilla will have banners there, and that’s always divisive.

Do they have broad support?

Yes and no. Seemingly everyone opposes the reforma tributaría, so on that issue the protesters are fully supported. Even Álvaro Uribe agrees with them. On the other issues, it’s more complicated. The peace accords, for example, are heavily polarised – 45% oppose them, 55% support them, according to Cifras y Conceptos. Many Colombians dislike protests in general – Bogotá is tolerant but much of the rest of the country will look at it with eyebrows raised. Then of course there’s a number of people who support the march but won’t turn out because of the pandemic.

Oh yeah, the third wave has arrived, I heard?

You heard correctly. Claudia López wants the paro to be delayed, but it’s the police that will really make the call. It’s a constitutional right, so even in a state of emergency, they’re unlikely to break it up until it inevitably turns violent. A lot of people who support the paro will stay indoors to avoid spreading the virus, and memes are circulating with ways to support the aims while staying safe. Francisco Maltés, the CUT president, says the protest will comply with the measures, but that’s unlikely to happen.

Bogotá’s latest red alert: new restrictions in the capital

With hospitals reaching capacity, the mayor has announced a new clampdown in the capital. Here are the latest Bogotá restrictions. 

Bogotá COVID restrictions: If the latest measures are enforced, playgrounds may be empty this Saturday.

After last week’s warning that we’d see stricter measures if ICU occupancy rose above 90%, it’s hardly surprising authorities have brought in new Bogotá restrictions. What is surprising is that they are looser than predicted.

Speaking yesterday, Bogotá mayor Claudia López said that we’ve reached 91% emergency ward occupation. She added that this is the first time since last April that we’ve faced the possibility of hospital collapse.

The concern is that if the rate of infection and hospitalisation doesn’t slow, hospitals will have to turn people away. On average, there are 225 requests for COVID ICU beds each day, and a further 150 requests for non-COVID ICU beds.

What are the new Bogotá restrictions?

From now until May 9, all commercial establishments, whether essential or not, must close by 7pm so people can be home by 8pm. That includes supermarkets and restaurants, but health workers and transport services will be exempt.

Read all coverage about the coronavirus in Colombia

The idea is to have no people in the street between 8pm and 4am each night.

In addition:

  • Ley Seca will be in place until May 9. That means you won’t be allowed to buy alcohol in person from stores, bars, or tiendas. You can, however, order it by domicilio and get it delivered.
  • Schools, universities, and kindergartens that had begun to reopen will be closed again. Classes will have to take place remotely for at least two weeks.
  • The Friday to Sunday shutdown remains in place, so we’ll see total lockdown again this weekend from Thursday at 11.59pm to Monday at 4am. Ciclovia will not take place this Sunday, but parks will open. According to the mayor’s office, parks will only be open on Sunday. You can still exercise for an hour each day and walk pets.
  • You’ll be able to order home delivery from restaurants until 10pm, but domicilios will not be allowed to work later than that. Pico y cédula is not ending anytime soon either. Cédulas ending in an even number (2,4,6,8,0) can shop on odd-numbered days (1,3,5,7,9) and vice versa.

Vaccination in Colombia continues, but it’s not going to make a dent in the COVID numbers any time soon. Bogotá has given out over 840,000 vaccines to date. Of those, around 630,000 were first doses and 210,000 were second doses.

Protests and gatherings

There’ve been a number of protests in recent months — in part due to the COVID controls and in part due to the economic situation faced by many. And of course, the unpopular tax reforms.

Related: Can I get my vaccine yet? What is going on with vaccination in Colombia

López specifically spoke against protests and said they would be banned to slow the spread. Moreover, she warned they were putting lives at risk. “The marches and gatherings are an attempt on people’s lives,” she said.

Travel plans

If you have a flight booked in the coming weeks, you’ll be able to get to the airport for domestic or international flights. Just make sure you have your ticket handy in case you are stopped.

The mayor says there will be controls at the border with Cundinamarca, and people will only be allowed to cross in cases of extreme necessity. Whether — and how — such departmental controls will be enforced is another story. 

Indeed, as with many of these restrictions, it remains to be seen whether people will follow them, and whether police will act against those who don’t. Many bogotanos have become almost numb to the danger of COVID, and need to put food on the table. As we heard people say at the start of the pandemic, people would rather die from the virus than hunge

Government authorises commercial COVID vaccinations — but you can’t buy one yet

Can private provision of jabs shut down the COVID-19 outbreak in Colombia? And are we anywhere near herd immunity. And can it ever be reached? Read on for more about Colombia vaccination.

Vaccination in Colombia is underway. But not enough to prevent a third peak. Photo: Unsplash
Colombia vaccination is underway. But not enough to prevent a third peak. Photo: Unsplash

Colombia’s deadly third COVID-19 peak is now claiming 400 deaths a day – including many younger people – and intensive care units are at 80% capacity (higher in some places). Meanwhile, the Colombia vaccination program has yet to show much impact.

Here’s a quick Q & A guide to the latest twists and turns in the vaccine saga, and the news that vaccines can be commercialised – but with strings attached.

So how is Colombia’s vaccination plan going? What’s Colombia’s vaccination schedule?

After a slow start, partly because of its own internal bureaucracy, the Ministry of Health has cranked up the vaccination campaign to 700,000 doses a week. So far it’s fully covered 1.3 million people with two doses. Around 3 million have had a first dose, and will have partial protection.

Read all coverage about the coronavirus in Colombia

That sounds good. So why are seeing so many deaths? 

Most people are still unprotected from the virus. Officially, only 2.7 million Colombians have had COVID. Even if we expand that to 10 million (adding in a generous number of people who never knew they had it, or didn’t get tested), and add the vaccinated persons, that still only adds up to less than 17 million folk in a country of 50 million. Add in the new – and more contagious virus variants – such as the Brazilian and UK strains spreading through Colombia, and you have plenty of possibilities for infection. Plus, there’s lockdown fatigue – few people stay home these days. The situation could still get worse before it gets better.

Maybe the vaccines don’t work?

Vaccines do work. All evidence from early-uptake vaccinators like Israel and the UK is that at some point, vaccination quickly reduces infection and deaths. This is already happening in Colombia among health care workers, many of whom were vaccinated as a priority in February. Daily COVID cases among health workers has dropped from 250 a day in January to less than 20 a day in March.

Vaccination of key health workers in Colombia in February seems to have avoided a third wave of  COVID-19 infection in this population group compared to the general population. Data INS.

Good news. So soon all be vaccinated and have herd immunity?

Not so fast. According to the vaccination tracking website Time To Herd, at the current rate, it could take over two years to get 70% of Colombia immunized.

Mother of God! Two Years! Is Colombia the slowest on earth?

More like halfway down the field. Here’s the Time To Herd comparison with other countries. It shows the estimated time at current vaccination rates to reach 70% of population coverage. Remember the figures from April 22 could change daily as new data comes in.

Colombia COVID vaccine rollout: Estimated time to reach 70% COVID vaccine coverage in selected countries: 

CountryTime to 70% coverage
US80 days
Chile86 days
UK104 days
Canada151 days
Mexico436 days
Colombia748 days
Brazil778 days
Panama832 days
Venezuela2,603 days
South Africa28,840 days
Data source: www.timetoherd.com, April 22.

As you can see, at present it’s an uneven playing field. We would hope that all countries would speed up as more vaccines come online. 

748 days to 70% coverage and herd immunity, according to Time To Herd’s interactive map. 

Could private vaccines speed up the process in Colombia?

Glad you were paying attention. So far vaccines have been given out in Colombia via health providers connected to the ‘EPS’ health insurers. Distribution has been strictly controlled in phases, prioritising the elderly and at-risk health workers. The big news this week is that the government has given the green light for private and commercial COVID vaccination.

Great news! Where can I buy one?

Whoa, Neddy. The plan comes with strings attached. First, only large commercial entities can buy vaccines. That means big companies can jump the queue for their own staff and vaccinate them directly. Government rules state they can only purchase approved vaccines from the original producer and must give them at zero cost to all their staff. 

Confusingly the protocol also states that the private vaccines “can only be given in established health centres” but “cannot utilise EPS health staff network”. So it’s not clear how it could work on the ground. And so far vaccine manufactures are not willing to sell to private companies while country contracts globally are still unfilled.

Yikes. So not coming to the corner shop any time soon.

Not likely. But if private companies do get on board – and the vaccine manufacturers agree to sell – then I would predict some vaccination being done at private clinics. There is already a huge demand from those who can pay.  Word on the grapevine is that some Colombians are flying twice to the US to get their jabs in Walmart. In fact, in some Estrato 6 cliques, the artificial antibodies are the new accessory.

Really? Vaccination tourism is already happening? 

Yes, in fact some places are offering COVID vaccines as part of a tour package, for example the Maldives Islands or Alaska. The one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine – now re-approved after a blood clot scare – will make that an even more popular option as you can just fly once for the weekend.

But that loophole might also close. The US State Department has recently put 116 countries, including Colombia, on their “Level 4 – Don’t Travel” advisory list. So far this hasn’t blocked air travel, but as the US pulls ahead in the vaccine race – and Colombia falls behind – new blockades could start.

What vaccine options do I have if I stay in Colombia? 

Colombia vaccinations are given at EPS clinics and local hospitals. Currently Colombia is at Phase Two of the vaccination program, with over-60s being given appointments for their doses.

We checked with the health ministry and they suggested the following:

  • Ideally, anyone arriving in Colombia is already fully vaccinated.
  • All foreign residents already in Colombia should join an EPS health insurer which will then include them in the vaccination plan. If you are formally employed, you will already have an EPS. Anyone else can join directly as an independiente (self-employed or retired).
  • Once signed up to an EPS, you can check your vaccine priority status at a government website called Mi Vacuna where your name should now appear. The EPS in theory will contact you for the vaccine when your phase comes along.

What if I have no plans to join an EPS?

Towards the end of each phase, a call will go out for people to come forward to mass vaccination events where the stragglers in that age group are vaccinated. Colombia’s health minister told CNN that Colombia’s vaccination plan will include “vulnerable and marginalized populations” in the fourth phase of the campaign. In theory, this could include anyone not in an EPS, but there is no guarantee. And right now, Phase 4 will only start in July earliest. Keep watching the local news and social media for these mop-up vaccinations.

Will my international travel insurance cover my COVID-19 vaccine?

Some insurers have said existing policies should cover costs of the vaccine when gets into private clinics, but officially that hasn’t yet happened anywhere. Other insurers are saying that proof of a COVID-19 vaccination will become a prerequisite for getting insurance in the first place.  Check with your international insurer.

How safe is the COVID vaccine? What if I don’t want one?  

Vaccination is not obligatory in Colombia, but “vaccine passports” are already in the pipeline, and airlines – and insurers – could require proof of the jab, just as now you need a negative COVID-19 test before travelling.

And don’t sit back and rely on others to get vaccinated for you to create herd immunity: it might never happen.

There are several reasons for this. One is the uneven vaccine roll-out in poor countries will incubate new strains which can sidestep the vaccines. The same could happen in rich countries if large groups of vaccine refuseniks are not jabbed, even while ditching the masks and demanding a return to normality.

Perhaps it’s ironic that these two behaviour extremes, a country hoarding excess vaccines for their own people, or individual anti-vaxxers expecting the herd to protect them, will eventually push the goal line further away.

Scientists now say that COVID-19 is here to stay, a background disease that we limit through technology. Your next vaccine could be the first of many.

Colombia tax reform: A taxing problem

Colombia’s byzantine taxation system needs desperate reform, but the public don’t think Carrasquilla has the answers.

Colombia tax reform: Finance minister couldn't reproduce standard price of eggs. Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash
Colombia tax reform: Finance minister couldn’t reproduce standard price of eggs. Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

Colombian finance minister Alberto Carrasquilla has announced radical new tax reform – possibly the most ambitious ever attempted in Colombia. It’s attracted heavy criticism already, not helped by the hapless treasurer fluffing his lines when asked the price of eggs. What is it, why are people up in arms and what will happen next? Our handy FAQ should help you out.

Colombians are suffering badly through lockdowns, so why does the government want us to pay more tax?

It’s all about the budget deficit. Colombia currently spends more than it makes, and that gap is increasing. Obviously this can’t carry on forever, so more money has to start coming in at some point. That’s why Carrasquilla wants to expand the tax base. In the short term, it would protect Colombia’s prized investment grade credit rating and in the long term, it sets the country on the path to a sustainable revenue system like other OECD countries.

A credit rating what?

Credit ratings are a badge of honour for countries. At BBB-, Colombia is comparable to some European countries. That makes it an attractive destination for companies moving into the market, but even more importantly makes it easier to borrow money for situations like Covid. Without investment grade status, Colombia will have to offer higher interest rates to raise financing to cover the fiscal deficit. On top of that, foreign companies may well be less likely to invest in Colombia. Put simply, there will be less trust in Colombia’s ability to pay back its debts. 

Read all coverage about the coronavirus in Colombia

So what is the government proposing?

A key part of the scheme is to expand the number of people fully under the tax scheme. With this in mind, the declaración de renta will now cover more people. On top of that, a lot of tax exemptions are being scrapped – notably IVA (sales tax) will apply to more products. There’s a one-off wealth tax for those earning COP$10 million monthly or holding COP$5,000,000,000 in assets, and IVA will be levied on utility bills at estrato 4 and above. There are green taxes that penalise vehicles and single-use plastics and the possibility of intra-city toll booths. It’s a fiscal empanada stuffed to bursting point.

But why pay taxes when Colombia’s so corrupt…

Well, that’s one issue, and not to be ignored. There’s widespread mistrust that the money will get to the right places. Still, 60% of owt is more than 100% of nowt. Also overall, many Colombians don’t pay the tax they are supposed to — income tax evasion is at a whopping 31.6% according to the Colombian tax collectors DIAN. On top of this, the government wants to finance social spending…

Social spending? But all I see on social media are memes joking about eggs and decrying the end of the middle classes

Yes, while some of the money being raised by taxes is to stop the debt ratio increasing, a large part is for social spending and VAT rebates for the poor. The largest part of this is the continuation and expansion of the Ingreso Solidario program to reach roughly 4.7 million households. This hands out money to people in lower estratos (following the SISBEN criteria). It’s not perfect, but has won acclaim. Added to this are schemes to encourage companies to hire workers under 28, support for poorer students to attend university and support for small and medium-sized companies (PYME).

This actually sounds quite progressive…

Well, yes. Much of the proposal is akin to what you might expect from a fashionable centre left social democrat party in Europe. It’s certainly not what the neoliberal Centro Democrático are normally into. It’s no surprise that the Centro Democrático rank and file are unhappy, but criticism has come from all sides, including leftists such as Polo and the Alianza Verde.

So why’s it so unpopular?

Well, even the comfortably off might be feeling the pinch. Relatively high earners often feel that they’re average earners and can have extensive debt or commitments. As we said before, people rarely have much faith that their taxes are well spent. It’s also not perfect – there are exceptions, notably for the army and privileged officials in the civil service and public unis.  More importantly, there’s an election next year. Tax hikes are easy pickings for opposition politicians and no one wants to be seen to support tax increases. Finally, it’s so big that there are multiple positives and negatives for almost anyone. No one seems to be looking at their positives.

What have these politicians said?

A Caracol poll on Tuesday found that 84% of voters wouldn’t vote for a candidate who backed the reform as it stands, confirming its toxicity. With that in mind, people are queuing up to distance themselves. The Senate’s second biggest party, the ironically named Cambio Radical, are against it, along with their ally Cesar Gaviria who appears to speak for the Liberals. Juan Manuel Santos’ Partido de la U have decided to vote against it and it seems unpopular within the Centro Democrático, with even Uribe stepping in to complain. The leftist criticisms will come more strongly in next week’s national strike. Wilmer Leal of the greens is asking for more tax on the rich.

Hmmm, so is this going to happen at all?

The tax reform in Colombia will probably pass the Senate in some form. The government will pull out all the stops. There will be lots of shady deals in small rooms in the next few weeks. But this is the 15th tax reform in Colombia since 1995, and they’ve all been significantly watered down, so it might not end up bringing in as much money as the government would like. The question is whether it will be enough for investors to keep faith in the economy. What is almost certain is that whoever is in charge next year will have to have another go at getting people to pay more taxes, so expect to hear more soon.

COVID third peak: 8pm curfew will begin in Bogotá tomorrow

As emergency room occupation hits highest levels yet, Bogotá is introducing an 8pm curfew.

April 26: Read our latest story to find out the new measures in place until May 9

Queues will stay empty in the weekend.

Starting tomorrow until the beginning of May, you’ll need to be home by 8pm in Bogotá — and the city’s Friday to Sunday lockdown will continue. 

Mayor Claudia López told reporters today that we’re at the highest level of ICU (emergency room) occupation since the start of the pandemic. Her concern is fourfold:

Read all coverage about the coronavirus in Colombia

  • Hospitals in Antioquia are close to 100% capacity.
  • Yesterday saw the biggest ever daily jump in ICU occupation (80% to 84%)
  • Unlike previous peaks, where authorities were able to delay non urgent operations, this time people with other illnesses also need beds. “We have a double pressure right now,” said López. “Very high COVID ICU and very high non-COVID ICU.”
  • Finally, authorities believe we’re still two weeks away from the peak.

The situation in Antioquia has reached critical levels. ICU is close to 100% and doctors are having to decide which patients to admit to hospital. Unsurprisingly, López is keen to avoid this scenario in the capital.

One health worker in Bogotá told us: “Hospitals no longer supply enough, health personnel are exhausted, little by little we can see the physical and emotional wear and tear.”

They continued. “As health workers we are tired and we understand that many people no longer want to stay at home. Unfortunately the corruption in this country has almost all of us in increasing poverty: we need to eat, pay rent, healthcare, pensions, etc. For that reason, many people decide to go out into the streets. There is no longer fear of the coronavirus, there are needs.”

Check out our story if you’re wondering how Colombia’s vaccination is going.

What does this mean in terms of COVID restrictions?

Bogotá will continue its existing four-three model, meaning people can go to work Monday to Thursday and the city will shut down from Friday to Saturday. On top of which, the capital is following government guidelines and introducing an 8pm nightly curfew. It will be in place until May 3.

And Pico y Cédula will be in place for the foreseeable future. Though, contrary to initial rumours today, it will not be applied to public transport.

All this will be reviewed again next Monday, unless the ICU occupation goes above 90%. In that case, we can expect an immediate stricter lockdown.

López said she understood the measures would hurt from an economic perspective, but that authorities are trying to deal with it as best they can. “We’re trying to manage the two sides,” she said. “Health and pocket.”

Dispatches: Parkway

Our new feature will give you a snapshot of a different corner of Bogotá each month. We’ve all been stuck at home more this year, so one writer wanted to capture a taste of different parts of the city. First up? Parkway.

The tela twirlers in Parkway. Photo: Ethan Jacobs

One of the things that’s so interesting about Parkway is its layout. You have this long brick walkway that bisects the neighborhood hot dog-style. On either side of the path are wooden park benches and patches of grass – often balding – where families and groups of friends huddle in concentric parches. The layout can make Parkway’s elongated strip feel more like a never-ending catwalk than anything meant for pedestrian use. Though you know you’ve reached the end if you’ve gone more than a couple of minutes without seeing a susu wayuu or someone in hiking boots.

You have to imagine the area’s residents – and guests – are aware of this; that at some point or another, they have been or will be on display, if only fleetingly. That’s terrifying for anyone who shies from the spotlight, but it’s also beautifully democratic. If you sit on one of the benches along Parkway’s expansive stretch, particularly on a weekday evening or weekend afternoon, you’re bound to see it all. 

If there’s an interest group that exists in Bogotá, no matter how far-right, left, orthodox, or secular, they’ve congregated here. 

It’s a hotbed for hipsters and hucksters. At just about any hour of the day, you’ll see 20- and 30-somethings dressed in what looks like H&M Seinfeld chic, walking their plegables along the edge of the brick, donning thick, 70s-style glasses that may or may not have been prescribed. Not far away is someone peddling wares. And it seems being artisanal is a prerequisite. Often, the two are the same person. 

In their totes, they carry arequipes, mermeladas, potted plants… pot. If you manage to resist those and other tempting trinkets, a meticulously made-up trans woman will be along shortly with bundles of incense, packets of plastic trash bags, or a mystery bag of candy – one for 500, three for 1,000, somehow. 

You think to buy some, but get distracted by the highwire act of the slackliners and tela twirlers on either side of the walkway. Though I have no proof, I’m convinced this is where people hone their skills before taking their act to intersections throughout the city, where they’ll thanklessly perform in 30-second windows in front of a captive audience of taxi drivers, SITPs, and Rappitenderos

It’s a lot to take in, but you feast on the visual spectacle because the marquee is always changing. In a city that can feel like a boundless desert of fragmented concrete, labyrinthine gridded networks of shattered asphalt streets, and clusters of unremarkable graffiti-stained low-rise buildings, Parkway, which certainly has its share of all three, still manages to feel like an urban oasis – at times, deceptively so, having shown its ability to morph into an inferno at the drop of a body. It’s where I had my first cacerolazo. It’s where they stole my bike. It’s home.

The mayor who cried wolf?

As we enter an official third wave, public appetite for lockdown is stretching ever-thinner.

Anti-Covid shops may be one of the few businesses doing well out of a third wave.

A red alert has been announced! A year ago, that sent a shockwave of fear and worry through the capital. Now though, we are all somewhat numbed and deadened to it. Like the boy who cried wolf, mayor Claudia López is struggling to convince people of the necessity of lockdown. As the rationality behind lockdown becomes miscommunicated or poorly applied, more and more people are losing faith, as they are worldwide.

She’ll get little sympathy from here – her communications have been consistently wayward, confusing and irritating. Above all, many have come at the last minute. Also, I have two wolf-like Siberian huskies, and Claudia slapped one of them in the face on Séptima once.

Read all coverage about the coronavirus in Colombia

What does any of this language actually mean? What’s the difference between a curfew and a mobility restriction? Why is three-quarters full a red alert? It’s hard to know if we should worry about third waves when the second wave passed largely unnoticed. It’s hard to know what is so bad about a red alert when we’ve had so many. We’re being told that we really, should, must, have to follow the rules this time…but only till Monday. 

In fairness, similar stories are being told in cities all over the world. As authorities try to balance the spread of the virus against people’s economic and mental wellbeing, it can feel like a never-ending COVID see-saw. It’s natural to feel frustrated with ever-changing rules about what we can or can’t do.

People aren’t following the rules

Many people are simply ignoring many of the rules. This really runs the gamut – poorer barrio tiendas operating as normal or with lock-ins; rich folk swanning off to fincas or abroad; private, unregulated parties all over the place; street sellers working openly; dog walkers clearly overrunning 20mins; parks filling up; smaller businesses not applying pico y cédula.

This might not be fair to the businesses that have to tow the line, but it’s also the logical extension of hearing repeated warnings of doom and gloom. After a while, the non-arrival of said doom makes people complacent. Of course, the doomsday scenario may not have arrived precisely because of these measures, but that’s by the by. There’s been little in the way of useful communication along those lines.

It’s also not helping that the measures seem ever more bizarre. There’s little rhyme or reason to much of it and contradictory parts abound. I can exercise for an hour; my dogs only for 20 minutes. It’s fine to have a beer with friends in a bar on juernes, but not Friday. Then the rules change week-to-week. Friday night was free last week, this week it won’t be. All of this erodes trust.

There’s little to no enforcement of many COVID rules much of the time. The big obvious places are kept in check by the alcaldía, but smaller places fly under the radar with ease. The police appear to have equally little appetite for enforcing unpopular rules – the parque nacional may have been officially closed last weekend, but plenty of people visited it in the clear light of day.

For now, people are broadly following both the spirit and letter of the law. The question is, how long will that continue, and can we rebuild trust? After all, the number of people reluctant to get vaccinated is already high and rising.

Red alert! New measures in Bogotá

Another red alert has been issued in Bogotá, meaning the extension of lockdown, with some changes.

Empty streets in January.

Bogotá mayor Claudia López today confirmed the continuation of weekend lockdowns until April 19, with some changes from the last time. She also declared a state of emergency as hospital intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy crossed 75%. The third wave has been confirmed.

The Bogotá health system is now under red alert. That means holiday leave has been cancelled and emergency measures are in place to handle an acute shortage of resources. The ICU occupancy is predicted to rise further, says López, which is why it’s necessary to continue with the unpopular 4×3 plan. The idea behind this is to have four days working and three in isolation.

Pico y cédula will continue throughout. Cafés, restaurants and hotels are officially exempt, but it’s fair to say that many smaller shops are ignoring it. Pico y cédula is the only extra measure being applied in the ‘4’ part of 4×3 (Monday to Thursday), apart from universities being asked to close.

Friday to Monday is a different story, however, and slightly different from last weekend. Firstly, it’s been pulled forward 24 hours, so Friday night drinks are off. The lockdown will begin at 11.59 pm on Thursday night and finish at 4 am on Monday. However, this time around parks and ciclovía will be open.

Read all coverage about the coronavirus in Colombia

As before, you can go out to exercise for an hour, take pets out, and shop for essentials.

Business owners are already predictably up in arms. Although these two weekends were always likely to have restrictions, the changing of the dates has affected some enterprise’s plans with only a few days’ notice that they will now be closed on Friday night. 

The elephant in the room, as ever, is enforcement. With each period of lockdown there is more and more defiance of the rules and less public appetite to follow them. The much-vaunted Plan Cadena, for example, is being widely ignored and the parks were busy last weekend despite not officially being open. A walk in Bogotá’s streets last week showed just as many shops open and people were about as ever.  

Oli’s big topic: Everyone needs a bit of Parklife

The capital’s restrictions don’t affect everyone the same way.

Let’s hope Bogotá parks don’t close again as the city tries to minimise the damage of a third spike. Photo: Oli Pritchard

The new restrictions coming into place this weekend are touted as affecting everyone equally. It certainly looks that way on paper, but dig a little deeper and one turns up some unsettling problems. Previous lockdowns have restricted access to public spaces that are vital outlets for many. Specifically, municipal parks.

At the crux of the problem is this: while the restrictions might have been the same for everyone, we all have different resources with which to deal with it. Equally, we’re not all in the same position when it comes to our free time. Neither do we follow the same pursuits.

Parks, closing affects everyone equally, sure. It overlooks, though, the fact that the parks of Bogotá are not used in the same way by all. For those in cramped accommodation, the parks provide a critical venue for large gatherings. Those gatherings now will likely still take place, but indoors — even though any form of gathering is frowned upon right now. They’ll be far less pleasant, and far more likely to potentially spread the virus. 

The parks are only closed at the weekend, too. So it’s fine to do your tennis practice midweek, if you’re lucky enough to do the sort of job that allows you time to do so. In a country where many people work hard for six days a week, that’s simply not possible for large swathes of society. Also, tennis is unsurprisingly practised a lot more by richer people than poorer in the first place. The one day the Parque Nacional tennis courts really open up in normal times? Sunday. Ah. 

Photo: Oli Pritchard

Of course, bars and restaurants will be open Tues-Fri, which is good news. Again though, it’s for those that have the option for midweek jollies. Of course, these places are also only accessible to those that can pay for them. Parks, on the other hand, are one of the few places all can access for free, where the activities within are also free. Neither is there discrimination at the door – no face check and no implied class barrier. 

The message seems to be that the economically active are welcome to go out and carry on as before, even if it’s actually more likely to spread the virus. But to go to the park and simply walk is to be discouraged, as you’re not useful to the economy. Are we all making sacrifices for protection against the virus or are we allowing people to pay for an opt-out?

Let’s not forget, either, the localised lockdowns. They’ve not been discounted this time round, and last time those zones were centered in the south. Of course, that’s been true throughout the localised lockdown periods in Bogotá.

To be clear, I do not think that these restrictions were aimed at the poorer people in society, neither do I think that there’s a viciousness to it. I simply think that no-one in the mayor’s office has bothered to think about the outcomes of their decisions. After all, why should they? Their lives won’t be affected.

Bogotá’s post-Easter restrictions

Pico y cédula is back – and there’ll be another full lockdown this weekend.

Jenny and Martha (right) at their orange juice stall in Parkway, Teusaquillo. The mother and daughter team are worried by the threat of a new COVID-19 lockdown in Bogotá, having lost three months of informal work in the last year. “We’ve used our savings to pay rent and living expenses, and so far have no help at all from the government, not cash or even any food support,” Martha told The Bogotá Post today. Photo: Steve Hide

As was to be expected, even after slightly muted Semana Santa celebrations, authorities plan to shut down the city again this weekend.

ICU occupancy is now at 67.7% and Mayor Claudia López fears a third wave is not far away. The original plan was only to tighten restrictions if the emergency ward occupancy went above 70%, but the mayor is stepping in early.

Another reason for concern is that at least one person with the Brazilian variant has died in Colombia. A mid-March announcement said that the variant had been identified in an elderly man who passed away at the end of January. He had not travelled to Brazil or Leticia.

With their mobile stalls selling cell phone accessories, Omar and José (right) often find themselves playing cat and mouse with police during lockdowns periods in Bogotá, but try their hardest to keep working informally. The two migrants left Venezuela two years ago to better their chances in Colombia. “We can’t sit around locked up inside, or we won’t survive,” José told The Bogotá Post. Photo: Steve Hide

Bogotá’s April restrictions

From now until April 19, pico y cédula will operate in the capital. If your ID ends in an even number, you can go shopping on odd days and vice versa. The current curfew is still in place between midnight and 5 am.

The following measures will apply in Bogotá from 11.59 pm on Friday (April 8) until 4 am on Tuesday (April 13). 

  • Shutdown: Neither people nor vehicles will be allowed to move around the city unless they are exempted.
  • No alcohol sales: Ley seca will be in place, but you can get alcohol delivered domicilio.

All the usual exceptions apply, including:

  • One person per household is allowed out to buy essential medicine and groceries between 5 am and 8 pm
  • Essential workers can carry on as usual
  • You can walk your pet for 20 minutes
  • You can exercise for one hour
  • You can go to medical, veterinary or vaccination appointments

The new measures will be reevaluated on April 13. It remains to be seen how strictly these measures will be followed or enforced.

Additional reporting: Steve Hide

8 Colombian Holy Week beliefs you might not have heard of

Every country has its fair share of superstitions, many of which grew from religious beliefs. Easter in Colombia is no different. 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

It’s estimated that around 80% of Colombians identify as Catholic. As such, it’s hardly surprising that many of the superstitions around Easter have their roots in Catholicism. Constitutionally, Colombia is a secular country, but you only need to look at the furore around the Pope’s visit to see the levels of devotion here. 

Many of the normal Easter processions and parades were banned this year because of the coronavirus. The stations of the cross (viacrucis), the climb to the hill of Monserrate and mass celebrations were not allowed. The numbers of people allowed into church services were limited and large family gatherings were discouraged.

Even so, here are some Holy Week traditions and Colombian Semana Santa superstitions you may have come across if you celebrated Easter in Colombia. Especially if you had the chance to celebrate with some of the older generations. 

1) Do not eat red meat

You may have noticed that fish is a lot more popular during Semana Santa. This is because Good Friday and Easter Saturday are considered days of mourning. Therefore on these holy days Catholics, avoid red meat as a sign of respect for the pain that Jesus Christ suffered at the time of his crucifixion. Some families also fast on Good Friday and Saturday. 

2) Do not bathe in a river or in the sea 

This unusual belief has several variations. The myth is that if you swim during Semana Santa — in the sea, swimming pool, or river — you might turn into a fish. A less extreme view is that you shouldn’t swim because this is a time of mourning.  

3) Do not have sex

Having sex is seen as one of the most important disrespects during Holy Week. Some people go as far as claiming your bodies could get stuck together if you have sex during holy days. As with the bathing and red meat, it’s likely this grew out of a feeling that it is sinful to enjoy yourself when we’re supposed to be reflecting on the crucifixion. 

4) Do not go out after 3pm on Good Friday

3pm on Good Friday is especially important for Catholics as it’s believed this is the time Jesus died. This is why many believers stay at home so as to not disrespect such a sacred moment. One family we spoke to said people used to believe thrashing plants at 3pm would help the plants to thrive.

5) A baby born on Good Friday is considered unlucky

In Colombia, some think that babies born on Good Friday are unlucky. It’s unfortunate since some other countries believe that babies born on Good Friday will become healers, especially if they get baptized on Easter Sunday.

6) Do not sweep the floor or hammer in nails

It’s hardly surprising that superstitions have evolved around using nails, considering that Jesus Christ was nailed to cross. Sweeping the ground is considered as sweeping the face of Jesus. 

7) Do not listen to music

Listening to any kind of music that is not religious is seen as disrespectful during Holy Week. Especially rock and metal music. For people who are religious, this should be a time of thought and reflection.

8) Do not climb trees

We’ll finish with another slightly odd nature superstition. According to tradition, climbing a tree during Semana Santa could cause children to become monkeys or wild animals. 

Of course, you’ll find different regions and different families have their own Semana Santa traditions. And just as your eyes won’t go square if you sit too close to the TV, you’re not going to turn into a monkey if you climb a tree over Easter. But it’s fun to know some of the myths and legends and understand how they evolved.

Semana Santa restrictions – Easter in Bogotá

Claudia López introduces measures aimed at minimizing an Easter COVID outbreak.

Semana Santa restrictions: The path up Monserrate will be closed from March 28 til April 5
Semana Santa restrictions: the path up Monserrate will be closed from March 28 til April 5

If you’re planning for Semana Santa, be ready for similar restrictions to those we saw at Christmas

As before, everything hinges on emergency room (ICU) occupancy, which is currently about 65% in the capital. A night curfew will begin this weekend, and stricter measures will be introduced if hospital occupancy rises further.

Mayor Claudia López announced today that the city would follow government instructions. As such, cities like Bogotá with ICU occupancy of 50% to 70%

  • Curfew from midnight to 5am
  • Measures apply from March 26 – 29 and March 31 to April 5

If occupancy goes above 70%, the curfew would begin two hours earlier and pico y cédula will be back. You’ll only be able to go to shops, supermarkets and banks every other day.

The path to Monserrate will be closed from March 28 to April 5. And any Easter processions or crowded religious gatherings will not be allowed. The plan is to promote socially distanced religious celebrations, either on television, online or through spaced out schedules. 

If you want to leave the city, there’s nothing to stop you. So far, there are no bans on national or international travel. Though it’s worth checking your destination country – the UK, for example, has just banned all unnecessary international travel.

Brendan Corrigan from Wrong Way Corrigan and GetIngles will be discussing the rules Easter celebrations with our deputy editor Oli Pritchard at 9pm on Facebook Live.

Spread your wings and discover hidden Colombia

There’s a lot more to see in Colombia beyond the classic tourist sites, amazing though they are.

From caiman to capybara, Colombia has nature galore. Photo: Photo by Gaetano Cessati on Unsplash

There are a plethora of spectacular sights in Colombia, from deep oceans to high mountains, filled with deserts, plains, rivers and all sorts of forest in between. You’ve likely heard of the big guns like Leticia, Cartagena and Tayrona, but there’s a lot under the radar too. Our intrepid birdman Chris Bell has been all over, from Tuparro to Mitú, but most of Colombia is accessible to the average traveller too.

Tonight in Bogotá Nights, we’ll be discussing hidden Colombia. If you missed travelling in 2020 and plan to make up for it this year, tune in at 7pm to hear Oli and Brendan discuss some off-the-beaten-track destinations.

Coronavirus restrictions have been lifted in much of the country, though you should still take precautions if you plan to travel. And don’t just assume the place you’re going is lockdown-free. For example, authorities in Santa Marta are considering another strict quarantine as they try to get a handle on their overflowing clinics.

Avoid the crowds

These socially distanced times are a great reason to steer clear of tourist hotspots. If you’re fed up with the numbers in Cartagena, many head further up to Palomino, but that’s pretty paraco and filling up too. Why not swing the other way and head to Coveñas? It’s on the Colombian tourist trail, but there are few foreigners and easy access to the San Bernardo islands, especially Múcura. You can head over to Chocó too, and boat to lesser-known destinations like Nuquí or the Caribbean Chocó.

The Llanos Orientales take up about a third of Colombia, but few people go out there. There’s less tourist infrastructure, that’s true, but if you’re comfortable with Colombian culture and speaking Spanish, there’s so much to see and little to worry about. San José de Guaviare has hit the guidebooks, but only just. There’s plenty of sights, including ancient rock paintings, spectacular rivers and eerie rock formations. Best of all, not many people to share it with for now. We first went in 2014, and every report since has said numbers are growing. There’s also Orocue in Casanare, which necessitates a boat trip and brings you enormous caimans and more capybara than you can shake a stick at.

The signing of the peace deal meant a few places opened up for the first time. While Chris Bell got there first too, anyone can get there now. We went rafting with ex-FARC members in Caquetá, brilliantly run and a chance to see a side of Colombia that had been off-limits for decades. The Estoraques natural park in Norte de Santander is mostly safe now too, with its spectacular rock towers.

This has been a tough year for tourism in Colombia. But if you’re feeling ready to venture further afield, there’s plenty of places to visit.

Foreign Festivals in Bogotá

Colombia has plenty of national celebrations, but also finds the time to celebrate other cultures’ special days, such as St Patrick’s next week. Find out more and tune in to Facebook at 9pm to continue the discussion Live!

There’s plenty of foreign festivals in Bogotá. Photo by Ambreen Hasan on Unsplash

Colombia has plenty of home-grown festivals to enjoy, but the Colombian appetite for parties is so big that we import festivals too! St Patrick’s Day is upon us, so we’ll be talking about that tonight at 9pm on our weekly Facebook Live with Brendan Corrigan of Wrong Way fame.

If there’s a celebration you remember from back home, or that you celebrated while living abroad, there’s a good chance you’ll find a place to mark the occasion here in Bogotá. The capital becomes more and more cosmopolitan by the month and even if flights are a pain, you can travel the world (ish) in the city.

Of course, with an Irish host, we’ll be talking about Ireland’s connection with Colombia tonight at 9pm on Facebook. Brendan’s got a lot to say about St Patrick’s Day. That’s usually a lot of fun in Bogotá, as many places that like a tipple or two. Bastille Day for the French features good food and usually some cycling, as Colombians love the Tour. Talking of bikes, there’s usually a bike ride for Kingsday in the Netherlands.

Celebrating foreign festivals in Bogotá

The big daddy of Euro-fests is surely Oktoberfest, though, which sees special brews from various brewers in and around the capital. Happily, it’s celebrated in October, too, which removes the irritation from the name. The English, thankfully, don’t celebrate our national day and there are small events by groups of Scots and Welsh for Burns Night and St David’s as well as the odd other UK festival.

The Americans have it easiest – there’s the Super Bowl in early February which seems to get bigger and bigger here every year. Then you have the Fourth of July mid-year which sees fireworks and the like, before Thanksgiving provides a little respite from the cold November rain. Wey, ya, plenty will celebrate Cinco de Mayo, of course, and that’ll be good eating. Canada Day is probably celebrated and Australia Day is gaining popularity in pockets of Bogotá even as it becomes controversial in the antipodes. 

From Asia, the Chinese New Year usually sees Lion Dancers around the country, as well as traditional drummers. Indian food and yoga will be celebrated for Holi and possibly Divali as well as International Yoga Day in June. If it’s cherry blossom season or Golden Week that excites you, see if the Japanese community is up to anything.

Then, of course, there’s a lot of international festivals, such as Halloween and Valentine’s. Both of those catch a little criticism from traditionalists while the rest of the country takes the opportunity for more celebration. Halloween is particularly massive, as Colombians love witchcraft and magic. Many spend a lot of time and money preparing costumes and again, there are usually some themed beers. Love and romance is rarely not expressed in Colombia (see our special from a few weeks back). Women’s Day has exploded in recent years too, including this week.
So tune in tonight at 9PM to our live show, or check it out (or past episodes) on our YouTube channel. We’d love to hear your suggestions for festival ideas, days we’ve missed or stories from past events.

International Women’s Day march in Bogotá

8M in Colombia: Thousands took to the streets today to campaign for equality and protest violence against women.

Slogans were painted in graffiti in several places through Bogotá. Photo: Oli Pritchard

International Women’s Day is always a time to reflect on the progress made towards gender equality — and the challenges that still lie ahead. In a year that has seen an increase in femicides and violence against women in Colombia, there were many reasons to take to the streets.

According to a recent report from Sisma Mujer, women in Colombia have borne more of the economic impact of the pandemic than men. This is true in many parts of the world. The report suggests that COVID-19 has pushed labour participation here back by almost a decade.

Economic inequality is not the only issue. The report highlights some other concerning statistics in Colombia:

  • So far in 2021, a woman has been a victim of domestic violence every 11 minutes
  • Between March 2020 and February 2021, calls to the domestic violence helpline (155) have increased by almost 85%. There were about 18,000 calls in March last year, compared with almost 33,000 this February.
  • There were 444 victims of femicide in 2020, according to data from the Fiscalía. Sisma Mujer also highlighted the increased risk of femicide during the quarantine.

As such, it’s not surprising that marches took place throughout Colombia today. In Bogotá, women congregated at the planetarium and the Parque Nacional and marched towards the Plaza Bolívar. Many of the marchers wore purple pañoletas and black clothes in mourning for the victims of femicide in the country. Tonight saw a concert and candlelit vigil for those who have died.

However, the day did not pass completely peacefully. A small group of protestors damaged TransMilenio stations and buses, while others tried to set fire to the San Francisco church. ESMAD riot police were called in at around 6pm. 

Bogotá mayor Claudia López blamed about 30 women for the violent scenes.

“This is not a protest nor assertion nor feminism,” she tweeted. “It’s unacceptable that a day dedicated to exalting the struggles and achievements of women in history was taken advantage of by a small group of violent women who believe that to protest is to destroy,.”

https://twitter.com/ClaudiaLopez/status/1369065541495889921

Colombia begins its COVID-19 vaccination

COVID-19 vaccination in Colombia began today and Bogotá will get its first vaccinations tomorrow. The health ministry are confident 35 million people will be vaccinated by the end of the year.

Vaccination in Colombia started today. Photo: Minsalud

After a long wait COVID-19 vaccination in Colombia has begun. Today, Verónica Machado, a nurse in Sincelejo, was the first person in Colombia to receive the coronavirus vaccine. 

The original plan had been to begin the nationwide vaccination program on Saturday (Feb. 20), but things have moved faster. Sincelejo and Montería began vaccinating today. Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga and Cartagena begin tomorrow. And other areas will begin their vaccinations on Friday and Saturday.

The plan is to vaccinate 35 million people against coronavirus by the end of the year. I say people rather than Colombians because foreigners will also be eligible.

Once the program gets underway, the Ministry of Health says COVID-19 vaccination in Colombia can go quickly. It estimates it will be able to vaccinate 100,000 people a day and has set a target of vaccinating one million people in February and March.

When will I get vaccinated?

The first 50,000 doses of the vaccine arrived in Colombia on Monday. These will go to front-line health workers, as will the second batch of 50,000 that arrives on Feb. 24. The following delivery of 100,000 vaccines will be used to give both groups their second dose.

Read all our coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

According to Health Minister Fernando Ruiz Gómez, those over 80 years old are the next priority. “First we’ll vaccinate the 350,000 people who use their human talent in healthcare and work in the front line of COVID-19 care. We’ll continue with the 1,200,000 people over 80 years. Once we finish, we’ll continue with those over 60 and the second-line healthcare workers.”

That said, there’s also talk of sending the whole 192,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine straight to Leticia in an attempt to reduce the risk of the Brazilian strain from spreading further into Colombia. However, Brazil has raised concerns over the effectiveness of this vaccine.

Colombia has a platform called Mi Vacuna, which helps you see where you are in the vaccine queue. You can also find information about the nation’s vaccination plan. Let’s hope it works better than the coronapp.

That said, you don’t have to register with Mi Vacuna to get vaccinated. Your EPS provider is in charge of inputting who belongs to what group into the system and also informing you when you can be vaccinated.

Where does COVAX come in?

If you thought COVAX was a type of vaccine, you’re not alone. But it’s a vaccine alliance, made up of the WHO, Gavi, and CEPI. Gavi and CEPI are both global vaccine partnerships that existed before COVID. Its mission is to ensure all countries can access the vaccine, regardless of wealth and it’s supported the development of various vaccines and operates as a trading block to negotiated prices.

Read also: How to get a coronavirus test in Bogotá

Colombia is getting 2,533,600 AztraZenece vaccines and 177,000 Pfizer ones through COVAX. COVAX aims to provide enough vaccines for 20% of the population in every country. Its motto is: With a fast-moving pandemic, no one is safe, unless everyone is safe.

Which vaccines will Colombia get?

Pfizer in Colombia

Pfizer is the first vaccine to arrive in Colombia. According to a Pfizer press release in December, we’ll be getting a total of 10 million doses. The reason Colombia’s been busily acquiring super cold freezers is that the two-shot vaccine needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius. Colombia plans to use the Pfizer vaccine in urban areas and keep the more forgiving vaccines for rural zones.

AstraZeneca in Colombia

The AstraZeneca vaccine has come in for some bad press recently, but Ruiz defended it this week. “Our Advisory Body and scientific committee have not seen conclusive evidence,” he said of the rumoured side effects. “Our objective is to reduce mortality for this disease and this vaccine gives us peace of mind to proceed.”

Colombia will be getting 10 million shots of the vaccine, enough to vaccinate 5 million people as it also needs to be administered in two doses. Unlike Pfizer, this vaccine can be stored at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius.

Sinovac vaccine in Colombia

Like AstraZeneca, this is a two-dose vaccine that needs to be stored between 2 to 8 degrees Celsius. Colombia’s bought 2.5 million doses of the Chinese vaccine, which is good for 1,250,000 people.

Moderna vaccine in Colombia

Moderna is a relative newcomer to the vaccine market, but the two-dose vaccine has proved effective in tests. Colombia has agreed to buy 10 million doses of this vaccine, which also doesn’t need to be stored in at supercold temperatures. 

Janssen vaccine in Colombia

Many have high hopes of the Janssen vaccine because it’s one of the only vaccines not to need two shots. That makes it ideal for rural areas where people are very spread out. Colombia has 9 million Janssen vaccines coming — which will be good for 9 million people.

Sputnik V vaccine in Colombia

No deal has been signed, but the Russian ambassador told press this month that Colombia is negotiating to both buy and produce the vaccine.

What can we expect?

Looking at other countries we can be pretty confident that the vaccine process won’t run smoothly. Colombia’s already hit several stumbling blocks in its negotiations and need for Invima approval. But at least the delay gave it time to prepare. Which the health minister assures people it has.

In the coming weeks and months, we will see more and more vaccines arrive in the country. It will reach a peak in August, when we’re due to get over 11 million doses. Once the vaccine arrives, there’s a limited time window to transport and administer the drugs. Which becomes complicated in a hot country like Colombia with a spread-out population.

Craft beer Bogotá: Vistalegre

In our series about craft beer breweries in Bogotá, we look at Vistalegre.

Grab a pint from Vistalegre.
Grab a pint from Vistalegre.

They may not be as well-known and established as some of the other craft breweries we’ve covered so far, but Vistalegre, in the far north of Bogotá, is one of the best examples here of the grass roots aspect of the industry. If you’re after a brewer who’s had to start with the very basics and make do with what he has at hand, Daniel López is your man.

Daniel’s brewing story is a family one and goes all the way back to his father, Miguel, and his grandfather, Gonzaga, who had a rum distillery in the small Venezuelan town of Caicara del Orinoco. After having grown up with rum barrels and alcohol all around him, Miguel came up with the idea of continuing the family tradition of grog supply and trying a bit of homebrewing when Daniel was about 13. Miguel was working for the World Health Organisation at the time and had stumbled upon a couple of homebrewing books during his travels, so in the early 90s, he and Daniel started brewing in Caracas. 

The Venezuelan capital at the time wasn’t exactly brimming with homebrew supplies though, so even when Daniel was able to pop over to the States to bring back supplies, it was still nigh on impossible to get hold of any other ingredients back home. In the early 00s, Daniel’s friend in Ireland managed to find a homebrewing shop over there, from which he was able to get hold of some Cascade hops and yeast. By this point it was finally possible to find malted barley in Venezuela and Daniel was able to get started on his dream. 

Daniel’s quick to admit that the first few batches were nothing special, but as he researched the art more and small homebrew supply importers began popping up in Caracas, he improved his craft and started selling beers to his friends. He soon found himself making more money selling beer than he was pulling in at his university job, and founded Old Dan’s in 2011.

As the situation in Venezuela continued to deteriorate, Daniel finally made the decision to up sticks and was able to find some investors to help him set up Vistalegre here in 2016. It hasn’t been an easy ride, but towards the end of last year they finally found themselves getting to where they wanted to be, with a reasonably sized brewery, a cute little taproom upstairs and a growing reputation, only for Covid-19 to hit. Vistalegre has fortunately survived the pandemic, which sadly can’t be said for all Colombian craft breweries, and has had to adapt to a more domicilios-based approach to make up for lost taproom sales. 

The beers

While Vistalegre’s beer recipes are constantly evolving, Daniel still makes the same three styles of beer he made 10 years ago in Venezuela – a blonde ale, an amber ale and a smoked porter – as well as a recently added saison. The La Ahumada Porter has deservedly won awards both inside and outside Colombia, including a gold medal in Venezuela and a bronze in Panama. It’s unique, it’s as smoky as it promises to be, and it’s by far my favourite of Vistalegre’s beers. 

However, it’s now a seasonal beer at the brewery and won’t be back for a while, so I’d better talk about my second favourite of Daniel’s offerings instead: the Boreal American Amber Ale.

The Boreal is nicely distinct from most amber ales. The sweetness is still there, but the caramel malt provides more of a stout-style ‘burnt toast’ note, rather than the dry biscuity malt hit that most amber ales have. Daniel uses Simcoe hops (much more popular in IPAs and more hop-driven beers), which gives a big citrus and pine edge to the beer, again making it somewhat unique as an amber ale. It starts off surprisingly tart, but this soon subsides and it ends up being an eminently smooth easy-drinker. 

Where to get ‘em:

You can currently find Vistalegre beers at Carnivoros and the 2600 Brauhaus, just a couple of blocks from Parque 93. I highly recommend checking out the brewery and taproom though, which you’ll need to organise ahead with Daniel (details below).

Outside of this, it’s all domicilios. Vistalegre currently sells the Saudade Saison, Boreal and Summer Blonde, all of which will set you back $40,000 COP (plus delivery) for a six pack (you can mix and match to your heart’s content), and $144,000 (free delivery) for a slab of 24. Deliveries go out on Thursday and Friday, and you can pay with either cash, Nequí or bank transfer.

To order, simply get in touch through Instagram or hit up Daniel himself on WhatsApp on 310 331 1904

Bogotá relaxes coronavirus restrictions

Colombia’s capital ends red alert as intensive care occupancy reaches 81%.

Photo: John Arias Calvo, bogota.gov.co

As the coronavirus case numbers and intensive care occupancy begin to fall, so too do the restrictions in Bogotá. Today, as the COVID-19 intensive care occupancy sank to 81%, authorities announced the end of its red alert. 

Like much of the world, Colombia began 2021 with increased lockdown measures, including curfews and localised quarantines. Intensive care occupancy — a key figure for local authorities — had hit 94% in Bogotá and a number of restrictions were put in place to try to reduce the case numbers.

Read also: How to get a coronavirus test in Bogotá

However, Bogotá’s mayor Claudia López announced today the city is no longer on red alert. As such, some of the stricter restrictions will be relaxed. 

The localised lockdowns in place in nine areas (Los Cedros, Castilla, Timiza, Fontibón, Garcés Navas, Boyacá Real, Tibabuyes, Suba and El Rincón) of Bogota will be lifted from 11.59 pm tonight. 

This Sunday (Feb. 7), you’ll be allowed back out on the ciclovia and parks will fully reopen. But the mayor warns against crowds gathering at traffic lights and, of course, facemasks continue to be mandatory.

Football will return to El Techo and Campín. Thursday and Sunday’s league matches will be played without fans. During the red alert, matches that would have taken place in the capital were shunted elsewhere or postponed.

And from Feb. 15, we’ll see the gradual reopening of the city’s public schools. Private schools can open from Feb. 8. Universities will also be able to start face-to-face classes, up to a maximum capacity of 35%.

Read all our coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

But, before you grab your face masks and rush for the outside world, some restrictions remain. We’re still in orange alert.

  • Pico y cédula will continue for commercial and banking establishments, which includes supermarkets.
  • Nightly curfews are now a thing of the past, but commercial establishments will have to shut by 11pm.
  • Certain sectors can only operate within certain times — for example, construction can only take place between 10am and 7pm. Warehouses and shopping centres from 10am to 11pm.

As President Duque announces that vaccination will begin in Colombia on Feb. 20, local authorities are still keen to slow the spread as much as possible. If you have symptoms or have had contact with someone who later tested positive, find out how to get tested.

Surprising new lockdown rules in Bogotá

The latest measures come as a surprise to many, as they are much lighter than had been expected

New lockdown rules in Bogotá.
New lockdown rules in Bogotá. Photo Emma Newbery

The latest round of coronavirus restrictions in Bogotá are set to be much less strict than we’ve previously seen. There are still restrictions, of course, but at least in the short term you should find things generally more open from now.

Read all our coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

First up, there’ll be something called a special restriction on movement for the weekend. The curfew from 8pm-4am expires on Thursday at 23:59 and will be replaced with a 10pm curfew for this weekend. After that, no plans as yet for another curfew.

Next, shops can open as normal, and it appears that restaurants and bars also can, as long as they obey all general distancing rules and close at 10 pm. However, parks will be closed where possible, and the ciclovía will not be in operation.

Read also: How to get a coronavirus test in Bogotá

All areas in localised lockdown in Bogotá will come out of their lockdown on Thursday at 23:59, so the city will finish January on an equal footing. Pico y cédula will stay in operation until the 31st of January, however.

The decision to close parks and outside spaces, whilst simultaneously allowing inside spaces to open has attracted understandable criticism from some quarters. On the other hand, there are those that would prefer heightened measures to continue or increase, being as ICU occupancy remains above 90%. Time will tell. And of course, the rules could change again tomorrow.

Related: What is happening with the vaccine in Colombia?

Strict lockdown in areas around the city

Smaller areas (UPZ) in the localidades Suba, Engativá, Fontibón, Kennedy and Usaquén where cases are still high, will see a new strict quarantine. The quarantine will come into effect from January 29 11:59 pm until February 12 11:59 pm. See the image below.

Coronavirus in the capital: Bogotá’s red alert continues

Latest COVID restrictions in Bogotá include night time curfew and third weekend of lockdown.

Coronavirus in Bogotá: new lockdown measures were announced today.
Coronavirus in Bogotá: new lockdown measures were announced today. Photo: Jared Wade

In what’s becoming an all too familiar scenario, Bogotá mayor Claudia López today announced another set of curfews and shutdowns. Following a meeting of city bigwigs and representatives from the Ministry of Health, the mayor told bogotanos that the second peak of coronavirus cases is not yet under control.

Read all our coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

Emergency care occupation is hovering around the 92% mark and over 100 deaths were reported today. And while the Ministry of Health touted its vaccination plans this afternoon, there’s still a lot of work to do before vaccination can begin.

Starting tomorrow (Tuesday, Jan. 19), there’ll be a nightly curfew from 8pm to 4am. It will run until at least Thursday, Jan. 28 – and if recent decrees are anything to go by, there’s a good chance it will be extended beyond that.

In addition, this weekend will be the third weekend of total quarantine in the city. From 8 pm on Friday, Jan. 22 to 4am on Monday, Jan 25, only essential services may operate. Ley seca will be in place throughout the city, so in theory, you’ll only be able to buy alcohol via domicilio.

Read also: How to get a coronavirus test in Bogotá

All the exceptions we’ve come to see as normal apply. One person per household can go to the shops. Essential workers — such as healthcare and food services — can go about their business.

Strict quarantine by sector continues

Meanwhile, six localidades have just begun their two-week localised lockdown. Bosa, Ciudad Bolívar, Puente Aranda, Rafael Uribe Uribe, San Cristóbal, Usme, and Tunjuelito will see strict quarantines from Jan. 15 to Jan. 28.

Kennedy and Fontibón will continue their quarantines until Jan. 21. The lockdowns in Engativá, Teusaquillo, Suba and Usaquén have now finished.
If you have been in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19, or are concerned about possible symptoms, find out how to get tested in Bogotá.

UK travel ban for South America — including Colombia

UK government will stop non-essential travel from South America and Portugal on Friday. Residents and nationals will be allowed to enter.

UK travel ban: No more travelling to the UK from Colombia.
No more travelling to the UK from Colombia. Photo: Artemis Maria Papoutsakis

The UK government today announced a ban on most travellers from South America, as well as Portugal and Cape Verde over concerns of a new Brazilian COVID variant. Portugal was included due to its close connections with Brazil.

The measures will take effect from Friday morning (Jan. 15) and do not affect residents of the UK, whether UK citizens or not. Travellers who have visited Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela in the last 10 days will not be able to enter the UK.

Read all our coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

UK residents who have visited those countries will have to spend 10 days in isolation upon arrival. Farcically, negative PCR tests won’t be mandatory for entry until Monday. Introduction of compulsory PCR results had initially been planned for tomorrow, but the beleaguered Johnson government was again forced to delay that scheme.

Concern over new COVID variants

Concern over the so-called “Brazilian variant” of COVID prompted Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ to issue the ban. One fear is that these variants could be more contagious. Another more serious concern is they could render vaccines less effective. 

Related: What is happening with the vaccine in Colombia

Ironically, flights between Brazil and the UK are currently suspended due to Brazilian government concerns over the Kent COVID variant. How much of this is genuine concern and how much is Britain trying to shake off its ‘plague island’ nickname is hard to say. So far, scientists say they don’t believe the Kent strain will interfere with vaccination, but it’s too early to know if the same can be said for other new strains.

Several countries introduced similar bans when the UK and South Africa first announced new strains had emerged.

Expect more PCR tests

Like Colombia, a number of countries now require negative PCR tests from new arrivals. If you are planning to travel, make sure you understand the entry requirements and get the tests you need.

Read also: How to get a coronavirus test in Bogotá

With the incoming Biden administration in the US also likely to move towards asking for negative PCR tests before flying to the country, it looks as though measures worldwide may get stricter. There is also the possibility of flights being cancelled due to lack of passenger numbers. 

Reinaldo Rueda appointed new Colombia manager

Reinaldo Rueda has been announced as the new head coach of the Colombian national team. 

Reinaldo Rueda is appointed to take Colombia to Qatar.
Reinaldo Rueda is appointed to take Colombia to Qatar. Photo: FCF Colombia.

The Colombian football federation confirmed today that Reinaldo Rueda will be the new manager of ‘los cafeteros’, Colombia’s national football team. The Cali-born manager’s contract runs from now until after the World Cup 2022 in Qatar. He takes over the seat from Carlos Queiroz, who was pushed out after the embarrassing 6-1 defeat in Ecuador and 3-0 at home defeat against Uruguay last November. 

Rueda’s name has been circling around the prestigious job for weeks, but he was still in charge of the Chilean national team. Once he’d reached an agreement to end his contract with the Chilean federation, though, there was nothing stopping him from coming back to Colombia to sign a deal. 

Related: Atlético Nacional takes Copa Libertadores crown

It will be his second spell in charge of the national team for the 63-year-old manager. He just missed out on the World Cup 2006, having taken over the team from the legendary Pacho Maturana. However, the team – who were bottom of the table when he took the helm – didn’t qualify.

This time, the outlook for World Cup qualification is better than 15 years ago. Currently, sitting in seventh place, ‘la selección’ don’t yet have tickets for Qatar. But with only 2 points fewer than Paraguay, who are sitting in the safe fourth position, Reinaldo Rueda will have every chance to turn it around. 

Rueda began his career with Colombia’s U20s

Rueda, who was never a professional football player, started his managerial career in charge of Colombia’s under-20 team. After unsuccessful spells at Cortuluá, Deportivo Cali and Independiente Medellín he returned to Colombia’s youth setup where he made a name for himself, reaching the final of the prestigious Toulon tournament twice.  

He got promoted to the national team in 2004 where he had an acceptable if unremarkable spell. But it was in the coming years that he would really come to fame. He took tiny Honduras to the World Cup in 2010 – their second-ever World Cup after 1982. He repeated that feat in 2014 with Ecuador before he took over Atlético Nacional in 2015. 

2016 was a year of massive ups and an even bigger down for Rueda and Nacional. Nacional had already been very dominant in the domestic league in the years before Rueda signed. But with Rueda in charge, they had their most successful year since the 80s, and arguably in history. Nacional won the biggest South American club prize, the Copa Libertadores and reached the final of the Copa Sudamericana. That final never happened after the infamous Chapecoense plane crash in the hills of Antioquia. The tragedy overshadowed what had been an extremely successful year. 

In 2017, after winning his second league title with Nacional, Rueda left Colombia. Now, after spells with Flamengo and the Chilean national team, he is back in Colombia for a second chance of reaching the World Cup with his country. 

Can he bring joy to the nation and take Colombia to their third World Cup qualification in a row? 

Citywide lockdown for the weekend in Bogotá

New Bogotá restrictions include a citywide lockdown for the weekend, six more areas in strict quarantine and changes to some existing measures.

New lockdown measures in Bogotá.
New lockdown measures in Bogotá. Photo: Brendan Corrigan

The quarantine rules of Bogotá changed yet again on Tuesday night, as Mayor Claudia López announced further restrictions in six more localidades and a citywide lockdown over the coming weekend, on top of the existing measures. We have a timeline of dates and times at the end to help you keep track.

Read all our coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

The mayor also asks all residents of Bogotá to step up their vigilance and be extra careful with mask-wearing, distancing and isolation as well as getting yourself tested if necessary. With light enforcement of the rules so far, it’s hard to know if that call will be heeded.

The big news is another citywide lockdown. As our nightly curfew ends on Friday, we will go immediately into strict quarantine for the whole city. That means ley seca, only essential services open and official mobility restrictions for everyone except health workers and carers. It’s not yet clear whether exercise or pet walking is counted as an exception, but that has been allowed in reality in similar previous periods. It’s also to be assumed that you can visit the essential shops, as long as only one person per household does so and you are under pico y cédula (see below).

Read also: What is happening with COVID-19 vaccination in Colombia

The strict quarantine by area (localidad) is also changing. While Teusaquillo has had its period of strict measures shortened by a week, Kennedy and Fontibón remain in quarantine for the whole period. Suba, Engativá and Usaquén also stay on schedule. On top of that, six southern localidades will be in quarantine after the weekend lockdown. Those are Bosa, Ciudad Bolívar, Puente Aranda, Rafael Uribe Uribe, San Cristóbal and Usme.

If you’re not sure which localidad you are in or visiting, you should be able to see the division lines on most interactive maps, or work them out with a map like this. If you need fine detail, look here. You will need to go through the menu: ordenamiento territorial; entidad territorial; localidad.

Pico y cédula remains in place, remember that you are restricted from shopping on even-numbered dates if your ID number ends in an even number and conversely not allowed out on odd-numbered dates if your ID ends in an odd number. Passports OR cédulas are accepted. In practical terms, only major shops and banks are really enforcing this, and it doesn’t apply to restaurants or bars.

Read also: How to get a coronavirus test in Bogotá

Bogotá’s upcoming lockdown measures

The timeline for upcoming quarantine dates is given below, correct as of January 12. It’s hard to know whether things will change again. One thing is for sure, you can expect further measures to be announced soon, possibly even before the weekend. Watch this space.

  • Until Jan. 15: Nightly curfew citywide 8pm-4am (Friday)
  • From Jan. 15 (8pm) to Jan. 18 (4am): Full lockdown throughout the city (Friday to Monday)
  • Jan. 18 (4am): Strict lockdown finishes in Suba, Engativá, Usaquén and Teusaquillo. Lockdown begins in Bosa, Ciudad Bolívar, Puente Aranda, Rafael Uribe Uribe, San Cristóbal and Usme (Monday)
  • Jan. 21 (11.59pm): Strict lockdown finishes in Kennedy and Fontibón (Thursday)
  • Jan. 28 (11.59pm): Strict lockdown finishes in Bosa, Ciudad Bolívar, Puente Aranda, Rafael Uribe Uribe, San Cristóbal and Usme (Thursday)

UPDATED 12 Jan 2021

Colombia’s tense wait for the COVID-19 vaccine

Will we get coronavirus jabs any time soon? Or just more hot air? A quick Q&A on the country’s plans to inoculate against COVID-19.

Frontline COVID-19 health workers getting ready for shift in Nariño, Colombia. They should be first in line for vaccination.

With a return to lockdowns and a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases – deaths are again approaching 400 per day – Colombians are growing agitated over when the country will start the much-hyped vaccination campaign. 

Part of the pressure comes from news that other countries have started vaccinating but are struggling to hit targets in what is being called a global “race against time” against a mutating virus. And already a super-contagious COVID-19 strain is circulating in Brazil and Chile. It is probably in Colombia too. 

Read all our coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

Meanwhile, evidence is emerging of long-term health problems facing people who have recovered from the novel coronavirus, such as fatigue, insomnia and depression, and even trigger dementia and cognitive decline. So even if you are immune to viral scare stories, or simply scared of needles, coronavirus is one illness worth avoiding.

Here’s some explanation of where we are with COVID-19 vaccination in Colombia and what might happen next… 

When will Colombia get the COVID-19 vaccine? 

No-one can say. Colombia’s President Duque announced that vaccination would start in January, but the minister of health says that “no date is set” and that there are no final deals with vaccine suppliers. And even as a war of words erupts in Colombia, rich northern countries are hogging the scarce supplies as their own cases skyrocket. But even after the vaccine arrives in Colombia, there will be many logistical hurdles such as shortages of staff and syringes etc to get people inoculated. Expect months of delays.

Who will be vaccinated? 

The national vaccination plan put out last week by the health ministry (MinSalud) states it will prioritise older people (over 60), front line health workers, and those with existing medical problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure or lung disease. Next in line are teachers and “at risk” workers. Healthy people between 16 and 59 years will be low priority. Note that MinSalud is initially aiming to vaccinate around 70% of the adult population to achieve herd immunity. This suggests that not every adult will get jabbed under the current plan. The vaccine is voluntary and in theory offered for free or very low cost. 

What if I already had COVID-19? 

Best to still get vaccinated, according to doctors, vaccine immunity will likely last longer. 

Read also: How to get a coronavirus test in Bogotá

What vaccines are planned for Colombia? 

Colombian medical control authorities (INVIMA) have approved the Pfizer vaccine, while Astra Zeneca, COVAX and Janssen products are pending. The first three require two injections a month apart, and the Pfizer product is further complicated by the need for specialised freezers at minus 80 degrees, limiting its use. The other three need just fridge cold. The Janssen vaccine requires a single dose, making it ideal for remote areas. 

So how will people get inoculated in Colombia? 

Mostly through the existing health system. People registered with the EPS insurance scheme will be called to vaccination appointments at their local walk-in clinics. Since the EPSs already have citizen’s health data, they can schedule people in accordance with their health priority. This system supposedly avoids mass gatherings. As a complement to the system, MinSalud will launch a centralised app and website, Mi Vacuna, allowing people to register and verify their turn for the vaccine, and maybe even challenge their prioritisation. 

Sounds perfect! What can go wrong? 

Actually, a lot. Anyone familiar with the “public-private” EPS health system knows it has many faults and was already overloaded even before COVID-19. And the current rise in cases will bring it closer to collapse. Can it also cope with mass vaccinating? Unlikely. 

A recent example of EPS melt-down has been the COVID-19 testing fiasco; clinics have been unable to meet demand or have sent test results to patients many weeks late. This rendered the test-and-trace system useless, which in turn created more contagion and lockdowns. MinSalud is now under scrutiny for its EPS vaccine plan and under pressure to set up a more robust system.

What happens to people not already in the health system? 

In theory, people outside the EPS health system are covered for emergencies and preventative health services, often through local hospitals knows as “ESEs”, though in reality access is not guaranteed. MinSalud has now declared the “non-insured poor population” can register with local authorities to join the vaccination plan, and this includes migrants legally in Colombia.

President Duque recently announced that irregular migrants – which means at least a million Venezuelans – would be excluded from the vaccination plan. MinSalud has since suggested that the UN and NGOs to assist with migrant vaccination.

Should I now get health insurance in Colombia? 

This is recommended and could be essential if you want to get vaccinated. Indeed, if you are here medium to long term, you need insurance or EPS to get a visa.

Remember that Colombia is only aiming initially for 70% coverage, therefore MinSalud will prioritise vaccinating people already registered in the health system who can be assessed for existing heath conditions and side effects. Most importantly they are more likely to get the second dose a month apart. Anyone skipping the second dose could increase the risk of creating virus resistance to the vaccines. 

Anyone foreign resident here can join an EPS as an independent and pay the monthly fee directly

What if I live in a remote area? 

You might be overlooked. Most mass vaccination strategies first target denser urban areas, which also in Colombia is where people are more likely to be registered in the health system. Historically, childhood inoculation coverage has always been lower in rural and conflict areas. MinSalud claims it will make extra effort for the countryside, but probably the towns will come first.

Rural health post in Colombia’s Guainia department. Will the COVID-19 vaccine reach these remote corners?

Can I buy the vaccine privately? 

Top-end medical clinics will probably offer the vaccine at high cost. The Colombian medicine control authority INVIMA has already approved the Pfizer vaccine for commercial sale. One precedent is the boom in private labs offering quick efficient testing services – but at a high cost – in the wake of the EPS testing flaws. Whatever your ethical views on queue-jumping, these VIP clinics will be a good bet for those who can afford it.

What if I don’t want the vaccine? 

No worries, the vaccine is not obligatory. And you’re in good company: a recent survey showed that 45% of  Colombians don’t trust the vaccine. COVID-19 conspiracies continue to rule social media with recent fake news on “mass vaccine deaths.”

Anti-vaccine fake news is already spreading on social media in Colombia: The text says “1,000 vaccinated people found dead” in the UK. Actually, the photo is from Lima last March and not related to COVID-19 vaccines.

The survey showed that many people are worried by possible side effects, a valid concern given the rushed roll-out and lack of data on its effectiveness on new mutations, how long it will last, or even if inoculated persons can still spread the virus or not. 

But every day brings new evidence, the latest studies showing that the vaccines do work with the super-spreading mutations and probably give long-lasting protection. 

And in the short term, vaccine aversion could also be a good thing: it will leave more for the rest of us. 

How to get a coronavirus test in Bogotá

Looking for a COVID-19 test in Bogotá? All the info you need below, from prices and times to links and medical advice.

How to get a coronavirus test in Bogotá: Waiting for a test in Colcan sede Marly.
How to get a coronavirus test in Bogotá: Waiting for a test in the Marly branch of Colcan. Photo: Jared Wade

As COVID-19 shows no signs of going away, you may be wondering how to get a coronavirus test in Bogotá. The vaccine is still a long way away from reaching non-priority people, and cases are on the rise. Whether you need a PCR test for travel, have a nasty cold that you want to check out or have had contact with an infected person, here’s all the info you need for COVID-19 tests in Bogotá.

Read all our coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

There are four basic options on the table. You can go to a private clinic, order a visit from a private healthcare provider, go to your EPS or visit one of the temporary drop-in tents set up by the state. We’re trying to give the pros and cons of each option and to keep this updated, but things are often open to change, so it’s worth checking with each provider to confirm prices and hours etc.

What the test involves

First of all, you need to think about whether you need to get tested at all. This might sound frivolous, but actually a lot of people don’t necessarily need to be tested and thus can avoid putting strain on the medical system. If you’re going abroad you may need to get tested, depending on country (and remember visitors from overseas need to take a test). If you’ve had contact with infected people it’s probably a good idea even if you don’t have symptoms. However, you can simply self-isolate for 14 days. The most common symptoms include: fever, dry cough, loss of taste and/or smell.

The second decision is whether you want to leave the house or not. You may find it hard to get around, or you may be worried about infecting others as you travel. EPS generally recommend house visits, private clinics will do so at a small cost. Waiting for a house visit reduces infection chances, but will increase overall time.

What is a PCR COVID test?

You need to think about what type of test you want to take, too. The two most common are PCR and antigen (antígeno), with antibody testing coming a distant third. Remember that false positives and false negatives are always possible so still exercise caution, especially if symptoms persist. Both the PCR and the antigen tests are up the nose with a swab, mildly uncomfortable but no worse than plucking a nose hair. Certainly nothing to be afraid of.

  • PCR is generally needed for travel and is a more accurate test, especially in the early stages. However, it’s more expensive and takes longer to return results.
  • The antigen test is quicker and not always as reliable. It’s generally only recommended if you have symptoms or seven days after you’ve had contact with someone who’s tested positive.
  • The antibody (anticuerpo) test is also an option, though much less useful for most people. This is a blood test that will tell you if you have had COVID previously, through checking your immune system’s response. It takes about one to three weeks for your body to develop antibodies after you’ve been infected. While of great use to research, this isn’t useful for most people.

Overall, there’s plenty to think about and you need to factor in time too. If you had contact or initial symptoms a week ago and you won’t get results for another week, you’re best off just self-isolating anyway. And remember, the vaccine might take a while, but it is coming.

How to get a coronavirus test in Bogotá? Here are your options.

Getting tested at private clinics

  • Pros: Possibly no appointment needed, relatively fast to get seen.
  • Cons: You have to travel to them, not cheap.

We recommend Colcan, especially the branch on Calle 49 between Caracas and 13. It’s the biggest branch and is open every day from 6am (7am Sundays). If you’re getting a test in order to travel, or if you think you are not infected, the Marly TransMilenio station is right next to it. Official turnaround times are 24 hours for the antigen and between 24 and 72 for PCR.

Experiences have varied – our editor received PCR results in 24 hours one time and four days the next for COP$220,000. Other contributors waited as long as 100 hours, but that was over the Christmas peak. Our sub-editor received antigen results within two hours for COP$100,000 in late November. Expect same-day antigen results if you go in the morning, one to three days for PCR, but it depends on numbers. Waiting times have varied between 20 and 90 mins. You will have to complete a questionnaire in Spanish. You can walk in off the street, or drive-thru appointments can be booked here.

Synlab Colombia handles the airport testing, which is superfast. They offer a guaranteed 24 hours for processing the PCR and just two hours for the antigen test. You can schedule a test here. However, it’s pricier – COP$150,000 for the antigen and COP$280,000 for PCR. Note that those fast processing times only apply to the airport branch.

Getting tested at home – Private home visits

  • Pros: Easy to book and no travel needed.
  • Cons: Not immediate, more expensive.

This is much more convenient, but you can’t easily pick a date or time. They come on the day that they are able to.* At-home testing is slightly more expensive than walking in off the street – around COP$250,000 for the test and COP$30,000 more for the delivery. Once the test is done and your nose is stinging a bit, the results come in similar times. 

Colcan also offers a delivery service in conjunction with Vitalea, at around COP$4,500 for delivery on top of the prices above. Synlab offer a domicilio delivery (315 3686 943) There are other options out there too via delivery services, but expect an extra charge depending on time location etc – we’ve seen anything from COP$245,000 to nearly COP$400,000 quoted.

Getting tested via EPS 

  • Pros: Possibly easy to organise, cheap or free, can get doctor’s note for work.
  • Cons: Possibly a long wait.

As all EPS are different, prices will vary, possibly dramatically. We know people who have used Sura and Colsanitas, which were similar. They couldn’t get attention at the medical centre, but you arrange a visit to the house. Sura sent someone later the same day, Colsanitas five days later. 

Ring or go to the website of your EPS and see what they say. It’s entirely possible that this may depend on your plan, your EPS provider and other factors such as location. The test was free for both our correspondents. Processing times seem to be slightly longer than the private clinics. You may need to be persistent – we’ve heard of EPS call centres trying to avoid booking appointments and claiming you should self-isolate instead.

Getting tested at mobile testing tents

  • Pros: Free, no appointment
  • Cons: Could be a long wait, hard to get to, slow processing

One of our writers did this early on, when demand was high. These are testing tents set up by the local government in conjunction with the ministry of health (MinSalud). You’ll need to check here to find out where they’ll be on a day by day basis. The processing times are given as 72 hours to six days, so expect a longer wait than other options. It is totally free though.

If you’re thinking about how to get a coronavirus test in Bogotá, you have a lot of options. And of course, if you’re experiencing serious symptoms, seek medical advice.

*We have taken endocrinolab out of the article, due to concerns over privacy.

Bogotá on Red Alert: Citywide curfew

As cases continue to rise, mayor warns that the new strain may have arrived in the capital.

Another curfew imposed in Bogotá, will the streets be this empty again? Photo: Artemis María Papoutsakis
Another curfew imposed in Bogotá, will the streets be this empty again? Photo: Artemis María Papoutsakis

Just days after Bogotá introduced the first new measures to counter the second wave of the coronavirus, Mayor Claudia Lopéz has announced a curfew and other further restrictions. 

The city is on red alert as the emergency room occupation reaches 86%, and from tonight, mobility in the capital will be restricted for four days. The Ministry of Health announced the movement of people and vehicles in public spaces will be restricted in any city with an emergency room occupation above 85%.

López acknowledged that it’s a difficult start to the year, but said, “We are faced with possible phenomena such as the new strain and that is why we must take extreme measures to protect ourselves.” 

Read all our coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

She warned the numbers of cases are rising faster than anticipated and also that a higher viral load is also being detected. In addition, López raised the possibility that the drastic rise in numbers could reflect the presence of the new strain that was first identified in the UK.

New restrictions in Bogotá

There’s already a citywide ban on alcohol sales for the weekend and localised strict quarantines in place in Suba, Engativá and Usaquén. The new rules aim to shut the city down and prevent further spread during the upcoming holiday weekend.

From 11.59pm tonight until 4am on Tuesday, the city will see a total restriction on mobility. As yet the announcements aren’t clear on what will be restricted, but the TransMilenio will continue to operate.

To summarise:

  • Mobility restriction from 11.59pm tonight (Jan. 7) to 4am on Jan. 12
  • There will be no ciclovía on Sunday and Monday (Jan. 10 and 11)
  • Parks will be shut from Saturday, Jan. 9
  • A citywide nightly curfew will begin on Jan. 12
  • Kennedy, Fontibon, and Teusaquillo will also enter strict quarantine on Jan. 12
  • Quarantines will remain in Suba, Engativá and Usaquén
  • Pico y cédula will continue until the end of January

If you are either returning to or leaving the city, you won’t be stopped. Local authorities are asking you to do a seven-day voluntary isolation. They recommend you don’t stop for food en route, wear masks, and go straight to your destination. You’ll need to keep your bus/plane/toll booth ticket as proof in case you get stopped.

Total lockdown… Again

The mayor told bogotanos that this weekend will be similar to the first isolation drill. Let’s hope it won’t be like that first drill which began as a four-day measure and continued for almost six months.

What that means in practice is that health personnel and essential workers will be exempt. But for the most part, we’re being asked to stay home and not go out.

Similar rules and exceptions apply:

  • One person per household can go to the shops
  • You’re allowed to take pets out
  • You’re allowed to go out for an hour of exercise, though group exercise is not allowed. Children should be accompanied by an adult, and one adult cannot be responsible for more than three minors.
  • Supermarkets, pharmacies and stores will continue to operate, as well as food delivery services — though pico y cédula is still in place
  • You’re allowed to go out for medical reasons, whether it’s for an appointment or to buy medicine
  • El Dorado airport will function as normal, as will other transport services in and out of the city
  • Bank and notary services will still operate

The fine for breaking the rules is one monthly minimum salary (just over COP$900,000).

Nightly curfew in Bogotá from Jan. 12

Once the holiday weekend has passed, the total restriction on mobility will be lifted. However, we’ll then see a nightly curfew to prevent people from going to bars and restaurants.

From Tuesday, Jan. 12 to Saturday, Jan. 16, the curfew will be in place throughout the city. Between 8pm and 5am every night, bogotanos will not be able to move around the city.

In addition, Kennedy, Fontibon, and Teusaquillo will also enter strict quarantine from Jan. 12 to 21. As with previous lockdowns, that means only essential workers will be able to go about their business. 

One person per household will be allowed to go out for essentials — such as shopping and banking. One hour of exercise will be permitted per day, and alcohol will not be on sale at weekends in those districts.

The mayor’s office warned that one in three tests in Bogotá are coming back positive. With vaccination some way off, it remains to be seen what impact these restrictions will have on the city’s health and economy.

Bogotá reintroduces strict quarantine measures

Bogotá quarantine: Suba, Engativá and Usaquén will return to strict lockdown at midnight.

Strict quarantine to return to sectors of Bogotá this week.
Strict quarantine to return to sectors of Bogotá this week. Photo: Jared Wade

The number of coronavirus cases and deaths are beginning to rise again nationwide, especially in the capital. As bogotanos return to work after the Christmas and New Year festivities, authorities have introduced new measures to try to control the number of cases.

Colombia has signed vaccine agreements with AstraZeneca and Pfizer, but it will be some time before the vaccine can be rolled out nationwide. In the meantime, 259 people died from coronavirus in Colombia on Dec. 29 — the highest number in recent months. Emergency room occupancy is at 77.6% in Bogotá, and acting mayor Luis Ernesto Gómez has announced a return to strict quarantine for three districts.

Gómez met with representatives of the Ministry of Health this afternoon and agreed the localised quarantine measures. That said, the government only agreed on the condition the move could be re-evaluated next Tuesday.

In addition, the city will see a ban on alcohol sales for the upcoming holiday weekend. Beginning at 6 pm on Friday, Jan. 8, you will only be able to buy alcohol by domicilio until 5 am on Tuesday, Jan 12.

Read all our coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

Pico y cédula will remain in operation throughout the city until at least Jan. 15. The restriction, which forbids those with odd-numbered IDs from shopping or banking on odd days and even-numbered IDs on even days, does not apply to hotels and restaurants. 

Strict lockdown in Suba, Engativá and Usaquén

Starting at 11.59pm tonight (Jan. 4) and finishing at 11.59pm on Jan.17, Suba, Engativá and Usaquén will return to the strict lockdowns we saw earlier on in the pandemic. As with previous lockdowns, only essential workers will be able to move freely and one person per household will be allowed out. Be aware that pico y cédula still applies. 

  • There will be a total curfew between 8pm and 5am
  • No alcohol sales at weekends
  • Only one hour of exercise permitted per day
  • Domicilio services will be able to operate freely

According to the alcaldía, these three districts have seen big increases in the numbers of positive cases. Each recorded an increase of over 50% in case numbers between Dec. 5 and 18.

Travel concerns

Many people, including the mayor of Bogotá, have travelled both nationally and internationally during the holiday period, raising concerns about additional coronavirus spread. Gómez tweeted that between Saturday and Sunday, approximately 700,000 people entered Bogotá. “This corresponds to a population equal to that of Cúcuta returning to Bogotá, which increases the risk of contagion,” he said.

As a result, authorities ask people arriving in the city to enter voluntary isolation for at least seven days. 

After some legal wrangling, Colombia will now also require a negative PCR test from anyone arriving into the country. International passengers — including infants — will have to provide a negative PCR test that was carried out within the last 96 hours. Those who do not have the test can take it here, but will have to quarantine until they get the results.

Story updated following Gómez’s meeting with the Ministry of Health.

Further coronavirus restrictions for Bogotá over Christmas

Confusion reigns as a last-minute announcement over additional holiday restrictions hits Bogotá.

Ley seca notes throughout Bogotá. Photo: Jared Wade

Update (8pm): Just hours after we published this story, the mayor’s office changed the rules again.

  • Ley Seca will now start at 11.59 pm tomorrow (December 23)
  • Ley Seca does not apply to alcohol ordered by domicilio (any form of delivery)
  • Pico y cédula will no longer apply to restaurants and hotels
https://twitter.com/LuisErnestoGL/status/1341529102524755968

Bogotá mayor Claudia López has just announced further holiday restrictions. Starting at midnight tonight (December 22), all partying in public space will be banned until midnight on December 27. The same measures will return at midnight on the 30th until midnight on January 3. Along with this, there’s a complete ban on the sale of alcohol as well as its consumption in public.

This comes on top of the augmented restrictions on opening times, the use of fireworks and of course pico y cédula which will be with us until mid-January. Various members of The Bogotá Post team have been out and about since the announcement. Most report that pico y cédula is being half-heartedly applied this time – so far at least. Only time will tell how effective these measures will be – like many countries, Colombia likes to have fun at Christmas. After a rough year, it’s likely people will push the boundaries of these regulations.

López reiterated the rules governing indoor gatherings too, such as wearing masks, a limit of ten people (all family members) and no excess of alcohol. It seems extraordinarily unlikely that this will be enforced in any serious way, but ‘fiestas’ are banned in private places as well as public. It’s likely that this will only be properly policed for all-night raves though, not family gatherings or barn dances.

Read all our coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

With the new rules being announced so suddenly, it would be wise to plan for the possibility of further changes. Just because something has been ruled out doesn’t mean it’s not possible – ley seca was discounted by the mayor as recently as this weekend before today’s U-turn. Check our website for the latest. 

COVID Christmas restrictions in Colombia

Christmas celebrations and lights in Colombia will be different from previous years.
Christmas celebrations and lights in Colombia will be different from previous years. Photo: Jazid Contreras

If you’re planning your New Year and Christmas celebrations, here are the rules you need to know about.

For months, the numbers of coronavirus cases in Colombia had seemed to have hit a status quo – they weren’t decreasing, but they weren’t increasing dramatically either. This week, no doubt post velitas and as novena celebrations take place throughout the country, we’ve seen a spike in numbers. This Friday even saw a record number of confirmed cases per day in Colombia, however, the testing capacity has also increased substantially since quarantine ended in August. 

Latest: Further coronavirus restrictions for Bogotá over Christmas

The issue with novenas is ninefold. Whole families – including elderly – want to gather for the traditional prayers, food, and celebration. And normally, each of the nine nights of celebration takes place at a different house. Often with different people.

As a result, many local authorities have announced restrictions to try to slow the spread and reduce intensive care occupancy. If you’ve been out on the streets in recent days, you will probably have noticed the increase of people doing their Christmas shopping, and hospitals are already feeling the pressure.

Rules and recommendations

Here are the COVID Christmas restrictions in Colombia so far:

Read all our coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

Bogotá: Mayor Claudia López has asked people to celebrate novenas virtually and suggested that those who want to get together in person on the 24th should isolate for eight days beforehand. 

Celebrations will be restricted close family only, with no more than 10 allowed. Mask wearing and distancing remains obligatory. And bars and restaurants cannot sell alcohol after 10pm

Medellín: With intensive care occupancy at over 80%, Mayor Daniel Quintero announced this week that the city of eternal spring will be shut down on December 24, 25, 26 and again on December 31, January 1 and 2. He said the curfew (toque de queda) would likely only be at night time and could start earlier than the 24th and promised more details on Monday.

Cali: With intensive care occupancy over 90%, Cali’s mayor has already reintroduced pico y cédula in the salsa capital. There’s also a curfew in place between 11pm and 5am every night until December 23 to try to get the numbers back under control.

Cartagena: Normally famous for its festive street parties, this year there will be no public gatherings in the walled city. Gatherings can’t exceed 10 people. Visiting the beach and swimming in the sea is restricted. Eleven neighbourhoods with particularly high numbers of cases already have curfews and alcohol bans in place.

Manizales: Public parties are banned in Manizales, along with the traditional public slaughter of pigs and subsequent lechona-making. There’ll be a curfew on the 25th and January 1st between 1am and 10am. (That’s effectively the night of Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.)

What to expect

If we learned one thing during Colombia’s long lockdown, it was to be prepared for sudden changes. So don’t be surprised if, for example, Bogotá suddenly bans alcohol sales or implements a curfew around December 24 or 31. López has already warned that stricter measures will be put in place if cases continue to rise.

Stock up on essentials now and try to keep any plans you do make flexible. Obviously, if you have symptoms or have contact with someone who’s tested positive, stay home. With a vaccine in sight, nobody wants COVID for Christmas.

Colombia’s coronavirus cases on December 18.

Drink up: Alcohol sales forbidden after 10pm

Colombia enforces controls on alcohol sales as intensive care occupation rises.

No more alcohol after 10pm, new coronavirus measure in parts of Colombia. Photo: Jared Wade

Starting tonight, new rules mean that bars and restaurants in certain parts of Colombia, including Bogotá, will have to stop selling alcohol at 10 pm. 

Many countries in Europe and parts of the United States are re-implementing heavy quarantine measures to try to slow new outbreaks of the virus. For the most part, Bogotá, which was locked down from mid-March to September, has adapted to the biosecurity measures without additional restrictions.

However, Bogotá, along with 12 other areas, will now ban alcohol sales after 10 pm in an attempt to stop a rise in COVID-19 cases. The rules will also apply to Norte de Santander, Valle del Cauca, Antioquia, Quindío, Risaralda, Tolima, Caldas, Nariño, Santander, Casanare, Bolívar and Cauca.

Read all our coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

A regulation passed today by the Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Health restricts alcohol sales and consumption in areas where the intensive care occupancy is above 70% — or less in metropolitan areas like Bogotá. 

Authorities are nervous because occupancy in the roughly 11,300 intensive care beds has been rising. Currently, the occupancy rate nationwide is 57%. 

According to a decree from the mayor’s office, intensive care occupancy in Bogotá hovered around 48% between the end of September and the end of November. In the last 16 days, however, it has increased to almost 53%, which is why authorities are introducing new measures.

Cali has gone even further. It’s just issued a red alert and reintroduced pico y cédula restrictions. The city, which reports a 90.5% intensive care occupancy has also announced ley seca (prohibition of alcohol sales) and a curfew. 

Latest: Further coronavirus restrictions for Bogotá over Christmas

The controls on alcohol sales will be revisited on December 21.

The new restrictions come just one day after Congress passed a tourism bill, aimed at reactivating the entertainment sector. The bill gives tax breaks to bars and restaurants and is now awaiting presidential approval. These businesses were particularly hard hit by Colombia’s long lockdown, and will still be hoping to recoup some of their losses — albeit in a socially distanced way — during the festive season.

I’m dreaming of an Idartes Christmas

We caught up with Idartes’ Mauricio Galeano to find out about their plans for reactivating theatre and dance in the city.

Idartes organises 'Yo nunca vi televisión' at Teatro Jorge Eliécer Gaitán.
‘Yo nunca vi televisión’ at Teatro Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, Photo: Idartes

If you’re running out of ways to keep the kids entertained at home, check out tonight’s streaming of 31 minutes, ‘Yo nunca vi televisión’. The puppet show brought more than 4,500 people to Bogotá’s Teatro Jorge Eliécer Gaitán last year, and you can stream it — potentially even to your television — for the next five days. 

The world premiere of the popular humorous show will cover the launch of a giant pizza into outer space. Tickets cost COP$31,000. It’s part of what Mauricio Galeano, Idartes’ deputy director of cultural facilities, describes as phase three of Idartes’ pandemic activity — ticketed shows that they hope will help to reactivate the sector economically. 

Related: The show must go on.

Galeano started by assuring us that, “In 2020, the public venues of Idartes — Teatro Gaitán, Teatro Media Torta, Teatro el Parque and the Bogotá Planetarium — haven’t stopped their activity.”

Throughout the pandemic, they’ve continued with a program of “home edition” which you can find on Idartes’ website and social media. “Up to now, we’ve had nearly 122 artistic groups, from theatre to dance and music, and more than 97 events,” Galeano said.

Idartes has even created a project for people who don’t have internet access called “Cuéntame al oído”. People who sign up get a phone call during which a narrator reads stories or poems aloud. Between 2,000 and 2,500 people have enjoyed these connections, which have been particularly valuable at a time when so much is internet-based.

There are also science capsules from the planetarium, as well as open source content to help artists engage more with digital creation.

1,200 shows planned for Christmas

It’s fair to say this Christmas is not going to be a normal one, as families try to incorporate social distancing into their traditions. It’s worth watching out for some of the cultural events.

“Through this process of reactivation and reinvention, Christmas becomes a very important moment,” Galeano tells us. There are over 1,200 events planned across the city, with parties on December 24 and 31.

The great thing about digital content is that you can watch it at your convenience. For example, if you haven’t yet seen Burning Caravan, you’ll find musicians from France, Chile, and Colombia performing on stage and connecting virtually. Tickets cost COP$25,000 and it will be available throughout December.

Another performance Galeano mentioned is Camilo, a show about the insurgent and intellectual rebel Camilo Torres. You can watch Teatro La Candelaria’s hour-and-a-half show online for free.

With exciting programming already lined up for the first part of 2021, Galeano is also looking forward to the gradual reopening of venues. 

Hopulus: Have you heard the one where Bolívar and Santander walk into a biergarten?

German style biergarten Hopulus is the latest in our line of craft beer reviews.

The outdoor biergarten. Photo: Hopulos

It’s not very often we come across Purity Rule puritans making traditional German-style beer in the craft beer world, but that’s at least how one might superficially describe Hopulus. Part photography gallery, part German bakery, part brewpub, and part biergarten, Galería Hopulus is a swanky little establishment nestled in Bogotá’s leafy La Cabrera neighbourhood. It’s hard to know exactly where to start with this multifaceted little gem, so let’s just start by saying it’s yet another family-owned craft brewery, run by CEO Felipe Santander and his German frau Julia Santander (CFO). 

It’s worth popping in to Hopulus just to talk beer with Felipe, to be honest. The guy’s an absolute wealth of knowledge when it comes to German beer, whether it be historical brewing methods or why all Cologne breweries seem to have red branding. Felipe got into brewing at the age of 25, when he was working for Siemens in Nuremberg. That part of Germany, Franconia, famously has the largest density of breweries in the world, making Felipe fell in love with the idea of micro-brewing, soon getting round to doing it himself. He did some courses at the prestigious Doemens Academy in Munich, where he crossed paths with a 22-year-old Venezolana called Emily.

Read our guide to craft beer in Bogotá as we keep adding to it

Back in Colombia, Felipe started on the same 30L equipment all us homebrewers are familiar with, toiling through seven batches a night in order to fill up his massive fermenters. He was about to start Hopulus as a solo-brewer when two weeks before production he was emailed a CV by Emily’s mentor, Alexis Bolívar. Alexis had been working for Venezuela’s biggest brewer, Polar, for 18 years (they’d even sent him to hone his craft in Germany 10 years prior), and was now looking for a job across the border. Now Santander and Bolívar make German-style craft beer in Bogotá.

As I mentioned in the intro, Hopulus is also an art gallery, funded by the beer, specialising in photography. Felipe invites photographers from all around the world to exhibit their work at the brewery. He has a Hopulus-branded 4WD for camping in the Colombian wilderness on week-long photography trips, and hopes to get the company’s name on as much adventure photography as possible, in the same way that Red Bull does with extreme sports. In fact, Felipe took the Hopulus-mobile out into the Llanos Orientales with the Colombian winner of the 2020 World Wildlife Photo Award, Gabriel Eisenband, only a couple of weeks ago. Gabriel’s work is set to go on display at Galería Hopulus later this month.

The beers

Hopulus

Hopulus currently makes two lagers (Helles and Keller) and two ales (Koelsch and Hefeweizen). The Keller is a dark lager, traditionally from Nuremberg, and Felipe roasts the malt himself on a tiny little coffee roaster in one kilogram batches, the day before brewing. Rare as that is though, I thought I’d talk a little more about the Hefeweizen, as craft brewers tend not to bother with this style nearly as much as one would expect, considering their popularity and ubiquity in Germany. For me, this is by far the most German type of beer, and was my first taste of a foreign ale-style back when I was a young buck in Australia – ‘hang on, this beer tastes like bananas!’ Yes, it’s supposed to, and Hopulus’ Hefeweizen properly delivers on it too. This flavour comes from the yeast and is intensified through ‘yeast management’. Felipe reckons it’s so nutritional that the Germans have it for breakfast. There’s a nice little tartness, as one would expect from a wheat-driven beer, and while I’m no German beer connoisseur, I’d say this beer stands up well against its German cousins.

How to get ‘em

The best way to get hold of any of these beers is to pop into Galería Hopulus in person, take a look at the stunning photography on display, then hope there’s a free table in the beer garden out the front. Just like everything the man does, Felipe’s designed the spot to replicate a traditional German biergarten, down to the stress-reducing gravel floor, which, like sand at the beach, ‘stops you from going fast’, he says. He also says, ‘the moment you walk into our beer garden, your feet sink into the ground and you’re forced to slow down, relax.’ Can’t argue with that I guess, stress like this must be combated. I highly recommend putting this to the test with a plate of their pork knuckle, which I can vouch for first-hand. 

You can find Galería Hopulus at Calle 81 #8-60. It’s open from 12pm to 8pm Tuesdays to Thursdays, noon to 10pm Fridays and Saturdays, and 10am to 6pm on Sundays.

If you’d rather stay at home though, message Felipe on 321 241 5504. Delivery costs $5mil and they go out Tuesdays and Fridays. They sell all their beers in cool-looking, easy-to-hold tubes, and these’ll set you back between $30mil and $35mil, depending on the beer. They also do loads of traditional Germanic food, such as apple strudel and pork knuckle.

For more info, check out the brewery on Facebook or the ‘Gram.

From feminine resilience to feminine leadership

Survivors of sexual violence raise their voices and work together for justice with Mujeres Gestionando Paz.

Photo: Mujeres Gestionando Paz
Photo: Mujeres Gestionando Paz

It’s 2.30 pm on a January afternoon in La Dorada, Las Caldas. The air is hot in this central Colombian town which is home to many displaced people. About thirty women, some carrying children in their arms, meet on the second floor of the town’s main shopping mall. All of them are part of the grassroots organisation Mujeres Gestionando Paz and are here to participate in its 2020 general assembly. “So girls, what were the advances of 2019?” asks Ludirlena Pérez, the leader of the association. 

Mujeres Gestionando Paz is an NGO that brings together women who were victims of sexual violence during the armed conflict. The women have come together to raise their voices against the way the violence they suffered has been made invisible and to fight against the many stigmas surrounding sexual violence. In doing so, they hope to become agents of social change within their communities. 

Ludirlena, herself a victim of sexual violence, explains that the organisation’s mission runs even deeper. It’s about finding peace through forgiveness and reconciliation. “What is forgiveness?” she asks. “It is for me to be able to face the deepest wounds that I kept inside for many years, and refuse to continue to give my life to the perpetrator any more as I start to fully live it for myself. 

“What is reconciliation?” she continues. “It is to understand that something is bad in this society, but also to say that we are going to be part of the needed change.” 

Related: Behind closed doors: Domestic violence against children in quarantine

Sexual violence has long been – and still is – a taboo topic in Colombia. During the armed conflict, it was perpetrated by all the armed groups, from guerrillas to the army and paramilitaries. The Unidad de Víctimas registered 27,000 cases of sexual violence. Nevertheless, grassroots organisations working with women throughout the country estimate that this figure could reach two million. 

Researcher Anne-Kathrin Kreft, whose work focused on the way women mobilise themselves politically in response to sexual violence, says that this type of violence is the ultimate manifestation of patriarchal culture, targeting women as women

Anchored in social and cultural discrimination towards women, during the conflict this violence was used as a way to sanction women who transgressed gender norms, terrorise and silence communities while re-affirming the domination of women by men. 

For a long time, sexual violence has been invisible and so taboo that victims did not feel able to seek help or speak about what had happened to them. Indeed, it was not even on people’s radar. After a massacre or confrontation, Medicina Legal only registered the number of dead. By not registering sexual violence, it effectively silenced the suffering of these women. 

That was until women began to raise their voices and share their stories. Together they demanded justice and challenged the social representations of women – and Mujeres Gestionando Paz was created.

A lifeline after sexual violence

Mujeres Gestionando Paz was formed in 2009, when three women who had survived several acts of sexual violence during the conflict came together. Two of them, Ludirlena and Dolly, tell me that after being raped and enduring the violence surrounding it (torture and humiliations often accompany the act), they had fallen into depression. They had both retreated into silent worlds and tried to kill themselves. 

Their lifeline came in the form of another woman who was able to speak out about what had happened to her. “If she is able to do it, why couldn’t I?” they said. This thin fragment of hope set them free from the social prejudices which made them feel responsible for what had happened. They became aware that their persecutors were the only culprits and decided to face and challenge society. 

They started to build connections with women in the town who had also been victims of sexual violence. Together they created a caring space, where those women would find the strength to speak out and regain their dignity as human beings.  

My body, my territory. Photo: Mujeres Gestionando Paz
My body, my territory. Photo: Mujeres Gestionando Paz

It’s hardly surprising there’s a feeling of tremendous impunity around sexual violence since 98% of the cases reported to the ordinary judicial system remain unpunished. The group have been documenting cases and passing them to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which, as a mechanism of transitional justice, represents a great hope of justice for victims of sexual violence. en

“But, how do you manage to motivate women to speak when there are still threats from armed gangs and such strong social stigmas?” I ask, intrigued. “How do I come to them?” repeats Ludirlena, “I come with my life testimony. As a survivor of two acts of sexual violence. I can be part of any setting and openly say what I experienced. And I can have a strong credibility. Already three surgeries, scars for life that speak for themselves. It has not been easy. But nor has it been impossible.” 

She explains how she understands reconciliation. “It is to understand that prejudices and stereotypes against women are woven into the very fabric of society, and yet be able to stand up and say that we are going to be part of the needed change.” It’s no wonder that all the women tell me what a great leader Ludirlena is. 

Nevertheless, she is not a typical leader. “I don’t want followers,” she says, “I want leaders.” And that is what makes Mujeres Gestionando Paz stand out. Women learn about the law, learn that they are worthy of respect and that their voices should never be silenced. 

Inspiring leaders

And Ludirlena always delegates the work of the organisation. She sends the ‘lideresas’ as representatives at public events in Manizales or Bogotá, to talk to mayors and public officials. Having these meetings and conducting workshops with other women encourages them to lead their own projects and support themselves economically. 

Over the years, the organisation has impacted up to 5,000 women in La Dorada and the surrounding municipalities. In 2019, Ludirlena was granted both the Confa and Cafam prizes for her strong activism in making sexual violence more visible and the positive impact she has had in the community. 

Related: Domestic violence: The ‘Shadow Pandemic'

Today, Mujeres Gestionando Paz is expanding in two directions: First, they aim to empower more women by enabling them to speak out. Second, they will go beyond the defence of women’s rights. They want to help young people who are addicted to drugs in the difficult neighbourhoods of La Dorada and organise soup kitchens.

Although the organisation has achieved a lot, Ludirlena is still frustrated by the lack of political will and economic resources. “Look, I could need COP$20,000 to conduct a workshop that might save a life. But I don’t always have that money. What are those COP$20,000 for ? To buy pens and paper and pay for travel, which are the very basics. And it depresses me that we don’t have it. It makes me sad because we have knocked on many doors, and the doors are only interested in the tangible. I feel like women are orphaned here, abandoned by institutions and society.”

But social change is brewing as women all over the country begin to raise their voices. They are demanding justice for past wrongs – seeking acknowledgement of what has happened and the end to impunity – and are acting to build a peaceful society where women can live violence-free lives. 

Justice is not a tangible thing. It’s a shared value that enables us to come together peacefully. Then, how should we act to be part of this social change and build justice together?

To connect with Mujeres Gestionando Paz, visit their facebook page.

This article was written before the first registered case of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown of the country. 

Providencia and San Andrés hard hit by Hurricane Iota

Thousands of families without homes or water as category five Hurricane Iota devastates Colombia’s Caribbean islands.

Providencia and San Andrés hard hit by Hurricane Iota
Photo: TECHO Colombia

For 24 hours, the 5,000 inhabitants of the Caribbean island of Providencia had no electricity and no way to communicate with the rest of the world. Now, as news and images of the destruction emerge, authorities and NGOs are working to provide aid.

One person has died, one is missing and 98% of Providencia’s infrastructure has been destroyed. Many were left without electricity or drinking water after the hurricane reached its full strength in the early hours of Monday morning. Caribbean residents were already reeling from the effects of hurricane Eta, which struck less than two weeks ago. 

The wind reached over 230km per hour in the eye of the storm, just 8km away from Providencia. Hurricane Iota was the worst to ever hit Colombia, and the first category five hurricane the country has seen. Category five is the strongest and most damaging hurricane.

Hurricane Iota wreaks havoc

In San Andrés, roofs were blown off houses and roads and power lines destroyed. The flooding and wind damage left 60% of the island without power.

The devastation was even worse on the smaller island and popular tourist destination of Providencia. According to El Espectador, 80% of houses on the island were destroyed and the remaining 20% damaged. The hospital is too damaged to use, making it difficult to treat those injured in the storm.

Related: San Andrés and Providencia: A tale of two islands.

David Sánchez Campos, executive director of TECHO Colombia, reminded us that the whole Caribbean coast has been affected. “San Andrés and Providencia have been the most impacted,” he said. “But barrios in Cartagena, Barranquilla, the community of Nuevo Magdalena, as well as in el Chocó have also been affected.”

TECHO, an anti-poverty NGO that operates in Latin America, is one of several aid organisations working to get aid to those who need it. Sánchez explains the first step is to work with Defensa Civil and Cruz Roja to provide essential supplies for families. “Then we are trying to handle reconstruction assistance, both temporary housing and permanent housing.” 

Photo: TECHO Colombia

Sánchez said it’s impossible to know the full extent of the damage at this stage. “In Cartagena we have more than 600 families directly impacted, because their community is still under water. At the moment we identified about 2,000 families directly affected, because there’s rain in the entire country.”

How you can help

The full extent of the damage will become clearer in time, but several NGOs are working to provide food, hygiene kits and emergency housing in the short term. 

  • Donate to TECHO Colombia 
    Fundación Un Techo para mi país Colombia / Bancolombia / Account No. 039-596442-48 / NIT 900.117.515-1
  • Donate to Solidaridad Por Colombia
    Fundación Solidaridad por Colombia / Bancolombia / Account No. 16700010132 / NIT 860.071.169-1
  • Donate money, equipment, food, clothes or time to Red FiProvidence

Craft beer Bogotá: 3 Cárites, hot beer for cold nights

Specialising in unusual flavours while never being too gimmicky, 3 Cárites has a well-founded reputation in the Bogotá craft beer scene

Photo: 3 Cárites
Photo: 3 Cárites

If you’re after a craft brewery in Bogotá that’s a bit more fun and not afraid to try something slightly unconventional, 3 Cárites could be for you. Founded by Mexican expat Sergio Rodríguez Consejo, this is one of Bogotá’s longer-running and more recognised craft breweries, the bottles having been available in restaurants and bars all over the city for the last five years or so. The brewery’s well-known for its slightly more eccentric/experimental range of beers, and anyone who’s been here for a while and likes their crafties has surely put away a couple bottles of Sergio’s fiery-hot chilli Catrina or his ginger APA.

Sergio’s story of how he ended up in Bogotá brewing beer is not exactly dissimilar to that of many of his peers (minus the Mexico part). Originally a salesman for a telecom company, he was sent from his native Mexico City to Bogotá to run their new office roughly a decade ago. Eventually he decided he actually fancied doing something he liked. While he really liked cooking, he figured that at 31 years of age he was probably a bit long in the tooth to become a chef (yes, that depressed me too), so with an eye on an industry with much less competition (in 2012 this was definitely true here), he decided to try his hand at brewing.

Sergio didn’t go half-heartedly either – he spent the next two years homebrewing Saturday and Sunday of every weekend. He then won 3rd prize at the first Craft and Homebrewing Competition in Colombia with his Ginger APA, and decided after that to open up his own brewery in 2014. He soon had a brewpub round the back of El Lago, which lasted for about a year, before he moved his enterprise down to the famous craft beer community on Calle 45 and opened ‘Cervecistas’, which did good business until unfortunately becoming one of the many casualties of the pandemic lockdown this year. 

3 Cárites also built itself a reputation from being on tap at Mono Bandido, one of Bogotá’s more cherished craft beer pub chains (3 Cárites was their first ever guest beer when they opened up), and Sergio often used to brew with them. Now you can find his beers in 5-6 Mexican restaurants around town, including the trendy Insurgentes up in Chapinero Alto. 3 Cárites is now a four person operation, with three Colombians involved in day-to-day operations. José David is Technical Director and helps Sergio with the brewing, Miller helps out with admin and sales, and Sergio’s wife Paola is Sales Manager.

Read our guide to craft beer in Bogotá as we keep adding to it

One thing that remains very close to Sergio’s heart is the art/hobby of homebrewing, which he’d love to see more of here. With that in mind, 3 Cárites currently sell homebrew kits, which Sergio insists anyone can use without any prior brewing knowledge. For $300,000 COP, you’ll get enough malt extract, hops and yeast to make around 18 litres of American Pale Ale, as well as the 18L fermenter, bottles and caps required. This month and next, they’re planning to release kits for making Stout and IPA as well.

The beers:

3 Cárites do five regular beers and 2-3 seasonals right now. The core range includes the IPA, Ginger APA, Blonde Ale, Stout and a blonde ale named Catrina, made with habanero chillies. As I touched on right at the start, Catrina’s almost certainly Sergio’s most famous beer, and certainly his most recognisable. Loaded with one particular strain of habanero Sergio likes (a LOT of trial and error with fermentation went into the genesis of this beer), this beer leaves a pleasant but noticeable heat on the palate, as you’d expect. Catrina’s husband Catrin, a Chipotle APA, came out this month for Day of the Dead, as well as Catrina Reloaded, which is basically Catrina but with seven different types of chillies and apparently not too spicy, according to Sergio.

My favourite of 3 Cárites’ offerings though, is the Ginger APA. This American Pale Ale is unique for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it’s not at all hop-driven, which sets it on its own as an APA, regardless of reason number two, which is that it tastes like ginger beer! It’s extremely crisp and refreshing, and whilst the ginger is not exactly hidden away or especially subtle, it’s still very pleasant. I was astounded to find out that only about 150g of ginger goes into the end of a 300L boil – I’d easily put a higher percentage of ginger into a Thai curry without batting an eyelid. Like the habanero in Catrina, the ginger lingers on the palette, but once again, this is not a bad thing. The Ginger APA is definitely still a very sessionable beer.

Where to get ‘em:

As I mentioned earlier, you can find 3 Cárites in loads of bars around the city, as well as in Mono Bandido and a handful of Mexican restaurants. Outside of that though, the only current option is domicilio.

3 Cárites currently charge $6,000 COP for bottles of their core range, $8,000 for seasonals and $25,000 for growlers. This month they’re also doing Catrin and Catrina ‘husband and wife’ growler combos for $40,000, as well as various other daily deals.

You can order through Instagram, Facebook, or contact Paola directly through WhatsApp on 320 849 7627. Delivery depends on location and they try to get you the beers within 24 hours.

La Cebolla: Colombia, land of the free

Some Republicans might consider emigrating and seeking a life more open to freedom away from BIG GOVERNMENT. Colombia’s a good option.

A satire piece on what could happen in Colombia after the US election results. Photo: Jon Tyson on Unsplash

With the electoral victory of Joe Biden returning the Democrats to power in the United States, it seems entirely plausible that a number of US patriots might consider leaving the country rather than live under a mildly less capitalist government. After all, patriotism means having the courage to flee high taxes.

These plucky warriors of freedom are simply too individualistic to be contained by the Deep State, and with the defeat of the Chief Trumpeter there’s nothing to stop the Dumbocrats from selfishly inflicting universal healthcare, fair policing and sensible drug policies on the country. Well, nothing except the underdog Senate led by McConnell, which has the limited power to democratically block everything they decide to. Still, cast your eyes far and wide at places where you don’t have to worry about the state.

If you think about it, these freedom junkies can easily escape the nanny state by living in Colombia. The state is weak even in the big cities and governmental control disappears entirely in large swathes of the country. Head west to the Chocó or areas of Cauca and you’ll be able to live away from prying eyes. Go unto the Llanos and live your very own Manifest Destiny, president of your very own chigüiro smallholding.

Tax evasion is commonplace and you can even skip sales taxes by buying from markets and street sellers. Of course, you’ll have to do your own checks regarding the safety of what you eat and the supply lines that bring it to you. Still, better to put money in the pockets of cartel leaders and unscrupulous producers rather than those meddling state bureaucrats. 

There’s little restriction on the God-given right to run a monopoly either, so you’ll have to rely on companies like Bavaria to provide high-quality products at a decent price. So-called ‘craft’ beer brewed for university snowflakes hardly gets a look-in, although finding a manufacturer to produce beer as poor as Budweiser will be a challenge.

You’ll have to live with vaccines for other people, even if you can probably avoid having to protect your own children with a few jabs. Colombia has a pretty good record of vaccination and takes it relatively seriously. There are other obstacles as well. Colombians are so freedom-loving that they sometimes allow women to have abortions and LGBTQ+ people to marry. That can be mitigated by simply moving to a place with judges who are machista enough to refuse to sign the paperwork. The state can’t make a judge follow the law, remember. That also applies to police, to the military and plenty more folk besides. FREEDOM!

Of course, there are some downsides of all this freedom to consider. You’ll need those guns, for a start. A lot of Colombians mean it when they say that “might makes right.” If you want to be away from state control, you’ll do well to be heavily armed. Without well-run state schools, education can be lacking in the populace around you. No proper state health service exists, so best get brushing up on your first aid skills or setting aside a heap of money for the things you can’t treat yourself (like cancer or rabies). Rubbish and squalor are likely to become issues, with limited pick ups run by a firm of vultures rather than a fairly priced subsidised system. You’re responsible for the roads around you, so it might be necessary to invest in a 4×4, made in Colombia, of course, to avoid import duties.

Related: La Cebolla

Work for yourself, because you sure as hell don’t want to be working for a basically unregulated feudal landlord who pays off the police and military to avoid paying workers correctly. You could organise, if you have a change of heart and go all castrochavista, but you might then find yourself swinging from a tree. Colombia remains in the world’s most dangerous ten countries for worker’s rights, remember. 

It might be hard to walk past dirt-poor people at first, but you’ll toughen up fast. Remember, you had all that money robbed off you by the government when you were growing up, and for what? Fire protection, NPR and infrastructure. Public schooling and a functioning police force. Count up all those stolen taxes through your life and technically you’re poorer than the family living in a shack.

Finally, remember not to talk politics. It turns out that many Colombians regard the consequences of a weak state as being somehow negative. These people seem to think that corruption, violence, and a lack of basic services are not prices worth paying to live on your feet not your knees. These mamerto snowflakes don’t realise that to respect people, you have to kill people.

Luckily, outside the big cities, there’s plenty of people that’ll agree with you. They’re the ones in the gated-off mansions that have a big heart logo outside. They also don’t want Colombia to turn into another Venezuela — or worse, another Sweden. All that efficient public transport, tolerance and equality? No, thank you!

Don’t stop the music… Just be responsible about it

Fiestas are coming back to Bogotá – here are some picks for this weekend.

Over the past few months, life has started to return to the city. Restaurants and cafes are decidedly open, and plenty of craft breweries are swinging back into action. 

Things to do in Bogotá
Events are back in Bogotá after quarantine but with precautionary measures. Photo: Jared Wade

No doubt many of you are looking at the shutdowns in Europe and wondering whether — or when — Colombia will follow suit. But at least for now, as long as you’re careful, there is fun to be had in Bogotá this weekend. Not only that, but entertainment and tourism have been particularly hard hit during the lockdown, so you might be helping some of your favourite venues and artists to survive.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure to reserve in advance and remember that space is often limited for Coronavirus reasons.

Saturday, November 7

Un Viaje por el Blues, Smoking Molly

After more than six months, Smoking Molly is opening its doors for a night of blues. The talented Leo Parra will pay homage to four iconic bluesmen: B.B. King, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. If you’ve been missing live music, here’s your ticket to the deep south.

Smoking Molly, Calle 29 #5-74

$25,000, 7pm and 9pm

Nanpa Básico (5pm) / Santiago Cruz (10pm), Caravana

The Caravana in Salitre has been running car concerts since the start of October. There are two top DJs performing on Saturday. At 5pm, Medellín’s hip hop star Nanpa Básico will perform to a car park full of fans and at 10pm, singer-songwriter Santiago Cruz will take the driving seat. Obviously, if you don’t have a car, you’ll need to persuade someone who does, but if you like a bit of Colombian carpool karaoke, it’ll be worth it.

Salitre Autoparque

Nanpa Básico from $58,000, 4pm; Santiago Cruz from $82,000, 10pm

Reto de Reinas, Teatrino de los Andes

Billed as the battle of the queens, this is X-factor, Colombian style. The popular Paola Jara, who’s won fame with her passionate ranchera music will sing off against vallenato queen Ana del Castillo. It ain’t cheap, but if you’ve been saving your pesos and missing those Colombian sounds, perhaps this is the battle for you. If not, you can watch and vote from home for a mere $30,000.

Teatrino de los Andes, Cra 81 # 23F-05

From $900,000, 6pm

SON432 en Vivo, A Seis Manos

There’s live music at A Seis Manos this weekend. On Saturday, SON432 will take to the stage with their mix of Latin rhythms, funk and reggae. Entry includes empanadas and a beer or gaseosa and the energetic band are sure to fill the spacious venue with some groovy sounds.

A Seis Manos, Calle 22 #8-60

7.30pm, $20,000

Pibo y sus Reveldes, Revellion Cultu-Bar

The unique New Orleans style steampunk bar also continues to bring us live music. There’s salsa from Pibo and his rebels, who perform every Friday and Saturday at Revellion.

Revellion Cultu-Bar, Calle 14 #4-23

8pm, Voluntary contribution

Open San Felipe

The seventh edition of Open San Felipe will see 25 spaces open their doors to the city’s art enthusiasts. The streets of San Felipe will be closed to cars on November 6, 7 and 8, so you can wander freely and soak up the cafés, music and street art. 

Organisers promise they’ve got plenty of biosecurity measures in place, so you can expect masked and socially distanced art, but art nonetheless. Old favourites like SKETCH and SGR Galaria will take part, along with some of the newer spaces.

We’re particularly excited about Casa 73-22, a new gallery-cum-event and co-working space which opened just before the start of the capital’s lockdown. This weekend you’ll find an exhibition by Luis Luna Matiz, a contemporary artist who’s been working between Bogotá and Villa de Leyva for the past 15 years. His artistic investigations into Colombia begin in pre-Columbian times and he explores ideas of identity, national icons and culture. His work has been shown throughout Colombia and around the world. 

When the music’s over

If you’re wary of attempting a full-on fiesta, why not climb up Monserrate? You can expect a fair number of people on the way, but the police are fining people without face masks and lesser-known walking routes are decidedly less safe at the moment. 

On Sunday, for $50,000, you could join La Sinfonía Del Pedal on a motorcycle-accompanied 100km cycle ride up to Sumapaz. Or head to the Festival de la Vida Sana at the Museo del Chicó (Carrera 7 #93-01). For $5,000, you can fill your day with all things healthy and take part in over 20 planned activities.

If you simply want to pretend things are the way they’ve always been, Usaquén has seamlessly transitioned to the open air. Streets are filled with open-air market stalls and several restaurants have tables outside. 

Obviously, if you have symptoms or have had contact with someone who’s been diagnosed with COVID, don’t risk it — stay home until the symptoms have passed.

Colombian Halloween: Promises of love, sex and money

In the run-up to Halloween we speak to some of Bogotá’s sorcerers and practitioners of black and white magic – including a man who says he is the son of Satan.

Halloween Colombia: El chamán llanero talks about witchcraft. Photos: Juan Pablo Contreras Ríos
Halloween Colombia: El chamán llanero talks about witchcraft. Photos: Juan Pablo Contreras Ríos

As people cry out for love, money, health or happiness, sorcery promises to help them. In Bogotá, witchcraft is more alive than ever, and witches and shamans promise to achieve the impossible.

“I attract the loved one, humiliated at his feet. I recover engagements, marriages and lovers. I destroy all kinds of witchcraft and I have a unique technique on the power to flirt sexually,” promises the so-called maestro de la brujería when you enter his white magic office. “I give chance numbers and lotteries, but I also make deals for luck and love.”

Nothing is out of reach for the maestro, a man of short stature, slim build and black hair who is slightly cross-eyed. He says the clairvoyance of his third eye helps him perform treatments without causing pain or harm. He begins by lighting incense and asking for his patient’s date of birth, with a picture of Jesus Christ behind him. He scatters a series of cards with images of the zodiac and starts his astral reading. He meditates a little and proclaims a series of prayers and incantations. He then tells his client what steps to follow and asks them to pay his receptionist and schedule their next appointment. He then invites the next person to come in. He performs the same procedure about five times a day.

However, the maestro de la brujería is not the only one who promises to help you keep an impossible or lost love, nor is his technique the only one on the market. Many people in the capital believe in sorcery, and there are plenty of people to provide that for them. In the vicinity of Caracas with Calle 58 we found Luis, a young Venezuelan man. He covers up his real work by handing out fliers for prostitutes, but those in the know can ask him to do magic – specifically, Luis makes voodoo dolls. Away from the bustle of the street, Luis explains what’s needed in more detail.

Related: Halloween in Colombia: A date with magic

“You should bring me some thongs or boxers from the person to whom we will tie the voodoo doll,” he says. “It’s also necessary to get some fluid such as semen, urine, blood and several hairs. The doll is stuffed with herbs and pieces of underwear so that the work stays as you desire.”

For Luis, the most important thing when making a voodoo doll is to communicate with the fifth dimension. He says he can understand mystical concepts when in this state of consciousness and spirituality. He uses tobacco and charts to make contact with spirits and entities not present on earth.

A man who claims Satan is his father

Moving to the south of the city, we meet Ramiro López, known in the world of black magic and satanism as el chamán llanero (the shaman from the Llanos). The 53-year-old claims he works with his father: Satan. He is dedicated to doing evil, and his small office space has a strong musty smell. It’s loaded with satanic images, haunted dolls, beheaded heads and statues of Satan. A pair of coffins hang from the ceiling in homage to Lucifer, who he claims has given him everything in life.

Halloween:  el chamán llanero claims Satan is his father.
Halloween: el chamán llanero claims that Satan is his father.

“The devil and I are not two, we are one,” he says. “He is me and I am he. He lives in me and I live in him. I am the devil himself; I am Satan and I am Lucifer. I am proof that the devil exists. And to me, Jehovah is a son of a bitch, Yahve is a bastard, and Jesus Christ is a fool.” 

El chamán llanero clearly loves luxury and extravagance, on his desk lie two latest model iPhones and the keys to his Jeep. He also loves philosophy and says he bases his beliefs and doctrines on thinkers such as Heidegger, Hegel, Jean-Paul Sartre and Arthur Schopenhauer. He tells me that he hates people and fears nothing except human brutality. Indeed, the only living things he loves are animals – he has a dog named Shakira.

We move to a room at the back of his office where there are several statues of naked demons, a red and opaque light, and another pair of coffins. This is where he performs satanic rituals that require more space and harmony with the impressive figures and statues of bloody bodies.

He has a very good memory for poems and literary fragments, but he also remembers the first time he claims the devil appeared to him when he was only four years old and under a fruit tree. He promised he’d be king if he did evil and destroyed the world.

“The one who is against me goes badly, the pestilence comes, and they die, misery and disease comes to them. If she is a woman, she will prostitute herself, and if she has daughters, they will prostitute themselves too. Death comes with me.”

Related: Wicca: craft beer brewed by witches for Halloween

The hundreds of people who come to his office are willing to pay more than ten million pesos for his services. He says many women desire beauty, while men desire money or sex. The latter is not a problem in Ramiro’s life. Although he has a wife, he says that fornicating is one of the sins that satisfies him the most and even recruits women who make love in front of him to satisfy his sexual desires.

Whether they practice black or white magic, there are basic beliefs that unite el chamán llanero, el maestro de la brujería and Luis. It’s an unknown world where love ties, voodoo dolls and tarot cards are tools to heal the spirit, attract fortune, and in some cases, do evil. Magic is a universe full of colours and nuances – and it’s also a popular money-making business.

Livability in Colombia: Is this a city for cars or people?

Bogotá is dominated by motorised transport – but is that a good thing?

This morning, there’s a protest on Calle 13 by bus operators. They’re up in arms because of a newly-installed bike lane. I’m hardly surprised – every time I write something mentioning that it might be nice if bike users weren’t risking their lives, we receive a barrage comments from moaning drivers. It’s not just cyclists, either, pedestrians need protection too.

Livability in Colombia
Traditionally, Bogotá is a city that caters more to cars than to pedestrians, is that changing? Photo: Piqsels

Of course, this is nothing strange – bicycle infrastructure annoys people the world over, or at least it annoys a vocal minority with plenty of power. The protests invariably come from motorists, usually private car drivers. Remember, this might be a large group in other countries, but is still relatively small in Bogotá – 86% of city journeys are not by car. It’s also true that there should be bus infrastructure to match the bikes – why not have dedicated lanes for buses? It would squeeze out the drivers, but that’s the idea.

The sick irony of this is that those motorists have incredible amounts of their own infrastructure. Just look at any street in Bogotá and think about how much space is given over to car drivers – main roads obviously, but also petrol stations, parking spaces, parking blocks, signs and signals, access roads. 

Whose convenience is more important?

At the heart of the debate, though, we have to think about who we want to use the city, and who we want to benefit. Imagine two cities. In city A, motorists have to drive extremely slowly in certain zones. They are inconvenienced, but on the other hand, kids can happily play football in the street and everyone can cross the road without fearing death. In city B, motorists get to their destinations much quicker – up to a whopping ten minutes earlier. However, every pedestrian is massively restricted. Well, you don’t have to imagine one of those cities – it’s the reality of B(ogotá). Once travel restrictions ease, you can jump on a flight to Europe and you can visit A(msterdam) easily.

Related: Another day of protests in Colombia

Ah, you’ll say, but Bogotá is not Amsterdam. That’s true, but Amsterdam of yesteryear wasn’t like Amsterdam either, back in the day. There was a concerted effort to change the layout and operation of the city, in response to growing numbers of dead children on the roads. Today, Amsterdam is hailed as a livable city and a pleasure to stroll about in. And guess what? There are still plenty of cars about, they just don’t have unfettered primacy. Sounds like the best of both worlds to me. Not just Amsterdam, but countless cities have done similar – Tokyo and London to name just two that I’ve lived in.

There are solutions the world over to these problems, proven and tested. Bus lanes function as bike lanes in many British cities; some cities pedestrianise zones of the city; mass transit exists world-over. There are few reasons why these couldn’t be implemented in Bogotá. This city is full of people who fundamentally like cyclists and cycling. Car-free days already exist. Closing the Calles on a Sunday brings thousands of people onto the streets and whatever you may think of the pedestrianisation of Bogotá city centre, it’s been a roaring success. Car usership only makes up around 15% of city travel and there are already hundreds of kilometres of cyclepaths, even if not perfect. With a metro coming, there’s no reason not to make the city much more pleasant to live in. The conditions are good to sow the seeds of a city not ruled by the internal combustion engine. 

The car lobby is powerful and loud. But they don’t represent the majority of people, particularly not in Bogotá. This is not the USA, however much some people would like it to be. And remember, US cities rarely trouble the quality of life indices – European, Asian and Oceanic cities dominate. Cutting down (not eliminating) private car usership would free up urban space for parks. It would promote small businesses, as shoppers on foot tend to make more purchases. It would cut pollution, not only from the cars themselves, but from fewer traffic jams. That lack of traffic jams would help everyone move about more smoothly. I remember 90s London – it was a horrible place to move about in, congested and clogged. The congestion charge changed everything. If we can change, you too can change.

Halloween: A date with magic

Witches and sorcerers are not just for Halloween in Colombia.

Voodoo dolls aren’t only being used during Halloween in Colombia, it happens all year. Photo: Juan Pablo Contreras Ríos

People will bet everything to achieve their dreams and desires. That includes turning to magic and witchcraft, stars, angels, or even Satan for answers to many of life’s mysteries.

Magic becomes much more than just spells in Harry Potter’s Hogwarts when we enter the world of different prayers, rituals and voodoo dolls. We find people desperate to make someone love them or find a lost ‘guaca‘ (hidden treasure). The unknown transcends the dimensions of reality. Some people believe they can communicate with the stars, angels, otherworldly beings – even demons. Witches, soothsayers and shamans go out into the streets every day, looking for people who are unafraid of witchcraft and want to achieve their desires, no matter what. That’s how magic in many forms is scattered throughout the country, just like any other business.

Related: Wicca, craft beer brewed by witches

Colombia has long been linked with stories of witches and shamans living in the remotest of the towns. Some people say they are mysterious people with the ability to become animals to move from one place to another. Others say that they are people with an unpleasant appearance and bad odour, accompanied by black cats.  Still others believe they are parts of demon cults who make sacrifices on October 31. Whether these are myths, horror stories or simple superstitions, the practice of witchcraft continues in Colombia.

Voodoo dolls and rituals

Workers report chilling finds during their regular cemetery cleanups. Thousands of voodoo dolls or mystical items that are supposed to prevent a person’s soul from resting in peace are said to lie under the tombstones. But such haunted objects are not only found in cemeteries, abandoned houses or sewers. Items that people believe will keep the spirit of a person roaming the earth can be found everywhere.

And while the dead may wish to return, those who are alive desperately cry out for love, money and sex. These are things the sorcerers and shamans of Colombia promise to achieve with just a few sessions of esotericism and magic. Sorcerers promise that if you give them money, you’ll get it all back – plus more than half again with the help of a few baths and prayers. In the case of sex and love, those seeking a cure for unrequited love need to provide clothes and locks of hair to tether them to the person they desire.

There are also sorcerers and promoters of white magic too. Blue leaflets distributed at certain TransMilenio stations promise to teach rituals that will protect you from undesirable people. For example, water, vinegar, milk, perfume and five steel nails are the main ingredients for a very basic spell that protects you from other people’s bad intentions. But before you rush out to buy perfume and nails, we should warn you that there’s no proof these concoctions will give the desired results. On the contrary, potions that promise to cure diseases, ensnare a lover or take you to a higher plane should be approached with caution – you don’t know how your body may react. We’ve all heard the tales of tourists taking yagé or ayahuasca, sometimes with lethal results.

Some people try to kid themselves it’s only white magic. But if you believe in it, wanting to cast even an apparently harmless spell to make someone fall in love still goes against the will of the other person. And that’s before we look at the sorcerers who claim to work with Satan and use black magic to cause even more pain and damage. The magic may not be real, but the intention behind it is, and pretty ugly too.

Witches and sorcerers are not just a Halloween gimmick in Colombia. People believe in them, pay for them, and reach out for them in times of need. The streets are full of places that offer tarot readings, contact with angels, love bonds, and even curses. The real danger is that turning to witchcraft to solve your problems means you don’t learn how to handle them on your own as you believe something supernatural is going to do it. Just think of the risks of missing medical treatment for a real illness because you use witchcraft instead. And why it is necessary to take the romance out of falling in love by trying to speed it along with potions? There are many things you can do for yourself and it is not worth risking with magic

Craft beer Bogotá: Wicca, a Witch’s Brew

Wicca Cervecería is one of the capital’s newest breweries and they’re ready to bewitch you before Halloween with a new brew hot off their cauldron at 2600 Brauhaus tomorrow.

Wicca Cervecería.
Wicca Cervecería.

Double double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble. Fillet of a fenny snake, In the cauldron boil and bake. At Wicca Cervecería, you’re unlikely to find snakes, fenny or otherwise, as they launch a collaboration beer – Tábata – this Saturday at 2600 Brauhaus. 

The Bogotá beer scene has a good habit of encouraging co-working and Tábata is the result of Wicca teaming up with Brauhaus and Chelarte. You’ll need to reserve a table (COVID) and you can do that with Wicca, or either of the other two breweries. It’s $60,000 a person which includes dinner, a glass of Tábata and a cocktail.

Double toil and trouble, though, is a pretty apt description of their founding. The brewery sprang up in quarantine, as Leiddy Rincón, Geraldine Reina and Jennifer Ramírez all found themselves adrift. Previously, Leiddy had worked for Season Beer, Jennifer at Baloo and Geraldine for Gigante. As the pandemic took its toll, they all ended up with lots of spare time. Leiddy and Jennifer are founder members of the Comunidad de Mujeres Cerveceras, and got to talking about the idea of clubbing together to make some beers.

They needed a name, though, and had always been fond of calling the Comunidad de Mujeres Cerveceras ‘brujas’, or witches. That name wasn’t well-received with other members of the collective, but between the three of them, there wasn’t a problem. In the end, though, Wicca seemed like a more elegant compromise and thus the brewery was born.

Jennifer says she remembers thinking, “If we don’t do it now, we won’t do it.” Leiddy chimes in to point out, “We had an advantage, that we had experience and we knew a lot,” before Geraldine finishes “…And people knew us, they knew that they could trust us.” It’s fascinating to listen to the coven together, as the conversation flashes from one to the other in quick succession. 

Geraldine was right to say that people trusted them – because their first batch of beers was a runaway success. They’d budgeted to sell around 35 beers on the first weekend, hoping to sell the others later. Orders soon poured in as the word spread, and they sold 91 packs (364 beers) in the end. That’s a whole order of magnitude more. It looks like the runes auger well for these witchy women!

The beers

Wicca have kicked things off with four regular beers, as well as the special Tábata. Tábata is highly unusual, as it doesn’t have hops. Instead, flavour comes from a blend of camomile, juniper, rosemary, marjoram, lemongrass and bayleaf. It’s a tradition going back to medieval European beers that predate hop cultivation and also can be sourced locally here in Colombia, making it more eco-friendly.

Read our guide to craft beer in Bogotá as we keep adding to it

Remarkably, the regular beers all clock in at 5%, making them considerably more session-able than many Bogotá offerings. They have a standard IPA (Ancas de Rana) as well as a Cream Ale (Agua Lunar) and an American Amber Ale (Sangre de mis Enemigos). The one we want to talk about though, is the fruity Catherina Sour (Locura Colectiva).

Locura Colectiva is about as close to a ‘gateway sour’ as it gets, in terms of drinkability and tartness. The beer is loaded with hibiscus after fermentation, which apart from giving it its delicate flavour, also means it comes out of Wicca’s psychedelic medicine bottles a lovely grapefruit pink colour. “We wanted this colour for our flagship beer, exalting the colour everyone associates with women,” says Geraldine. 

Our other beer writer, Tristan Quigley, pronounced it an excellent specimen of its genre in Colombia. He is a big sour fan and tasted it in the heat of the Llanos, where admittedly any lighter sour beer worth drinking should perform well. 

Locura is tart enough to quench the thirst and keep it interesting, yet pleasantly sweet at the same time. “I can see this beer converting a lot of open-minded beer drinkers who may have originally bristled at the very idea of a sour beer,” he said. 

How to get them

Wicca sell via social media, so there’s Instagram, facebook or simply WhatsApp (302 3181010). Beers come in 4-packs at $45,000 incl delivery in Bogotá or Cali. They send orders out on Wednesdays and Fridays, so time your requests well. 

Tábata is a 750ml bottle and can be ordered in a fancy presentation box for $80,000 or on its own for $49,000. The presentation box features a set of three potions and a souvenir glass in which to mix them, as well as a booklet on potion-making and the beer itself.

Cycling isn’t a Capital crime

With various videos showing motorists flagrantly endangering cyclists, it’s time for the alcaldía to protect vulnerable road users.

More cyclng lanes are being built around Bogotá, but it often remains a hazard.

A cyclist is going along a road, just getting to wherever they’re going. A truck arrives and smashes them off the side of the bridge for unknown reasons. There are a few videos like this doing the rounds at the moment. The common denominator is a motor vehicle taking an enormous risk with someone else’s life. The consequences are not suffered by them, of course, but by the vulnerable users they endanger. The cyclist in one of the videos died.

As we ease out of lockdown, we have the potential for a great deal of toxicity on the roads. New bike lanes have sprung up, meaning there are more cyclists on the road than before. That always enrages motorists. The existence of those bike lanes means that anyone (perfectly legally) not using them will suffer abuse and intimidation. Added to that is an increase in the number of private car users as people eschew public transport in fear of COVID-19. This — and a generally higher level of tension — could lead to increased confrontation as the groups begin to encounter each other on the asphalt.

Early signs were encouraging. Building a bike lane on Séptima was an inspired move that Claudia López can take enormous credit for. It was a hard call and not popular with the motorati, but she got it through (with the odd bump) while everyone was looking the other way in CoronaChaos. It’s a rare example of a bike lane on a useful street and with half decent infrastructure. It’s not perfect by any means, its middle-of-the-road position makes it a headache to enter and exit, but it’s a big step in the right direction.

The mayor now needs to go even further to support cycling, though. Plenty of resources are used to get pet journalists to write puff pieces about cycling in Bogotá, but there’s little critical assessment. Séptima’s new bike lane is a good start, but more needs to be done to counter violence against cyclists. For months, cycling groups have denounced the levels of attacks on cyclists in the city. 

The dangers cyclists face in Bogotá

The standard crime here is not half-inching a bike chained to railings or unattended. It’s holding up cyclists at knife or gunpoint.  It’s a problem that stretches back to the Peñalosa days, but has not decreased under Claudia. Indeed, it’s risen with COVID-19. 

Then there is the deliberate misuse of bicycle infrastructure. Motorbikes regularly enter bike lanes and plenty of 4x4s hop over the bumps with impunity. Parking in bike lanes is another issue and others are unusable because of street sellers.

Added to that are the increases in aggression from motorists. With growing numbers of both bike and car users, more and more conflicts have arisen. Climbing up to Patios at weekends has become genuinely irritating, as cars frequently blare horns and attempt to bully cyclists out of the way. All this on a road richly thicketed with signs proclaiming that cyclists should take priority, that motorists should care about the lives of others and so forth. And therein lies the key to what the local government should do. It’s not about meaningless and easy ‘education’, but people being prosecuted.

It’s a radical idea in Colombia, but let’s just enforce the laws and norms we already have, rather than blaring on about the need to educate ourselves and wasting public money on awareness campaigns. It’s often said that drink-driving was stopped as a major problem in the UK after some innovative and hard-hitting advertising. They had an effect, sure, but what really got people on board was the police simply stopping drivers right left and centre and throwing out fines, license points and prison sentences as much as possible. It’s one of the few times, anywhere in the world, that motorists have had any sort of consequences attached to their actions.

So come on Bogotá, if you’re serious about making this into a cycling capital, you need to protect us. Stop this hemming and hawing about the need for everyone to obey the rules and start prosecuting dangerous behaviour in control of a motor vehicle. Fine cyclists for jumping red lights if you like, but for god’s sake get a grip on the people who are causing serious accidents on the roads as well. 

At the same time, put police patrols on cycle lanes. There’s no secret to the modus operandi, just station police jackets in known hotspots. Resist calls to rescind existing cycling infrastructure and fine people who invade bike lanes. All of this is relatively cheap (especially factoring in money recovered through fines) and effective. It might not be popular at first, of course, but cities should be designed for people, not motors and you will reap the benefits in time.

Craft beer Bogotá: Pola del Pub, the pub of many names

Whether you know them as Pola del Pub, The Irish Pub or just El Irish, the founders’ decades of experience shows through in these beers.

Pola Del Pub 's Nitro Coffee Milk Stout.
Pola Del Pub’s Nitro Coffee Milk Stout. Photo: Tristan Quigley

Pola del Pub AKA El Irish AKA The Irish Pub is one of the capital’s oldest craft beer providers. El Irish first popped up in the Zona T in 2001, serving pints of Guinness to rolos who had no idea just how lucky they were. There’s sadly no Guinness now, as official distributors sadly stopped selling to Colombia many moons ago, but that hasn’t stopped El Irish from remaining one of the most reliable locations to find a high quality pint in Bogotá. There are now four more pubs across the city, as well as the original in the T. 

El Irish had always offered alternatives to Bavaria on their taps, but it was only this year that they started their very own craft brewery. They rebranded to Pola del Pub and now make their own versions of five craft staples. Of course, this is not a case of a bartender trying hand at brewing – Berny Silberwasser founded the Bogotá Beer Company (now part of beer giant Bavaria), Palos de Moguer and Cervecería Colon. Head brewer Charlie Suárez has been brewing for around 20 years now, after originally starting off in the industry as a brewery security guard. The third partner, Tomás Delfino, is one of the only certified beer cicerones in the country. So it’s hardly surprising that the first cans coming out of Pola del Pub tasted like they’d been making them for decades. The first batch of IPAs sold out the same night they arrived from the brewery in Tocancipá.

Read our guide to craft beer in Bogotá as we keep adding to it

According to Tomás, the main objective for Pola del Pub is to improve the overall quality of Colombian craft beer. He sees the industry as one in which so-called competitors work together in order to raise the overall standard of their collective market. As he sees it, “The more people try craft beer, the more they’ll fall in love with it and the better it is for everyone involved. There’s room for everyone [in the market].” This isn’t just hollow sentiment either. Before the pandemic hit, the pub in Quinta Camacho boasted 24 taps of local craft beer. They currently only sell their own beers at this stage of the city’s ‘re-opening’, but plan to reintroduce the other crafties as soon as possible.

The beers

Pola del Pub currently makes five core beers: Rubia, American Pale Ale, Witbier, IPA, and Nitro Coffee Milk Stout. They’ve also got a seasonal out right now – a refreshing and creamy White IPA to mark the 19th anniversary of El Irish. I haven’t had cause to try the Rubia or Witbier. (I’m sure they’re great, but just look at the other four types they offer). I can vouch for the four American-style beers 100%. Both IPAs are loaded up with citrus- and tropical-note hops (Calypso and Asacca to name a couple) and APA hits a dangerously sessionable balance of biscuity maltiness and refreshing citrus late hops. That leaves us with the Nitro Coffee Milk Stout, which deserves its own paragraph.

As someone who only half-jokingly thinks nitro carbonation should be a legal requirement of dark beers, and who seeks out Guinness whenever he leaves Latin America, I was always going to struggle not to love this beer. Funnily enough, its very existence is partly because Tomás and his partners were sick of copping stick for being an Irish Pub without Guinness, and so decided to make their own nitro stout. I’m glad they did. 

Of course, this is not just some Guinness rip-off either. The beer contains coffee from local microroasters Colo Coffee and is brewed with whole Colombian vanilla pods. Tomás laments the fact that most core beer ingredients need to be imported, so they always use as many Colombian-made products as possible. For anyone who hasn’t brewed a Milk Stout before and is wondering how that works, it’s also brewed with lactose, which provides a thicker, creamier body and a hint of sweetness, as it doesn’t ferment with brewing yeast. 

How to get ‘em

Obviously the best way to get hold of these beers is to pop into your closest Irish Pub and sit outside in the sun. Each location has ample outdoor space, making it the ideal place for pandemic beers. There are pubs in La Candelaria, Quinta Camacho, Usaquén, Cedritos and Zona T (addresses below), and they’re open every day from 12pm to 1am. They also serve typical Colombian pub fare, i.e. pizzas, burgers, empanadas, to go with the food. 

If you’d rather stay in though, just hop on their website and they’ll have chilled cans with you in less than an hour. The cans are American pint-size (473mL) and come in biodegradable packaging. They also sell whole kegs, which come with everything you’ll need to serve the beer, including the glassware. Cans are currently all sold out, but will be back available again in about two weeks.

La Candelaria: Carrera 3 #12-37
Quinta Camacho: Carrera 10A #70-48
Zona T: Carrera 12A #83-48
Usaquén: Carrera 6A #117-45
Cedritos: Carrera 7C Bis #139-82

Colombia sees another day of national strike action

Protests will take place throughout the country today, in spite of COVID-19 concerns.

The Minga Indígena in Bogotá this week preparing for another national strike in Colombia.
Colombia national strike: The Minga Indígena in Bogotá this week. Photo: Hans Luyckx

It’s eleven months since the dramatic national protests of 2019 and just six weeks after the demonstrations following the police killing of Javier Ordóñez that ended violently. This week, Colombians again take to the streets to demonstrate their discontent.

Protests will take place throughout the country, including Bogotá, Medellín, Barranquilla, Armenia, Manizales and Cúcuta. The Bogotá demonstrations will gather at the usual meeting points such as the Universidad Nacional, the Parque Nacional, Parque Olaya, Parque de la Sol, La Sevillana and Héroes from around 10am.

Who’s striking?

Today’s paro nacional — national strike — will be joined by Fecode, the national union of education workers, and the minga indígena. Fecode began a 48-hour strike yesterday with various workshops, online forums and conversations. The minga indígena includes around 7,000 indigenous people from Cauca and nearby, activists, Afro-Colombians, and campesinos who arrived in Bogotá on Monday and will leave today.

Why are people protesting?

Many of the concerns that drove people to protest 11 months ago have only intensified since then. The six-month coronavirus lockdown has had a drastic economic impact, increasing unemployment and putting pressure on the country’s health system. 

In addition, we’ve seen an increase in violence against social leaders and armed group activity. The quarantine measures taken to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus left isolated communities even more at risk from armed groups looking to consolidate power.

The International Crisis Group recently reported that at least 415 social leaders have been killed since the peace accord was signed, stressing that the violence has only increased during the pandemic. 

People on the streets today will protest against many issues, including the economic and social situation, police violence, social leader assassinations and rising unemployment. 

COVID concerns

Some, like Bruce Mac Master, the leader of ANDI (Colombia’s business association), have criticised the protests because of the increased risk of coronavirus contagion. On Monday, President Iván Duque tweeted about “the importance of preserving health and avoiding gatherings that put Colombian lives at risk.” 

In contrast, Bogotá’s mayor Claudia López thanked the minga participants for their compliance with both biosecurity and security measures. She later called on the government to support the indigenous marchers to guarantee a “biosecure return to the reservations.”

https://twitter.com/ClaudiaLopez/status/1318870339653406720

The minga indígena

The term minga comes from an indigenous Quechua word: mink’a. It encompasses a sense of community and common purpose. A minga can be called to bring people together towards a goal, in this case, to demand a right to life, territory, democracy, and peace.

The Minga Indígena during the 2019 national strike in Colombia. Photo: Steve Hide

Last year, the Guardia Indígena of Cauca created quite a stir when they joined the protests. The presence of some indigenous groups added weight to the demonstrations and also strengthened the peaceful nature of the protests.

This year, the groups have stayed in the Palacio de los Deportes during their three days in the capital. They travelled from various parts of the country to demand a meeting with President Duque — a demand that was not met in Cali, although Interior Minister Alicia Arango arrived and was ignored. 

The minga want the government to fulfil its obligations under Colombia’s peace agreement. They protest against the continued killing of social leaders and the increasing violence in many rural areas.

Craft beer Bogotá: Heavy Metal Brewing from Tomahawk

Metalheads Sergio and Richard from Cervecería Tomahawk are reopening this week in Cedritos

Photo: Tomahawk
Photo: Tomahawk

Years ago, Sergio Cabrera and Richard McDaniel were just two metalheads, headbanging at various dingy metal venues in Bogotá, like La Tienda Metalera on Séptima and Bogotá Grind Death Fest. They crossed paths at one of the two venues – Sergio’s not sure which anymore – and became good friends. Richard showed Sergio his homebrewing and almost a decade later, the two of them now find themselves in charge of one of the capital’s biggest and most successful craft beer operations, with a staff of eight and a capacity of 2,500 to 8,000 litres a month. 

A very American-influenced brewery – Richard hails from Fort Myers, Florida, and Bogotano Sergio has spent a lot of time in Texas – Tomahawk specialises in ballsy IPAs and brutal, gothic, stylised artwork, which features on each bottle. After years running a not-for-profit Metal radio station called Metal a la Carta, which at one stage had 30,000 listeners around Colombia and over 600 volunteers, Sergio’s a gifted organiser who created the country’s biggest craft beer festival, Festival de Cerveceros Artesanales de Colombia.

The festival is now in its seventh year, and Sergio managed to bring famed author and brewing expert John J Palmer out here last year to judge beers. They also collaborated with him on an Imperial Pastry Stout, which is still available online in one litre growlers. They’ve also got 200L of it aging for over a year an old Jack Daniels barrel that also previously housed rum and premium aguardiente, and will be released in 200 special edition 750ml bottles next month.

The beers

Tomahawk currently sell the aforementioned Imperial Pastry Stout, a Summer Ale, an American Pale Ale, a Black IPA, an American Stout and three fruit infused IPAs – one with mango and pineapple, one with lulo and feijoa, and this month’s new ‘frutos rojos’, which has a great zombie cartoon on the bottles for Halloween.

The one I’m going to focus on here is the IPA con Mango y Piña, because a) there’s nothing else like it in Bogotá and b) I absolutely adore this beer. When you open this beer, you may as well be sucking on a mango pip, as far as the aroma goes. It smells more like a fruit juice than a beer. Unlike most traditional American IPAs, the fruity aroma and taste come from actual mango and pineapple pulp, added to the fermenters around four days in, rather than fancy Californian and Australasian hops. 

Read our guide to craft beer in Bogotá as we keep adding to it

That’s not to say there aren’t any fancy US hops in it – the Cascade and Chinook late/dry hops float nicely over the fruit – but Sergio and Richard felt it best to take full advantage of the biodiversity Colombia has to offer, rather than solely relying on the hops it doesn’t. The natural sugar in the fruit means more for the yeast to turn into alcohol during fermentation, so this IPA has a much lighter malt bill to offset that, meaning it’s much lighter than many IPAs and perfect for a hot day.

How to get ‘em

Tomahawk have reopened this week in Cedritos (Carrera 19 #138-06). The bar’s upstairs and down, with plenty of room and a nice high ceiling, making it very comfortable for beering and dining during these dark times. They do great food from a range of cuisines (I’d recommend the lamb gyro or choripan artesanal myself though) and each one is matched with one of their beers. A pint will set you back $10,900 COP for the Summer Ale, $12,900 for the APA and $14,900 for pretty much everything else. Reservations can be made online (see right below). They’re open from 5pm to midnight Thursday through Friday, and on Sunday afternoons between noon and 6pm.

If you’d prefer to stay home, however, Tomahawk also has a very slick website. Their beers range from $7,500 for the Summer Ale to $8,500 for the IPAs, although this decreases by up to a couple of thousand pesos if you buy by the case and they’ve got a discount on. They offer same-day, cold delivery if you order before 3pm and you can pay either by card with PayU or EFTPOS on arrival.

Sporting chance: We talk about Colombian sport

The Bogotá Post is going live on Facebook at 9pm again tonight, this time talking about Colombian sport.

Tonight on Bogotá Nights, our Sports Editor Freek Huigen joins Brendan Corrigan and Oli Pritchard to discuss the sporting side of Colombia. Write in to tell us what you like to watch or do in the capital, an underrated sporting capital. You might even learn some sporting terms in English!

Colombia has had somewhat of a golden spell in recent years, with double gold medallist Marianita Pajón leading recent charges at the Olympics, the men’s football team boasting an array of talent, and Colombian cyclists winning the grand tours of cycling. Then there’s tennis, where Cabal and Farah are doing well.

As dark as the 80s and 90s often were for Colombia, it threw up plenty of sporting heroes, so we’ll talk about the likes of Colombia’s second favourite Valderrama, El Pibe himself, as well as Lucho Herrera and El Scorpion himself, René Higuita.

At The Bogotá Post we’re fascinated by more unusual sports, so we’ll try to cover some of the lesser-known sporting disciplines. Did you know that Colombia excels at underwater rugby? That there’s a flourishing roller derby scene? That a San Andresano flies on ice?

And of course, there’s plenty you can join in with – Bogotanos love to play sport as well as watch. It might have been COVID-cancelled this year, but the Bogotá Media Maratón is a big deal most years, the ciclovía is always packed and a tejo board is always popular. Find out where you can go and what you can do.

Craft beer Bogotá: Gigante in name and flavour!

Gigante is the small brewery that’s big on flavour. They’ve reopened and are ready to go.

Cervecería Gigante founder Will Catlett in the bar.
Cervecería Gigante founder Will Catlett in the bar. Photo: Gigante

Cervecería Gigante is the creation of Californian Will Catlett, who moved to Bogotá seven years ago and started up an Italian restaurant in La Candelaria. He became interested in brewing, with the basic idea to ‘make good beer and share it’. Will started home brewing and selling at small events, and at the end of 2015, this idea turned into a small Bogotá craft brewery ironically called Cervecería Gigante. He now works with two other brewers, Kristian and Juan Cuervo, and has been joined on the business side of things by Irishman Andy Connolly. Whilst the beers are essentially the same three styles Will was making back in the day, he and Andy now have a stylish gastropub on Plaza Lourdes in Chapinero, which they’re reopening today in this new, post-lockdown city. 

Read our guide to craft beer in Bogotá as we keep adding to it

The pub had only been open just over three months when Bogotá went into Covid quarantine, during which they’ve been hosting ‘Sunday Sessions’ – guest DJ performances at the bar, which they broadcast live on Facebook. Live original music is something Will believes has always been lacking from Bogotá’s craft beer scene and he’s hoping to give these musicians a physical audience now that we’re allowed out again.

Will’s culinary background has remained an influence on the business and Gigante offers American-style bar food to go with the beer, the marquee item on the menu being gourmet sausages that Will himself makes. Currently on offer are mango and jalapeño, Louisiana Cajun, pork and apple, and pork and leek. He also does his own corned beef and pickles, as well as a range of deli-style sandwiches.

The beers

The three core beers that have given Gigante its reputation on the scene since the very beginning are the Sequoia Red IPA, Cloudkicker Porter and Mokarran Pale Ale (formerly known to long-time clientele as the Citra Pale Ale).  Gigante also have two seasonal beers right now: Tunjo Kölsch and Beithir Scotch Ale.

I’m not a big fan of strong ales and at 9.3% abv, I’d be lying if I said the Beithir Scotch Ale jumped off the beer list at me. However, this one is right on the money. Unlike many strong ales, it hides the alcohol seamlessly behind a complex mix of wood (from a touch of smoked malt), prunes, caramel, toffee and vanilla. Being named after a mythical Scottish dragon fits the raw power of the beer, but I happily polished off two on the bounce the other night whereas many other versions of this style would have me fighting my way through one.

How to get ‘em

A week ago I would have said the best way to get these beers is via WhatsApp (message Gaby on 3187904617), Instagram or Facebook. However, now you can pop into the bar and order them off the menu yourself on calle 63A #10-46! Gigante will be temporarily open Thursday through Sunday, from midday to 9pm, starting today.

If you’re still a bit reluctant to leave the house though, you can still get the beers delivered straight to your door. A six pack costs $40,000 COP and a slab of 24 is $145,000. They also do 20L kegs for $220,000 and 50L for $500,000

Craft beer Bogotá: Chelarte, easy drinking, even easier to order!

Keep your fridge well stocked even if you’re not going out, as craft beer pioneers Chelarte continue to offer an excellent domicilio service.

Chelarte

One of Bogotá’s best-known craft breweries is Chelarte, which up until the pandemic hit, had its own bar just off Parque 93, in the city’s north. Camilo Rojas discovered his love of beer when he went on exchange to Germany in 2005, although it wasn’t until he took a fermentation class as part of his Chemical Engineering and Microbiology degree at Los Andes that he found his calling in craft brewing. He then took inspiration from a book by the President of American brewery Dogfish, Sam Calagione. That drew American style craft beers to his attention, but he had to rely on his States-based sister to bring him hops, yeast and even IPAs so he could see what they actually tasted like!

Read our guide to craft beer in Bogotá as we keep adding to it

Camilo then started putting on parties to see how his beers fared. At one of those, he met Andrés Correal, now his business partner, who was importing German beers at the time. They properly got started in 2012 and immediately discovered the struggle they faced. As Camilo tells it, ‘People saw beer as red, blonde, black.’ He hated this attitude to beer and wanted to do something different. So he put names on all their beers to give them a more personal feel – ‘you call people by their names.’ To find the names, Camilo and Andrés looked back through the history of brewing, all the way to Ancient Egypt, and found that up until very recently, beer brewing was historically the domain of women.

The beers

There are now six ladies who find themselves featured on Chelarte’s bottles: Pamela, Raquel, Carmela, Zenaida, Naari and Débora. Respectively, that’s a Summer Ale, Pale Ale, Brown Ale, Oatmeal Stout, IPA and Double IPA that Chelarte currently brew on a regular basis.

IIPA

Camilo likes his IPAs to be easy-drinking and lower than most on bittering hops. Débora is exactly that in double-IPA terms (translation: malty and fruity, full of citrusy flavour). Packed full of Mosaic, Columbus and El Dorado hops, she’s very tropical, with a hint of pine and peach coming through on the nose. Débora on the bottle has tatts all down her arms and Camilo describes her as ‘a bit crass and rebellious’. He chose her name because it sounds like ‘devour’ in Spanish and because just like the beer, it’s ‘different, strong and stands out’. As with any well-crafted Double IPA, her 8% abv doesn’t leave its mark on the taste.

How to get ‘em

The best way to get these beers is by contacting the brewery through WhatsApp, on 310 561 2862. Otherwise, go to their website.

Chelarte have made a concerted effort to keep as many of their bar employees on staff, so they’re now doing most of the deliveries until there’s a physical bar to drink in again.

The four original beers (Pamela, Raquel, Carmela and Zenaida) are $5,500 a pop, while Naari and Débora will set you back $8,900 and $10,500 each, respectively.

There’s a $20,000 minimum order and delivery is free if you find yourself within 5km of their bodega on Calle 77 and Av Caracas. Otherwise it’ll vary depending on how far away you are. They try their best to do same-day deliveries whenever possible.

5 do’s and don’ts to applying for a Colombian visa

Applying for a visa in Colombia? Here are some simple rules to follow.

Photo: Wikimedia

Visa applications are difficult in every country in the world. Foreigners have to navigate ever-changing mazes of rules and paperwork. And at times, those rules don’t seem achievable or justifiable. 

I — and many close friends — have unintentionally fallen foul of the visa rules before, and it’s a horrible feeling. Especially if you want to live in Colombia long term, it can feel as if the ground has been pulled from under your feet. 

That said, there are some things you can do to make the process easier.

1) Don’t act entitled

The first thing to understand when you’re applying for a visa in any country is this: You are not entitled to a visa. Even if you meet all the requirements, you’re still not actually entitled to a visa. 

So when you deal with the visa office, be nice. You may be beyond frustrated and feel like you’ve jumped through so many hoops you could join the circus, but shouting and acting like an entitled foreigner is not going to get you anywhere.

There are plenty of stories of exceptions being made in certain circumstances. Or of individual visa officials bending the rules either for or against certain applicants. And officials are granted discretion to make individual decisions based upon their interpretation of specific cases. But there are also plenty of cases where the visa office stuck to its guns. 

No matter how annoying the red tape and how jobsworthy the official, the only real way to be sure you can get a visa is to work within the system. Talk to any Colombian about trying to get a visa for a two-week holiday abroad if you want a reminder on how hard it really is to get a visa. Or talk to one of the many Venezuelans trying to live in Colombia who have it a lot harder than rich foreigners with jobs and money.

Related link: Visas in the time of coronavirus

2) Know the rules and the requirements

You’ll find the basic rules on the Cancillería website, and you’ll likely be asked for additional paperwork. It is not always easy to figure out which visa you should apply for, but it is safe to say that if you can’t fulfil the requirements listed there, you’re going to be rejected.

You can find more information about each visa type and the documentation you’ll need here. If you plan to live here long term, it is worth understanding the rules. You could, for example, unintentionally invalidate your future R visa application if you leave the country for more than six months during the five years normally needed.

Some common points:

  • V visas are generally easier to qualify for than M or R visas because they are not designed for long-term residents.
  • The M independent workers visa does require a certified degree in the field in which you are working. Unfortunately, that means that if you are a dolphin trainer with an economics degree, you probably ain’t gonna get an M visa. And last we heard, the Ministry of Education was taking up to four months to certify those degrees.
  • If you want to bring in money for an investor visa, you can’t get the documentation you need from the Banco de la Republica if you are a tax resident in Colombia. Anyone who’s been in the country for 6 months counts as a tax resident, no matter what their visa status is.

Let’s be honest, some of the requirements are tough. And they don’t all feel logical or justified. But if you’re going to campaign against them, at least be clear on what it is that should be changed and why. Half-baked social media campaigns against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs — especially when it was perfectly justified in rejecting a visa application — just contribute to anti-foreigner sentiment and makes the ministry less likely to consider sensible revisions to the rules.

It’s also true to say people get pushed into states of semi-legality when faced with seemingly impossible rules. Their visa takes too long to process, so they leave the country and come back as a tourist. They sign up to a course so that they can qualify for a student visa. They go for the V visa rather than the M because it works in the short term. Sadly, that’s the way of red tape everywhere in the world: If it’s not possible to operate 100% within the rules, nobody can ever be whiter than white.

That said, I have lost count of the number of visa conversations I’ve had with people where they tell me “It’s not fair.” They have lived here for five years and only spent 18 months of that time on a tourist visa, so why won’t the visa office give them a resident visa? Because you need to be here for five years on the same M visa to qualify. Many of these regulations are very clearly stated and can be found on governmental websites in seconds.

Other times a foreigner will tick most of the boxes for a workers visa, but then can’t meet the income requirements. Incidentally, those income requirements are high — to qualify for an M visa as an independent worker you need to earn 10 minimum wages a month (which is about 9 million pesos). 

Or, here’s another common refrain from visa applicants: It says on the website that my visa should be for three years and I only got one year. Not true. Your visa could be granted for up to three years, but you could be given anything from six months to three years.

It isn’t always fair. The rules themselves are not fair. At least if you understand them, you give yourself the best shot at being approved.

And if you don’t understand them all, that’s fine. It is a complicated system by nature. And one that is unreasonable in many, many ways.

But submit applications based on hearsay and WhatsApp advice from friends and that’s your problem — not the ministry’s. If you love Colombia and want to stay here, consider getting professional advice to help you through the process. 

3) Allow plenty of time

Colombia is a country of red tape. We’ve just seen that the Ministry of Education could take up to four months to certify your degree certificate, and that’s before you factor in the time and effort involved in getting your university to send you the apostilled documents you need.

I emailed Migración Colombia a month ago after failing to get an answer by phone or on their website. According to the automated reply, it could take up to 35 working days before I get an answer. Luckily, I have a while before I need to submit my application.

If you’re applying for your visa just a week before it expires, you might as well put in your application for a salvoconducto now. Everything is taking longer in our new reality, and the usual five-day turnaround from the visa office could now be as high as 30.

4) Be willing to provide additional papers

Not only do you need to be ready to upload all your documents into an unwieldy online application, you are also likely to be asked for extra paperwork.

In fact, it is unusual for your visa to be approved without a request for additional documents. 

Common requests include:

  • Health insurance
  • Bank statements that show you have an income level suitable to support yourself
  • Further information from your accountant or employer
  • Supporting documents

I once had to scan in three years’ worth of receipts from The Bogotá Post and then shrink the file to meet the maximum upload size. Luckily, we’re a volunteer-run paper that can’t afford to spend much.

5) Get people’s names

This is probably the best advice I’ve ever been given in Colombia. Sadly, different officials can and will give you different instructions. If you have the name of Official #1 who told you you needed to get a letter from the international dolphin trainer’s association, life will be a lot easier.

When you go back to the visa office and present said letter to Official #2, who says you actually need three signed photos from the dolphins you trained, you will be able to stand your ground. Not only that, but you’ll find the advice you’re given is more likely to be correct when the person you’re dealing with knows you have written down their name. 

A note on independent workers visas

Independent workers visas (a Tipo M visa issued for professional “actividades independientes”) have been a hot topic ever since the rules changed in 2018. As part of the new ‘V’, ‘M’, and ‘R’ visa system, the Cancillería require independent workers applying for an M visa to provide a degree certified by the Ministry of Education.

Now, I firmly believe that the Cancillería is wrong to demand that degree. I think the rule was shortsighted and may have had unintended consequences. It has hit many journalists and other freelance workers here because they don’t have a degree in the area they are working in. 

It came as a particular shock to many who had already spent years in Colombia on a TP-7 visa, which was the old (and now eliminated) version of the current M visa for independent workers and has most of the same requirements — except for degree certification.

I understand the government only wants to give visas to qualified independent workers, but I would argue that there are plenty of other ways that freelancers could prove their capabilities and experience. Many journalists, for example, never got a degree in that field and their main qualification is the bylines that show they have been publishing stories, reports, or multimedia content. 

On a practical level, the change in the law was not managed well, as the Ministry of Education was not prepared for a sudden influx of degree certifications. Hence the four-month processing time — or more.

And the requirement to demonstrate you earn over nine million pesos a month is extreme. That’s more than double (or triple)  the amount you need to live a very comfortable life and excludes a large number of applicants.

On a legal level — and talking purely about journalists — the requirement is likely unconstitutional, according to many legal scholars, because journalism is not a regulated profession in Colombia and so you shouldn’t need a degree in order to practice it.

Both the Asociación de Prensa Internacional de Colombia (APIC) and the Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP) have tried to get this rule changed. Not only is it unconstitutional, they argue, but it restricts the freedom of the press. If long-term journalists rely on favours from visa officials, it is difficult for them to report on Colombia objectively.

But while I continue to oppose that rule, I don’t dispute Colombia’s right to stipulate what type of foreigner they wish to allow to live in their country. And I don’t support the people who take their individual cases to social media and cry wolf when they clearly didn’t comply with the visa requirements in the first place.

There are a number of parts of the current visa system that are beyond unfair and difficult to justify. They leave people who love Colombia and would contribute to its economy and continued growth unable to qualify, or people who bought homes they are unable to live in. But if you are applying for a visa, the best thing you can do is understand the rules, follow them. Then you’re in a strong position to challenge decisions that are actually unjust.

Craft Beer Bogotá: You’re welcome at Non Grata

As the craft beer revolution in Colombia gathers pace, more innovative and interesting venues are popping up too. La Embajada gives you the element of gunpowder to go with your Non Grata ale.

Non Grata's bar in Tejo La Embajada.
Non Grata’s bar in Tejo La Embajada.

I must admit, as a craft beer lover and someone who also gets a kick out of occasionally slamming a fair few Pokers down the hatch whilst chucking a metal tejo at triangles of gunpowder on a bed of clay, never did I think the two could mix. Daniel Lozano at Cervecería Non Grata vehemently disagrees.

Of course, after half an hour of chatting over their Jack el Destripador Bourbon Ale, it seems almost obvious. ‘Craft beer is hands-on. Making it with your hands gives it a connection to tejo, which is also hands-on, but also ancestral,’ says Daniel. Well when you put it like that… Sign me up for a petaco.

Of course, pretty much everything about Non Grata and Tejo La Embajada, the brewery’s bar and tejo centre, is ‘outside the box’. While he might look more like a brewer now, four years ago Daniel was a clean-cut investment banker with an industrial design degree, doing 9-to-5 with Andrew Cárdenas, one of his three future partners in beer and tejo. ‘You’d be working on an excel sheet,’ says Daniel, ‘then suddenly you’d get a message saying “beer with beetroot, my house this Saturday?”’

Along with three other partners, Sebastián Otero, Simón Aguía and Juliana Acero, Daniel and Andrew seem to have dedicated as much time to breaking stereotypes and social/cultural barriers as they have to making beer.

Read our guide to craft beer in Bogotá as we keep adding to it

Cervecería Non Grata’s logo is that of a fox. The reason for this, other than it looking very sharp indeed, is the two distinct connotations the word ‘zorr@’ has in Spanish. While the masculine version has more or less the same meaning as its English counterpart – clever, cunning and always having fun – any foreigner who’s made the mistake of calling their better half a ‘zorra’ can tell you that it in no way means ‘sexy’ or ‘cute’ like it might in English. ‘Zorra’ in Spanish basically means ‘slut’. The folks at Non Grata see this as a grossly sexist linguistic injustice and are attempting to redefine the word in a more fun, unisex sense. All of them, including Juliana, are zorros – they’re clever and they have fun making beer.

Embajada de Tejo isn’t just a tejo place with fancy beer. One of the fundamental ideas behind it is making tejo more accessible for women. While Daniel adores tejo, he’s the first to admit that its male-dominated, urinal-within-view-of-everyone, traditional form isn’t exactly welcoming to women. Of course, this doesn’t mean La Embajada wants to overhaul Colombia’s pastime completely – Daniel has a close relationship with the owner of San Miguel (his favourite traditional tejo cancha) down the road, and the two venues happily send punters between the two, depending on what they’re after. Embajada simply offers an alternative atmosphere. As Daniel says, ‘For the first time, a tejo had waitresses, for the first time, a tejo had a bar. For the first time, a tejo had a restaurant, where you knew the food would be alright.’

For lots of tejo customers, it’s their first introduction to craft beer, so Daniel sees it as a big responsibility for him.

The Beers

That brings us to the beers. Non Grata currently make three core beers. The aforementioned Jack el Destripador (Jack the Ripper in English) does exactly what it says on the bottle – takes your face off. It’s a strong ale (8.8% abv) that gets a lot of its flavour from the inclusion of American Oak chips that have been soaking in Jack Daniels for two weeks prior.

They also brew what I might argue is one of the best IPAs you can find in Colombia, the Mandaripa. As the name suggests, this IPA is towards the citrusy and fruity, rather than bitter end of the genre’s spectrum.

The beer we’re going to focus on here, however, is the Ismael Cream Ale. This beer is absolutely unique in Bogotá. Made with corn and tasting half like a cream soda, there is nothing else remotely like this beer anywhere in the country. It may just look like any old beer when it’s out of the bottle, but this beer is smoother than a New York crooner and dangerously drinkable. At 6.2% abv, you’ll want to be keeping tabs on how many you slam back. Just like with the modern take on tejo and the fox logo, there’s a little bit of purposeful subversion in this beer too – corn is the only cereal native to the Americas, so to kind of ‘get one back’ for the founders of brewing giant Bavaria allegedly chasing down traditional chicha producers many moons ago, Non Grata wanted to use corn in their beer as a way of subverting international beer norms. Move the letters of ‘Ismael’ around a bit and you’ll see it’s an anagram of ‘el mais’ (corn).

Where to get ‘em

La Embajada is thrilled to finally be reopening this week. You can find it nestled in with all the other tejo joints on Carrera 24 #76-20. They’re open 5pm – 11pm Thursdays and Fridays, 3-11pm on Saturdays and 3-7pm on Sundays. You’ll need to make a reservation, which you can do through Facebook Messenger or on Instagram.

They do delicious modern takes on traditional Colombian food (Daniel especially recommends the lechona), as well as a few more contemporary American BBQ favourites. If you’d rather stay at home, you can also order domicilios of all the beers, as well as the food, online at www.tejolaembajada.com

They do deliveries Thursday to Sunday, and they’ll waive the $4,000 COP fee on any orders over $100,000. 

Craft beer Bogotá: Tierra Santa

In a new series focusing on craft beer in Bogotá, we look at Tierra Santa

Tierra Santa brewer Julian Salamanca in front of his delivery van.
Tierra Santa brewer Julian Salamanca in front of his delivery van. Photo: Tristan Quigley

Another brewery based on a joint expertise in brewing and food is Tierra Santa, currently based up on the hill of Juan XXIII, just above Calle 65 in Chapinero Alto. Cousins Julian Salamanca and Daniel Duarte started brewing in 2014. Julian is a chef and has worked in restaurants all over Latin America, whilst Daniel actually has a university-level ‘Brewmaster’ qualification from Germany. The pair had a well-loved bar in a majestic old house in Quinta Camacho from 2016 to 2018, before moving to Chicoutimi, Quebec, to further hone their brewing skills. They then returned to Bogotá and reopened in an expansive semi-outdoor bar on Las Aguas in the Candelaria, which they were forced to leave early on in lockdown. They’ve compensated for that by launching a brand new ‘Arroz chino’ which aims to fill the gap in the market that Bogota has always had when it comes to good quality non-chain Chinese food. Julian’s just had a gigantic Texas-style smoker installed in the kitchen and he does a mean smoked, Chinese spare-rib. There’s also plenty of typical Texas BBQ fare on offer.

The beers

Tierra Santa are currently entirely keg-based and sell one-litre growlers of Golden Ale, IPA, Saison and American Pale Ale. They also sell one of the only Nitro Stouts in the Bogotá market, although that’s awaiting a re-release in cans, expected some time in September, along with a summery Blanche, brewed with Earl Grey tea.

Read our guide to craft beer in Bogotá as we keep adding to it

The two beers Julian takes the most pride in are the Nitro Stout and IPA. Nitro carbonation doesn’t lend itself to being put into the growlers he’s currently selling, so here’s a bit more on the IPA. This is a traditional American IPA  that does exactly what any good IPA should do. For one thing, this beer is not lacking hops, with Mandarina Bavaria, Azacca, Amarillo and Simcoe hops, to be precise. However, the bittering hops are still nicely balanced with the body, while the late and dry hops add a piney, citrus tang that hits every corner of the mouth. It’s a beer that would appeal to all craft beer drinkers. Easy-drinking enough that you can put a few back, but with enough character and flavour to not forget you’re drinking it.

How to get ‘em

Growlers cost $25,000 COP per litre, but go straight down to $20,000 each if you’re getting more than one. Tierra Santa also offer a $2,000 discount on all refills. The Chinese food costs $25,000 for a kilogram or $50,000 for the same amount in a combo with a couple of Nitro Stouts. Delivery is $7,000, but free on any orders over $50,000. Julian delivers on Tuesdays and Fridays, and all orders made before 8pm will make the next day’s rounds.

To order, message Julian on 301 341 3499 or get in contact through Facebook (Tierra Santa Cerveza Artesanal) or Instagram (@tierrasantacervezaartesanal). 

Because of the rapidly changing post-lockdown rules, information is subject to change at short notice, keep an eye on brewers’ social media to find out the latest.

Craft beer Bogotá: Mela’s

In a new series focusing on craft beer in Bogotá, today we look at Mela’s

Mela’s is serving

One of Bogotá’s most exotic and exciting breweries is Mela’s in Cedritos (Calle 140 #13-86). Its brewer Alejandro Manotas fell in love with beer when he moved to France to learn French after high school and found himself travelling to Munich constantly to see his girlfriend. He learnt how to brew at Munich’s famous Löwenbräu and returned to Colombia to study business at the Rosario University in Bogotá.

During his degree, Alejandro found himself focusing every project on brewing and starting a brewery. One of his professors, Juan Carlos Tafur, was curious about the obsession with brewing and soon became his business partner. Mela’s was officially born during his second semester of 2016, Alejandro and Juan Carlos brewing the beer in the former’s living room. ‘It looked a bit like Breaking Bad’, says Alejandro. ‘We were making 200-300 litres a month. It was a complete disaster.’

Read our guide to craft beer in Bogotá as we keep breweries in the following weeks

Mela’s today is one of Bogotá’s biggest craft beer success stories, with a capacity of 13,000 litres a month and causing no more damage to living rooms. It takes its name from the nickname of Alejandro’s late mother, Carmenza, who tragically lost her battle with cancer last year. A keen eye may also spot the number 62 (year of birth) and a pair of wings at the bottom of the brewery’s logo, as well as in various spots on the cans. ‘She’s our brewery’s little angel’, says her son. ‘She was all the fun in the family.’

The beers

Mela’s currently sells four year-round beers: The Atomic Imperial Double IPA, Villeto Manfur Golden Ale (made with panela), Mela Lulada and Beer 4 Breakfast Stout. They also make alcoholic seltzers and have their Melo Salpicon, a sour Berliner Weiss with watermelon, returning this week. Alejandro insists on brewing beer that he wants to drink, rather than worrying too much about what the market expects.

Let’s talk about the Lulada though. Alejandro loves how sour fruits match with salt and prefers to use local fruits in his beers, so he came up with this traditional recipe as an homage to his native Cali’s trademark lulada.  It’s a kettle sour that’s low on Mandarina Bavaria hops, loaded with lulo – there’s a whopping 70kg of lulo pulp per 700 litres of beer – and even has a bit of Himalayan rock salt thrown into the mix. While sours aren’t everyone’s thing, this one perfectly hits the spot and is near unbeatable on a hot day.

How to get ‘em

Mela’s have reopened their bar in Cedritos (Calle 140 #13-86) since lockdown eased up. They offer food as well as their beer, and you can pop in from 12pm to 9pm Thursday to Sunday. They’ve also got a gastropub in collaboration with Conosur in Usaquen (Calle 117 #6-64).

There are also three ways to get hold of these beers at home: through the website at www.melascraftbeer.com, on Instagram (@melasbeer) and through Facebook (Mela’s Craft Beer). You can pay by card on the website, otherwise it’s a Davivienda bank transfer, Nequi, or even card or cash on delivery.

The golden ale is $8,500 COP per can, seltzers are $6,500 and all the rest go for $9,000. There’s a 15% discount on cases of 24. For $15,000 you can even buy a 250g tub of ice cream made from the beers, which is around 4% abv. Very soon they’ll be releasing 60 bottles of Double Ice Bock (23% abv) for $50,000 each. Delivery is $7,000 – $10,000 in Bogotá, depending on distance, and they do same day drop-offs for any orders made before 4pm.

Because of the rapidly changing post-lockdown rules, information is subject to change at short notice, keep an eye on brewers’ social media to find out the latest.

Health insurance now required for many Colombian visa applications

Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says international insurance necessary for V visas to avoid burdening the health system.

Colombian visa application has changed a bit.
Colombian visa application has changed a bit.

Colombia’s coronavirus lockdown was a worrying time for many, with economic, social, and health concerns keeping them up at night. Some foreigners have faced an additional worry: their visa situations.

Now, as the country continues its gradual re-opening, so the visa and tourist exceptions that allowed people to stay legally while the borders were shut are reaching an end.

Migración Colombia — the entity which issues your cédula de extranjería, processes permiso de ingreso (often thought of as a tourist visa), and issues salvoconductos — reopened on September 21, with limited appointments available.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or cancillería, is still yet to open its offices, so applications for Migrant (M), Resident (R) and Visitor (V) visas, continue to be processed online. 

We asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ press office to answer some practical visa questions to provide advice both for foreigners currently in Colombia, and abroad. 

Has COVID-19 changed the Colombian visa system? 

Since 2017, Colombian visa authorities have had the discretion to request other documentation to understand or clarify the sort of activities that visa applicants will carry out in Colombia. The types of visa can be found here.

In January, before the pandemic hit Colombia, the Colombian Ministry of Health issued a decree which aimed to provide extra resources for the country’s social security system, in order to prevent it from being evaded or abused. Ever since, the Ministry of Foreign affairs has been checking V visa applications for evidence of international medical insurance, including during the pandemic, for proof that applicants will not be a “burden” for the country’s health service.

“The pandemic has revealed the weaknesses of health services at a global level,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. “For this reason, as a self-protection measure, medical insurance is being requested.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs can also request proof of academic qualifications — or equivalent proof of license to carry out a profession — at its own discretion for M and V Visas. This requirement was introduced in 2018 for independent worker M visas, and the ministry has recently begun to also request the extra documentation for some contractual employment visas. 

This proof of academic qualification must be apostilled (officially certified by a qualified representative that the document is legally recognised) in the country where it was issued. Although universities and colleges do not typically offer this service, applicants can send their degree to an official apostille service and expect to pay around £80, €90 or U.S. $105.

This apostilled degree must then be translated into Spanish and stamped by a government-recognised official translator. In Colombia, this service tends to cost approximately COP$200,000. It must then be certified by the Colombian Ministry of Education. 

When Colombia reopens its borders, will visa applications be processed as normal? Will people be able to enter the country on (V) visas?

The Colombian government has recently extended the health emergency until November 30, 2020, via a decree issued at the end of August.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that tourists will be allowed to enter the country on V visas “when conditions — such as the reopening of airports and the entire tourist industry — permit.”

For those wishing to enter on a permiso de ingreso y permanencia (visa on arrival), the ministry explained that the conditions under which foreign visitors will be allowed to enter the country will be decided as soon as national lockdown is lifted, which happened at the start of this month. 

People who are here as tourists have one month from October 1 to either legalise their status or leave the country. 

Were visa applications paused during lockdown?

For foreigners currently in Colombia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been processing applications for M, R and V visas online throughout lockdown. 

Read our latest coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

Applicants wishing to change their type of V visa — which applies to academic exchange programmes, studies or postgraduate programmes, as well as temporary workers — were prohibited from doing so in April, meaning they can only apply to renew the same visa type.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs told The Bogotá Post that the virtual process is working “very well.”

How long are visas taking to process?

Once paid for, the turnaround time for visa processing — according to the cancillería website — is five business days. This may be extended up to 30 calendar days in the event that additional documentation, or an interview, is required. If this is the case during lockdown, however, waits beyond 30 days can be expected. We know of various cases that have been in process for weeks, so don’t expect it to be fast.

For foreigners outside of Colombia who have had their visas in limbo during lockdown, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs re-opened all Colombian visa processing on June 24. This can be done online via a Colombian consulate in the applicant’s country of residence. Some Colombian consulates are now offering in-person services, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommends checking online first.

Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs offices will remain closed until further notice from the government.

I couldn’t leave the country because of lockdown, how does that affect my tax status?

According to Colombian law, if any foreign person stays longer than 183 days (6 months) in Colombia per calendar year, they are considered a fiscal resident and should declare their income if they earn over the specified buffers per tax year, which change annually.

Up until now, the government has not issued any decrees indicating any exceptions to this law, according to a Medellín-based tax advisor, who preferred to remain anonymous.

Anyone who earned over COP$47,978,000 in the 2019 tax year must now declare their income to the National Directorate of Taxes and Customs (DIAN) to be assessed on whether or not they must pay taxes in Colombia.

Income declarations began on August 11, and will continue until October 21.

Craft beer Bogotá: Madriguera

In a new series focusing on craft beer in Bogotá, we look at the latest addition to the 45, Madriguera

Madriguera's new bar is ready for you.
Madriguera’s new bar is ready for you. Photo: Madriguera

Francisco Herrera, Oscar Cortés and Teddy Acuña all went to school together at Colegio De La Salle, in Bogota’s north. Teddy went off to Portland, Oregon after high school and upon his return, the boys reunited and started brewing. Five years ago they started Madriguera, selling kegs of craft beer to a few bars and pubs around the city. A couple of years later, they decided to cut out the middleman and open up their own bars. 

Starting with an upstairs terrace bar in Quinta Camacho, they soon opened a second location on the Septima and 59, only to have it bought out by BBC shortly after. They were about to open a new second location on Calle 45’s craft beer strip this year, only for a certain pandemic to set their plans awry. As we move into post-pandemic planning pleasures, the 45 location is ready to open on Calle 45 #19-58 from 2pm today (September 17). The Quinta Camacho location remains closed, unfortunately.

Craft beer in Bogotá before coronavirus hit

Madriguera have taken 2020 as an opportunity to evolve, however, and have released all their beers in slickly designed cans this year. Each of the beers has its own animal character on the can, originally one for each partner in the company, though now more of a marketing signature. 

These furry friends aren’t the only things that set Madriguera apart though – the brewery is now one of the most prolific of its kind in the city and many other brewers use their impressive set-up for their own beers. Madriguera aim to produce beers that aren’t overly abundant in the current market – their Suricate Rampante is one of the very few NEIPAs available in Colombia and they’re one of the only brewers to offer a cider. They also have a passionfruit and strawberry sour available in cans. Once the pandemic is over, they also intend to restart their initial plan to make around six collaborations a year with brewers from different parts of the country.

The beers

Madriguera’s core range includes the Rey Mapache Golden Ale, Suricata Rampante, Oso Sempiterno American Brown Ale, Conde Cortés American IPA and Liebre Rebelde New World Cider. They also offer seasonal beers, which right now are the Wild Rum Stout and Ugly Sour. They did manage to knock out one inter-city collaboration before the pandemic hit, which is worth going into a little more detail on here…

Brewed with Cali’s Cervecería Antaño, the Nanay Cucas Baltic Porter is a beer like nothing that could ever exist outside of Colombia. There are two main ideas behind it; one is to make a porter that’s lighter than normal and easy to drink. The second idea is what makes this beer so unique – Oscar adds actual cucas from Cali (small brown cookies made with panela and spices) and liberales from Bogota (sweet, sugary cake rolled into scrolls) to the beer during fermentation. The result is an easy-drinking porter that manages to avoid being sickly sweet and hides its 7.4% abv remarkably well. As Madriguera’s Peruvian GM Eric Marcelo says, ‘the idea is to not just have one pint, but maybe a couple.’ Job well done.

How to get ‘em

The bar is open from the 17th September, 2-9pm. The location is Calle 45 #19-58, easily reachable from Transmilenio station Calle 45.

Madriguera offer four-packs at $36,000 COP, as well as 1L growlers for $26,000 and various combos. They also sell reheat-at-home barbecue fare, including brisket and wings. Delivery in Bogota is $8,000 and to Cundinamarca it’s $20,000. You can also save yourself the fee and pick it up yourself from their brewery in 7 de Agosto, at Carrera 17 #70A-56. They offer same day delivery if you order before 11:59am.

You can order everything online at madriguera.com.co and payment is online through PayU.

Bogotá mourns those lost after the tragic events of the past week

With more than a dozen dead in the streets, Bogotanos grapple with injustice and tragedy.

More than a dozen people were left dead this week in Bogotá during protests against the police killing of Javier Ordóñez, and the city is now in mourning.

People here are grappling with a sense of injustice and tragedy – at levels that that rarely envelop the capital.

Massacres have become a near-constant occurrence this year in the more rural and less-populated regions. But what many, including the city’s mayor, are calling a Bogotá massacre has left people in a state of shock and outrage, stoked by social media images of police firing live ammunition into crowds.

While official statistics are often difficult to verify, the city is saying that 10 people were killed by gunfire over two days. Another 72 were injured by firearms.

In the aftermath, some are taking to the streets to display their condemnation and yell in the face of the police they hold accountable for it all. Others are more pessimistic than ever and have no idea what to do.

Some continue their daily lives, enjoying a stretch of beautiful weather after nearly six months of mandatory quarantine or watching national team star James Rodríguez make his debut in the English Premier League.

On Saturday night, the protest and the general vibe in the streets of Bogotá was mainly one of calm — at least in the two areas I visited. It felt more like the extended national strike last year than the chaos, disorder, and state-sanctioned criminality on display earlier in the week.

Candlelit vigils

In Parkway, there were candlelit vigils for those killed and heartfelt speeches in front of the CAI police barracks that had been set ablaze on Wednesday. There was also a monitor showing cultural videos and a biblioteca popular (“people’s library”) full of books free for the taking.

I saw several cops having real, extended conversations with citizens. Others appeared genuinely moved by one protestor’s gripping call for justice and eulogy of the citizens killed by their coworkers.

Over near Torre Colpatria and Parque de la Independencia, there was a small, primarily women-led protest. They called for justice and brandished the cops on patrol as killers and rapists. Some rocks were thrown, a small fire was lit, the police launched tear gas at one point, and a large armored truck arrived, parking ominously in the middle of the avenue.

What I saw seemed to be a small – although loud and passionate – demonstration against a thoroughly massive and overwhelmingly armored police presence.

Sunday afternoon has played out similarly so far. Demonstrators marched down the Séptima through Chapinero to the famed Plaza de Bolívar. The Plaza has been barricaded off in recent days and hosted a memorial for this week’s victims this morning. Riot police and uniformed officers have been standing guard here for days and were not letting marchers enter this afternoon (at press time). 

I watched today’s events unfold on social media with an uneasiness that something awful could happen at any minute, an attitude that’s shared by many I spoke to.

Mayor calls for cacerolazo

Mayor Claudia López spoke at the memorial in the plaza and continued on to Parque Verbenal in the afternoon for a forgiveness and reconciliation concert featuring the Bogotá philharmonic orchestra.

Days earlier, she called for a candlelit vigil and a cacerolazo protest where citizens would gather to bang pots and pans, the traditional way Colombians condemn unacceptable governmental behavior. Because cacerolazos are typically impromptu affairs, lightly organized by civic groups, it is strange for such a thing to be arranged by the authorities themselves. It almost seems a contradiction of terms. 

But this is the public stance that López has taken in the wake of tragedy. She has called, at least publicly, for justice, reform, and action. She is standing against a national police force controlled by the federal government of her political rival President Iván Duque – the same national police force she claims failed to obey her commands on Wednesday evening.

We will see in time how her positioning against the police, her call for reconciliation, and her pledge for reform translates into meaningful change. And we will see how her cacerolazo gesture resonates with those she governs as they mourn a tragedy that López characterized as the worst the capital has suffered since M19 took over the Palacio de Justicia in 1985.

Ultimately, the overriding sense from this weekend seems to be one of shock. There is anger. There is silence. There are speeches. There are couples and friends sitting around pub. And there are others cycle around the same streets where so many died this week.

It seems this is about all anybody knows how to do right now.

I find myself in the same situation. With no way to change what already happened – and slim hopes for any of the promised reform to come any time soon – I can’t offer anything.

So I will only share what I saw on Saturday.

Here are a few photos from the night to showcase what the streets now look like as Bogotá continues to try to comprehend an unthinkable tragedy.

Medellín demonstrations met with heavy repression from authorities

One demonstrator in Medellín reports being kicked by riot police as Colombia’s nationwide protests continue.

Photo: Sophie Foggin

Over the past three days, hundreds have gathered in Medellín’s city centre to protest against police brutality in Colombia and other issues. The demonstrations were sparked by the violent police killing of Javier Ordóñez in Bogotá on Tuesday evening. 

Violent demonstrations erupted in Bogotá, leaving a total of 10 civilians dead and spread throughout the country. In Medellín, the first demonstrations, marches and sit-ins took place on Thursday and have continued since.

Anger and a desire for change

On Thursday, September 10, hundreds gathered in Medellín’s Parque de los Deseos, marching towards the city centre where the protest was scheduled to end at Parque Bicentenario.

The atmosphere, said 20-year-old communications student Estefanía Romero Toro, was one of indignation over Ordóñez’s killing. “There was lots of anger, a desire to change things,” she added, explaining that the mood also felt very tense, because of the heavy police presence. 

For protestors in Medellín, the recent police abuses come on top of a long already-existing list of grievances towards the government. 

These comprise the killings of social leaders, the recent wave of massacres, the labour reforms that form part of President Iván Duque’s paquetazo, and the socio-economic situation of the country in general, Romero explained.


“The country is in a socio-economic-political crisis,” 25-year-old NGO-worker Santiago Rodríguez told The Bogotá Post at another march the following day. “Which has deepened because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Since the signing of the peace agreement, social leaders have been being killed systematically, by para-state forces doing the dirty work,” he added. “And this intensifies when the public forces, which are supposed to be the ones looking after us, start killing citizens.” 

The first intervention of the ESMAD riot police took place approximately 20 minutes into Thursday’s Medellín demonstration, reported a representative from the Chucho Minga human rights collective, who was present but preferred to remain anonymous.

“That was the order of the unified command post from the start,” the human rights representative said. “To dissolve everything.”

“Even though I identified as being human rights personnel, one of them kicked me in the back,” the human rights representative furthered, adding that four of her colleagues were also assaulted by members of the public forces. 

Several people were wounded, she said, two of whom had serious injuries. 

“Throughout the entire march route, the ESMAD constantly cornered us,” Romero said, explaining that riot police had enclosed protesters from one block to the next, gassing them. 

Photo: Andrés López

At around 5pm, the carabineros arrived, enclosing protestors in the Parque del Periodista. 

“If we left, we were exposed to the police, who would capture us and violate us,” stated Romero. “I identified as press and the ESMAD just didn’t care… their tone towards us was one of mockery,” she continued.

“Enough’s enough”

The following day, another group of a few hundred demonstrators congregated in Parque Bicentenario to march towards a police station in downtown Medellín.

“Today, the environment is calmer,” said 25-year-old NGO-worker Rodríguez, although local shops and metro stations had shut early, preparing for the worst. “This demonstration is more about demanding rights, but not using violent action.”

“We hope that the ESMAD, who are always the ones generating violence, don’t intervene, so it doesn’t turn violent,” he said.

Photo: Megan Janetsky

While the mood started off peaceful, protesters began kicking and knocking over barriers when they arrived at the police station, amid shouts of “killers.” And authorities were quick to react with tear gas and flash shots, dispersing crowds less than an hour into the protest.

“They know they have the power, they know they have the weapons, and that they can use these weapons to attack us, not even to maintain control,” said communications student Romero. “They don’t respect human rights.” 

The objective of the demonstrations is to negotiate a reform of the country’s police system, which Rodríguez explained is governed by the military, meaning it combines with armed forces under the Ministry of Defense.

“These days, their lack of quality, integrity and humanity is evident,” said Romero. “Enough’s enough. The police are killing us.”

Yesterday afternoon, Colombia’s Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo issued a statement in which he claimed the ministry has been working towards the “modernisation” and “transformation” of Colombia’s police forces as part of the 2019 Policy of Coexistence and Citizen Security

At the time of writing, demonstrations continue in the city of Medellín. So far, no citizens have been killed in the city’s protests. 

Police violence protests spread in Colombia as death tolls rises

Protests and violence spread from Bogotá to other Colombian cities as the Colombian government admits fault and suspends police officers.

Several CAIs were set alight during the police brutality protests in Bogotá. Photo: Jared Wade

Overnight, as a second day of protests following the police killing of Javier Ordóñez continued in Bogotá, similar scenes also began to play out across Colombia.

While the violence and destruction was not as extreme as the events seen Wednesday night throughout the capital, demonstrations and chaos also erupted in cities including Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Manizales, Cúcuta, Villavicencio, and Armenia.

This morning, Colombian Minister of Defence Carlos Holmes Trujillo reported that the official civilian death toll from the two days of protests and violence now sits at 10, with seven deaths in Bogotá and three in Soacha. 

Holmes Trujillo also revealed that a woman had died after being hit by a stolen public SITP bus overnight on Thursday amid more chaos and outrage over the widely shared video recording of police officers repeatedly tasing Ordóñez, who later died in a hospital, after restraining him on the streets of Bogotá.

In total, over 400 people have been injured across Bogotá, Cali and Medellín, including 194 members of the police forces, and 209 civilians, according to the government.

Trujillo called the events two days of “systematic and coordinated vandalism,” which affected 60 police facilities, including many CAI stations across the city that were set on fire. In addition, he reported that 91 vehicles were vandalised, as were 33 TransMilenio busses, 44 SITP buses, 25 motorbikes, 22 institutional vehicles and one private lorry.

A quiet day before more demonstrations

On Thursday, as the capital reckoned with its deadliest night in recent memory, it initially seemed as if things had calmed down. 

During the day yesterday, our team reported limited police presence and plenty of Bogotá city officials around the areas of Parkway, Villa Luz and Verbenal, where a vigil was held for a protester who had died.

In remembrance of the people who were killed in Verbenal. Photo: Brendan Corrigan

With few large demonstrations seen during the daylight hours, Bogotá’s Mayor Claudia López stated that she would not issue a curfew for the city. But she did call for all residents to be in their homes by 7pm, if possible, in order to “avoid tensions and shared living problems” as well as traffic jams.

López also unexpectedly halted the city’s TransMilenio service at 8pm, forcing many residents to walk home. The public transportation service relied upon by millions of commuters every day will be shut down again tonight at 8pm, the city announced.

https://twitter.com/ClaudiaLopez/status/1304508069519515650

Apologies, action, and reform

While day two of the protests was less violent and tragic than the night before, the public outcry this week has pushed authorities to take action.

This morning, Holmes Trujillo issued a formal public apology from the Ministry of Defence for the legal violations and disregard for regulations committed by the police officers involved in Ordóñez’ death.

At lunchtime, he went further, announcing investigations into misconduct and the suspensions of at least seven officers. The two police officers captured on video restraining and repeatedly tasing Ordóñez before he later died in the hospital are among those suspended and, according to a Reuters report, will be fired.

Meanwhile, calls for structural police reform have continued – from protestors, the media and Bogotá’s mayor herself. 

Mayor López said that the misconduct that led to Ordóñez’s death is not an isolated case of violence, but rather there is a “deficit of confidence and legitimacy in police and security bodies.” She said that this can only be remedied through constitutional reform that must be carried out by the president and called for “justice, action and reforma!” on Twitter.

A 2019 report by the Bogotá NGO Temblores listed a total of 34 extrajudicial killings at the hands of the ESMAD riot police at social demonstrations over the past two decades. 

Last year, 18-year-old Dilan Cruz became a symbol of civilian resistance and protest after he was shot and killed by a “non-lethal” riot control projectile launched by an ESMAD officer during last year’s Paro Nacional.

Mixed political reactions

Mayor López, who spent part of yesterday in hospitals visiting civilian and police officers who were injured on Bogotá’s streets the night before, insisted that violence is not the answer to addressing police violence.

“If we react with more violence, we end up with more problems,” she said in a statement during her usual Thursday night broadcast on Canal Capital. “In Colombia, violence has never solved anything at all. Let’s not lose sight of this.”

Gustavo Petro, leader of the leftwing Colombia Humana political party, called for a national strike. “The trade unions should get together and summon a national strike against the repression,” he tweeted. Petro insisted that the only way to “rescue democracy” is to go out onto the streets in protest.

Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, from his finca in Córdoba, where he is under house arrest for witness tampering, called for a “government-enforced curfew, armed forces in the streets…deportation of foreign vandals and the capture of intellectual authors.”

Colombian police: Not bad apples, but a rotten orchard

Bogotá boiled over dramatically this week, but where does the blame lie?

Photo: Jared Wade

“Ni esto, ni esto,” says the meme. On one side a civilian is surrounded and being attacked by police; on the other the roles are reversed. It seems like a reasonable point, but it masks a problematic fact: these are not equal situations. Ten civilians have now died in clashes with police in recent days. Those confrontations took place after a man died following a police intervention. In November a young student was shot and killed by a member of the police. Outside Bogotá there are cases like that of Anderson Arboleda. This is all on one side. Let us not pretend this is a battle between two equally pitched sides. Invariably the authorities attempt to pin this on ‘bad apples’ in the force, but that masks an uglier truth.

I don’t condone violence as a first option, but neither am I going to rush to condemn those that damage police property after years of mistreatment. Violent actions bring their own problems – one of those deaths was caused by protesters in a hijacked bus. But this is far from comparable to what figures in authority are doing, as we see video after video of them firing at civilians. Ignore the attempts to compare bad apples with bad oranges. The sentiment behind these acts of violence is very much understandable. If the authorities won’t listen to words, people will take action instead.

Let us also not ignore the language being used – police procedure in the deaths of civilians are called tragic accidents. Injuries to coppers and damage to property on the other hand are intentional vandalism. I’ll bet pounds to pesos that there are some in the crowd who just want a tear-up, but that doesn’t mean they are the majority. Is it any surprise that ordinary people feel ignored and unrepresented when they are talked about in these terms? Already the usual suspects such as María Fernanda Cabal are claiming that these were organised protests, that they are financed by narco-money. There are many that seek to delegitimise these protests, to silence this howl of rage.

What is the role of the police in society?

The police’s role in society is to uphold the rule of law. It’s difficult to see how that is served 

by repeatedly tasering a man who long ago stopped offering resistance. It’s difficult to say you are protecting the public when you shoot young men as they run away from you. The police are held to different standards than criminals for two reasons. First because one cannot claim to uphold the law while breaking it. More worryingly, because their impact is more severe. In these clashes, they are causing much more harm than the protesters, as the families of those who died know all too well.

Many, if not most, Bogotanos have a personal story about police malpractice. Early in my time in Bogotá, I was with friends in Primera De Mayo and a fight broke out on the street. Soon enough there was a guy on the floor being kicked, and when the cops broke it up I handed the fella his bag which he’d dropped. The police then took me to task for getting involved, despite clearly only trying to help the guy get his stuff back. It was an insight into the often confrontational nature of Bogotano policing. Many officers see the civilian population as the enemy.

Mistrust of the police is also ingrained in many rolos, even if they continue to show a remarkable level of faith in going to the police when they have a problem. This is often only  done as a point of order though, and many crimes remain unrecorded. That same night in the Primera de Mayo, my friend found a cellphone on the floor. I naively suggested giving it to the police, which earned me a round of laughter. Instead, we waited in a nearby bar for a call and returned it that way. The assumption was that police would have simply stolen it.

On a personal level, I have found the police I have dealt with to be, in most cases, reasonable and helpful. They have helped me with aggressive dogs in the neighbourhood, given me a lift when I had a mechanical problem on my bike, petted my dogs, and talked about the zone we live in. This is connected to my privileged lifestyle as a middle-class white man, but I’m certainly not arguing that every police officer in Bogotá is irredeemably bad. It’s also true that we are talking about systematic problems and large minorities here, not one or two isolated cases.

Corruption goes further than bribery

I’m often told that the Bogotá police are corrupt. That’s certainly true of some – I’ve been stopped with the probable intention of bribery myself and plenty of friends have similar stories. However, we must be careful with this – corruption is not just bribery. Rather, the corruption of the force here in Bogotá is in the more literal sense, that the police no longer function in their intended role.

Incompetence is the order of the day, whether on a personal level or an institutional one. Forget the minority that ask for bribes, focus on the majority that do little work, even as crimes occur in front of them. Training is almost certainly of little quality, and organisational  control is woefully lacking. There appears to be little or no consequence for acting in a brutal manner against civilians. All of these ingredients combine to make a toxic stew.

And that toxic stew is systematic and historical. Like the Met Police in my home country, major reform is now needed. Respect and trust of the police has been eroded to such an extent that events like this will continue without systematic change. While many still excoriate vandalism, it’s notable that even such bastions of the establishment as El Tiempo have called the anger ‘justified’ and called for systematic change.

A line regularly trotted out is that we should not judge the force on its few bad apples. However, we are talking here not of a few bad apples but of a critically poisoned grove of trees. If the rot is not stopped, then eventually we will instead be talking of the few good police in the city as the unusual ones, not those who are corrupt. There is precedent from other countries, and there are possibilities for change. After all, however loud the Twitterati shout, most Bogotanos still have some faith in the police, or at least the hope that they will treat them well. Many police may see civilians as the enemy, but the general populace don’t necessarily see the police in the same way. For the sake of sanity and the rule of law, let’s hope that this relationship can be rebuilt.

In photos: The aftermath of Bogotá’s protests

Incinerated buses are towed away, over 50 CAIs have been damaged and police ready themselves for more protests.

The TransMilenio bus that was set alight last night in Bosa.

Colombian President Iván Duque has called for “calm and serenity” following violent protests last night that left at least seven Colombians dead in Bogotá.

This is the head of state’s message to the nation following a night of unrest and chaos on Wednesday as citizens across the capital protested the death of Javier Ordóñez, who died after being violently restrained and tased repeatedly by police officers — an incident caught on camera and quickly shared across social media.

After the city witnessed yet another incident of police violence, outrage erupted on streets throughout Bogotá. Amid clashes with law enforcement, people set fire to dozens of small police stations (known as CAIs) and set more than a dozen public city buses ablaze.

Today, in the aftermath, a number of CAIs are nothing more than burned-out shells, and many of the more than 130 TransMilenio buses that were vandalised remained in the streets. At least 14 were set alight, according to authorities, and five TransMilenio stations were also damaged.

In addition to the deaths, more than 175 people have been injured, both police and civilians, according to the Secretaria Distrital de Salud. The agency said 66 people were injured by firearms.

As night falls on Thursday — and as officials still work to clean the streets from last night’s wreckage — the city is already braced for more demonstrations and more violence.

Cacerolazos and candlelit vigils have already begun, and at least 15 demonstrations have been planned. Bogotá Mayor Claudia López stopped short of ordering a curfew, but she recommended people get to their homes before 7 pm.

Demonstrations against police violence and injustice are also taking place tonight in Cali, Medellín and Barranquilla.

While many are calling for only peaceful protests, so far these demonstrations have taken on a very different tone from the ones held daily for weeks late last year.

With the destruction from last night still evident all over Bogotá, we will soon find out if Thursday night’s protest will also turn tragic.

All photos: Jared Wade





Bogotá Nights: Last night’s riots, and why Colombia?

In tonight’s episode of Bogotá Nights, Brendan and Oli discuss what they like about living in Colombia, as well as their take on the events of the last few days.

Oli (left) and Brendan (right) discussing the latest news in Bogotá in the third episode of Bogotá nights
Oli (left) and Brendan (right) are discussing the latest news in Bogotá in the third episode of Bogotá nights

Bogotá Nights, the new English-language radio show run in collaboration with Fenalprensa goes live again at 9 pm tonight. Hosts Brendan Corrigan of Wrong-Way fame and the Post’s own Oli Pritchard will discuss the things they like about living in Colombia, as well as what’s been happening over the past few days. Comments from the public are warmly welcomed, so drop us a line.

Top of the weekly news will obviously be the recent rioting over police brutality, but there’s also sports and corruption, so plenty on the agenda. We’ll also be mentioning what’s going on with the current rules concerning going out and getting things done.

As for the main part of the show, it’ll be a discussion on the reasons to live in this fine country. Both presenters are frequently asked why they would want to live in Colombia as opposed to their home countries (Eire and the UK), and they’re going to share some of their reasons tonight. Oli’s list includes opportunity, small shops, and even the weather, whereas Brendan will talk about altitude, barrio life, and the unpretentiousness of Bogotá. Write in to let us know your favourites!

Violent protests in Bogotá leave 7 confirmed dead

Seven die overnight as protests over police brutality spread across the capital.

7 deaths reported after a night of violent protests against police brutality.
7 civilian deaths reported after a night of violent protests against police brutality. Photo: Anonymous.

Violent protests rocked the capital last night as anger over police brutality spread through Bogotá. By the morning seven people had been killed and almost 150 injured. Five of those deaths were in Bogotá and two in Soacha.

A vigil for Javier Ordóñez who died on Tuesday night after being repeatedly tasered by police boiled over into violent protest. Videos circulated on social media of two policemen tasering the 43-year-old lawyer as they held him on the ground.

It is not an isolated incident. Bogotá’s mayor, Claudia López said yesterday that there have been 137 reported cases of police abuse this year alone. And just 38 of those have been investigated.

“We reject this case of police abuse and all the cases that have been presented throughout the year,” she said. “Javier’s case is not an isolated case, these cases of violence and police abuse are recurring behaviour.”

It is not only the police abuse of power that is being called into question. It’s also their use of so-called non-lethal force. 

In May, 24-year-old Anderson Arboleda died after being beaten by police in Cauca. Last year, 18-year-old Dilan Cruz died after being hit by a tear gas canister fired by riot police. 

As the city awakes to scenes of burned-out buses and TransMilenio stations, the mayor’s calls for police reform may seem like a distant hope to those who want change. 

How much damage was done last night?

In total, over 50 police CAIs were damaged in Colombia last night, mostly in Bogotá but also in Cali and Valle de Cauca. Many were set on fire, including Villa Luz (where the vigil for Javier Ordóñez took place), La Gaitana, El Rincón, Porvenir, Techo, Tintal and Britalia. 

Windows were smashed in the TransMilenio stations of Ciudad Jardín, San Mateo, Terreros, Bosa, and Portal Suba. Over 130 TransMilenio and SITP buses were vandalised or set alight and this morning stations in Soacha were closed due to the damage to the vehicles and road.

What now? 

After more than five months of stricter lockdown measures than many cities around the world, tensions are running high. We’ve seen an increase in marches and peaceful protests in recent weeks as citizens grapple with months of lost income and stress. 

López has called for calm, stressing that violence won’t achieve anything. “Destroying Bogotá will not fix the Police. Destroying us won’t fix anything. Let’s focus on achieving justice and structural reform for the security forces,” she tweeted in the early hours of this morning.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Defense Carlos Holmes Trujillo said that an additional 1,600 uniformed personnel would support the police in Bogotá along with 300 soldiers. He offered a reward of COP$50 million for information that leads to the capture of those responsible for the deaths.

Such a significant increase in military presence may reflect the fear that authorities cannot pour oil on troubled waters. In fact, with so much anger directed at the police, attempts to forcibly quell the violence may only fuel the fire.

Bogotá burns as protests erupt against police brutality

Videos of Javier Ordóñez being taser-ed by the police have sparked protests throughout the city.

Police brutality caused riots in Bogotá.
Police brutality caused riots in Bogotá. Photo: Anonymous

Bogotá saw another wave of anti-police protests this Wednesday evening after Javier Ordóñez died following police use of tasers. The incident happened in the early hours of the morning, and anger grew throughout the day. With limited response from authorities, tensions at what began as a vigil outside the Villa Luz police CAI in Engativá boiled over into violent protest.

Black Lives Matter protests coming to Colombia

The protest became increasingly violent and riot police ESMAD arrived. Other groups headed to their local police CAIs and by sundown there were reports of violent and persistent protests throughout the city. 

What happened to Javier Ordóñez?

Javier Ordóñez, a lawyer who had been working as a taxi driver during the pandemic, died on Tuesday night after being repeatedly tasered by police in Engativá. 

Violent police brutality protests in Bogotá leave 7 confirmed dead

Police had originally stopped Ordóñez for violating the quarantine restrictions. Video footage shows the 43-year-old father of two asking police to stop as they held him down and tasered him for several minutes. He later died in hospital, leaving sparking a wave of anger at the excessive use of police force. 

Protests spread across city

Details are hard to come by, but the protests spread from Bogotá to other parts of the country. In the capital itself, CAIs were set alight in Parkway, Techo, Gaitana and Villa Luz, as well as a TransMilenio station in Bosa. It seems that others may also be ablaze, but the true extent of the night’s events won’t be known until the morning. What is clear is that anti-police feeling is still running high following the protests nearly a year ago. Young student protester Dilan Cruz was killed by police during those anti-government protests.

https://twitter.com/ClaudiaLopez/status/1303683999290798087

Claudia López has proposed further controls on police, and spoke of serious reform. She said that it is time to stop speaking about isolated incidents and bad apples and committed to change. Critics question the level of control she holds over the police. 

It’s understandable that many people are suspicious of authority, as they have witnessed enough instances of police brutality. It’s fair to say the police command a fair share of fear but little respect in Colombia as a whole. Last night’s video raises serious questions about the excessive use of police force and supposedly non-lethal weapons. The question now is, is there a way back from this situation?

The Transmilenio station Bosa was set on fire. Photo: Anonymous

4 things to take away from the first week of the Tour de France 2020

Coronavirus is still dominating the news, but sports are back on as well around the globe, including the Tour de France. And it is a feast for the Colombian cycling fans as the Colombians are looking good. What can we take away from the first week of the Tour de France 2020?

Egan Bernal is holding the white jersey for best youngster at the moment, but he is in the tour 2020 for the yellow jersey and nothing less.
Egan Bernal is holding the white jersey for best youngster at the moment, but he is in the tour 2020 for the yellow jersey and nothing less. Photo: Tour de France

We are still cycling

In the week before the start of the Tour de France 2020, there were doubts about whether it could still happen. Cases of coronavirus were surging in France and until a day before the start there was no clarity over whether the race was going to happen or not. The UCI tried to abolish the rule that a team will be disqualified entirely when two of its members (cyclists or staff) test positive, but the French government stepped in and said that was not acceptable. They threatened to cancel the event if they didn’t keep that rule in place, so the sword of Damocles is hanging over the peloton. 

The rest day was the first peloton-wide coronavirus test round which was possibly one of the most tense moments in the peloton. The results weren’t immediately released, so team busses getting ready to get to the start was proof that a team had not been disqualified. None of the 166 riders still in the race had tested positive, although four teams saw one member of staff being sent home after testing positive. 

In most of the images of the Tour so far we have seen the majority of fans wearing facemasks, but a lack of social distancing on the climbs and in the towns is a common picture. And as many fans are also not wearing facemasks while energetically cheering the riders on, this remains a concern in a country that has been heavily hit by the coronavirus. With a sudden ending of the race still hanging above their heads (if the French government thinks a surge of the virus requires stricter measures), as it stands all 22 teams are still racing. 

Egan Bernal could win it. 

From those four, 2019 winner Bernal is the favourite for the yellow jersey. As leader of Team Ineos, chosen ahead of other Grand Tour winners Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Richard Carapaz. Bernal has got an experienced team around him. Michal Kwiatkowski and Jonathan Castroviejo have both escorted the Tour de France winner five times in Ineos’s (formerly Team Sky) Tour de France reign. Now it is up to Bernal to continue that. He hasn’t looked entirely at his best in all stages, as he looked like breaking a couple of times in the first Tour week, but good enough to still be one of the main contenders 

Four Colombians in the top 10

It is almost a Colombian Tour de France, as Egan Bernal is not the only escarabajo at the top of the leaderboard. 4 Colombians are the absolute general classification leaders of their team and all four are still in the race. Bernal, Nairo Quintana, Rigoberto Urán and Miguel Ángel López are all sitting comfortably in the top 10 already. Nairo looks sharp in the year he finally left Team Movistar. He is now cycling for the small French team Arkea. The lack of good domestiques who could stay with him in the mountains, does make it harder for him, but he seems to be with a team who fully supports him now. 

https://twitter.com/LeTour/status/1303395248056532994

Rigo Urán is team EF-Education First’s call for the victory. It looks like Rigo had a huge say in putting the team together as he has got two young Colombian riders next to him who can support him in the mountains. Sergio Higuita and this year’s Dauphiné winner Daniel Mártinez are not quite good enough yet to go for the win this year, but could well be in the years to come. 

Egan Bernal’s incredible Tour de France 2019

Then, ‘Superman’ López is Astana’s leader and chance for victory. It is only his first Tour and though he has mostly been with the best riders he has fallen behind a few times and is an outsider for the podium. Astana also brought Harold Tejada to help López and the young relatively unknown Colombian has looked good in the mountains. Esteban Chaves also left a good impression. Not quite good enough for the top spots, but at times he is showing his 2016 form. The Bogotano might challenge for a stage win in the next weeks. 

Colombia vs Slovenia (and maybe France)

The general classification of the Tour 2020 seems to be between two nations. For Slovenia, Primoz Roglic is the big favourite to win the Tour. The current race leader has got a strong team behind him at Jumbo-Visma. They have looked quite strong in the mountains and very strong on the flat so far. 

Besides Roglic, the nation has also got the hot young prospect Tadej Pogacar lurking in the race for a podium spot. Pogacar has already won a stage in the mountains and is looking like one of the strongest riders in the peloton so far. It looks inevitable that this year’s Tour winner will come from Colombia or Slovenia, but France has got two riders in the top 4 as we speak. Guillaume Martin and Romain Bardet have been good so far, but nobody really sees them as contenders for the yellow jersey (except maybe.. the French)

James Rodríguez joins Everton

Everton Football Club signs Colombian golden boy James Rodríguez after reaching a deal with Real Madrid.

https://twitter.com/Everton/status/1303045630290546688

Everton Football Club has today announced the signing of James Rodríguez on a two-year deal with the option of a third year, after agreeing an undisclosed fee with Real Madrid. The 29-year-old becomes Everton’s second Colombian signing, joining towering centre half Yerry Mina, who joined the club in 2018.

James had been linked with a move to Goodison Park ever since Carlo Ancelotti became their manager just before Christmas last year. The Italian first recruited James to Real Madrid from AS Monaco in 2014, on the back of his breakout World Cup performance. He then took him to Bayern Munich on loan in 2017, after the playmaker had fallen out of favour with current Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane, then in his first managerial stint at the club.

Born in Cúcuta and raised in Ibagué, James’ talent quickly stood out. He joined Envigado, and made his debut in the league for them at 14 years old. He joined Banfield in Argentina where he became the youngest debutant and goalscorer of the club. He spent only two years in Argentina before FC Porto signed him in 2010 for his first European challenge. James had no trouble making it into the first team. When manager Pékerman took the helm of the national team in 2012, he quickly made James one of his key players.

James Rodríguez in his best days, at the World Cup 2014 in Brazil.
James Rodríguez in his best days, at the World Cup 2014 in Brazil. Photo: FCF Colombia

The Colombian didn’t disappoint and when Falcao had to miss out on the 2014 World Cup because of his ACL, James stepped up. He pulled the team forward and took the golden boot along the way, punctuated with the goal of the World Cup – a spectacular volley into the top corner against Uruguay. After two successful seasons in the Spanish capital, the second culminating in a Champions League title, stories of indiscipline and a party lifestyle started coming out. His next season in Spain was irregular and a loan spell at Bayern Munich didn’t improve his form. After only eight appearances this year with the Spanish champions, transfer rumours became more persistent than ever. In the end it was his former manager Ancelotti, the manager he had most excelled under, who persuaded him to join Everton. 

No number 10 role

It will be interesting to see how James fits into Everton’s system this season, as Ancelotti has almost exclusively used a 4-4-2 set-up since he took over at Everton, meaning no ‘number 10’ role that Rodríguez likes to be utilised in. Ancelotti played him mostly as an inside forward on the right wing during their time together at Real Madrid, then gave him time on both wings and also slightly deeper and more central at Bayern. The former could be an option for Everton, as their current right wing options are the inconsistent and over-30 Theo Walcott, and academy product Anthony Gordon, who shows exciting potential, but isn’t ready to start most matches this early on in his career. As for being deployed in a deeper, more central role, that’s beginning to look unlikely as Everton unveiled Brazilian ball-winner Allan at Finch Farm on Saturday, and are also expected to announce the signing Watford box-to-box midfielder Abdoulaye Doucouré later today. 

Colombian football to restart on September 8

Wherever Ancelotti ends up using the left-footed playmaker, he can pretty much be assured a starting spot somewhere between defence and the front two of Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin every week, just as long as he stays healthy, which has admittedly been an issue for him over the last few years.

This signing represents a huge step forward for Everton in terms of ambition and the goal of getting into Europe as soon as possible – James is arguably the highest profile star the club has recruited since possibly Gary Lineker back in 1985, the season before they last won the league. The team struggled mightily in midfield last season and bringing in two, possibly three first team reinforcements to support their young forward line is a clear indication that the higher ups are willing to back their world class manager.

https://twitter.com/Everton/status/1303048490097029122

The Toffees are planning to move into a brand new, state of the art stadium at Bramley Moore Dock in 2022, which should bring in even more money and further enhance their international reputation. It is likely today’s signing will also lead to a huge bump in shirt sales, especially here in Colombia. Everton’s crosstown rivals Liverpool have suddenly become the fashionable English team for Colombians to support over the last couple of years, so it will be interesting to see how many of them switch allegiances across Stanley Park this season.

As for James Rodríguez, this move signals an ambition to play football and prove himself in arguably the world’s toughest league, rather than be content to sit on Zidane’s bench at the Estadio Bernabeu for more money.

Bogotá reopening: What to expect if you’re going out for coffee

Restaurants and cafés are now allowed to open from Thursday to Sunday. Here are some pictures of a newly re-opened Chapinero.

After nearly six months of lockdown, Bogotá’s cafés and restaurants are eagerly reopening. With the harshest obligatory isolation restrictions lifted — and a few days of sunshine in the often-gloomy capital — many customers are cautiously returning to support their favourite businesses. If you’re not sure what to expect, here are some scenes from Chapinero.

Reservations

Restaurants and cafés in Bogotá are now permitted to operate at 25% capacity from Thursday to Sunday. Those with outdoor seating have it a little easier when it comes to maintaining social distancing requirements, but most establishments are blocking off tables and otherwise reconfiguring their setup to manage the numbers. 

Read our latest coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

Some are also collecting names, cédula identification numbers, and phone numbers of their customers. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to share more information than you might need on a job application to sit down for a coffee.

While we haven’t seen a lot of sophisticated contact tracing in the capital thus far, these measures presumably could help the restaurant inform other diners if a patron tests positive.

QR codes

One way that several of the higher-end establishments are looking to manage it all is with QR codes. These digital hieroglyphics are now all over the place on exterior walls in Chapinero, Zona G, Quinta Camacho, and Usaquén to help locations take reservations or even your personal information. While this is not ideal for anyone without a smartphone —  are anyone who has run out of data — you may have to scan a code before entry.

On Thursday, the trendy café and popular lunch spot Masa in Zona G asked even patrons walking up to a completely empty dining area to scan the code first to “make a reservation” before granting entry. The Pub in Quinta Camacho had a similar policy.

Or you may just be asked to scan a code to see the menu. This was how the Zona G steakhouse El Día Que Me Quieras is operating. They asked for your name and phone number along with your order, and the waitress said the QR code menu design was so that they didn’t have to pass around physical “cartas” that could potentially carry the virus from person to person. When serving food, the restaurant also wrapped certain dishes in plastic and offered up cutlery in a little bag — closer to what you would get on a plane than a restaurant — all in the name of biosecurity.

Masks 

Unsurprisingly, the majority of people are wearing masks. Employees and servers may even take your order in full face shields and head-to-toe biosecurity onesies. You can take your mask off to eat or drink, and some places provide little paper bags to store them as you dine. In a few establishments, customers were encouraged to put their masks back on (or pull them up) when staff came to the table. You’ll also usually find plenty of hand sanitizer gel and shoe spraying at the entryway.

Open days and open windows

Most of the places we spoke to plan to stick to the Thursday to Sunday rule. Though some places will open all week. As with many aspects of the lockdown, we will likely see varying levels of compliance and inconsistent enforcement.

In general, from talking to a few employees, most restaurant owners weren’t optimistic about previously mentioned plans from the mayor’s office to shut down some streets to make space for tables. 

Places that have terraces are already using them as much as possible, and other venues are getting creative about opening up depending on the weather and number of customers who show up. 

Millions of bogotanos, and especially small business owners, will continue to suffer the economic consequences of the lockdown for some time to come. And it remains to be seen whether these current reopening measures will stay in place or fade into the background if case numbers and deaths spike again. 

But for now, for a city of 8 million people who have been largely forced indoors for almost half a year, the current feeling is largely that it’s just nice to be outside and returning to some semblance of normal. Even if it is a “new normal.”

The Bogotá Post launches Bogotá Nights, a radio show with Fenalprensa

Listen in at 9 pm tonight for the second episode of Bogotá Nights, a live English-language radio show from The Bogotá Post.

Oli Pritchard and Brendan Corrigan will host the second edition of Bogotá nights at 9pm tonight
Oli Pritchard and Brendan Corrigan will host the second edition of Bogotá Nights at 9pm tonight

The Bogotá Post team has launched its first ever radio show, “Bogotá Nights,” which will take place via Facebook Live every Thursday evening from 9-10pm. 

The show is broadcast by Debate Opinión, the radio channel of news agency Federación Nacional de Prensa (Fenalprensa), who approached The Bogotá Post to collaborate on producing audio content in English.

The show is hosted by Oli Pritchard, Deputy Editor of The Bogotá Post and a teacher of journalism, media, and English at Bogotá’s Universidad Externado — who has lived in Colombia since 2012 — and Brendan Corrigan, a broadcast journalist, blogger, and podcast host who has called Colombia his home since late 2011.

Pritchard and Corrigan aim to present an unapologetically realistic and nuanced view of Colombia to their listeners, covering the week’s developing news, as well as topics such as tourism and travel in Colombia, sports, and common misconceptions about the country. 

The first episode of Bogotá nights aired last week.

“Colombia is many things, but it’s never boring,” Pritchard said.

The first show, which was broadcast live on August 27, discussed the coveted economic reopening scheduled for September, reflecting on Colombia’s five-and-a-half month quarantine and its economic and mental health impacts in the country’s capital, where both hosts are based.

Thanks to the Facebook Live format, audience members can interact with the show and ask questions, as well as watch the hosts live on camera while they broadcast — a format that both hosts admit they are getting used to.

Although they had originally designed the show for an audience of mainly foreign immigrants in Colombia, Pritchard and his co-host were pleasantly surprised to see a mixture of Colombian and foreign listeners tuning in to the first episode, largely reflecting the demographics of The Bogotá Post readership. 

“There’s a lot of questions being asked by the foreigner community at the moment,” said Pritchard, explaining their doubts over topics such as flights and visas that have sprung up over lockdown.

And regardless of the pandemic, he believes that now is a great time to be discussing Colombia via radio. “Colombia’s currently a lot higher in international interest than it has been since I’ve been here,” he said. “Over the last three years or so it’s been an absolute sea change.” 

“I’m happy to tell more people about the reality of the world, whether that happens to be through a radio show or through print articles,” Pritchard added, explaining that for him and the editorial team behind it, The Bogotá Post is a labour of love. “I just have an overwhelming compulsion to tell stories.” 

To listen to them, as well as those of his co-host Corrigan, listeners can tune in on Thursday evenings to “Bogotá Nights” via Facebook Live on the Debate Opinión page

Optimism, resilience, and worry: Bogotá’s businesses speak about their new reality

COVID-19 has taken its toll on the city we know and love. But will the ‘New Reality’ bring enough change for Bogotá’s businesses?

The first week of Bogotá’s “New Reality” has seen more people on the streets and a semblance of normality return to the capital. We speak to some of the city’s business leaders and entrepreneurs about the impact of the lockdown and their hopes for this new phase.

It’s fair to say that Colombia’s coronavirus shutdown has been devastating for its economy. Unemployment reached 20.2% in July. The national federation of traders, Fenalco told El Espectador that 31% of traders have closed and a quarter of traders reported that sales had dropped between 80% and 100%

The new reality for businesses in Bogotá. This café has only got around 25% of their tables available.
The new reality for businesses in Bogotá. This café has only got around 25% of their tables available. Photo: Otto Berchem

We spoke to several entrepreneurs and small business owners who shared some of the difficulties they have faced, and also voiced optimism. Their resilience and versatility shone through in all the interviews. Many had more than one string to their bow and so been able to temporarily refocus during the lockdown.

For example, Alejandro Ospina Marulanda, co-founder and CEO of Café Banna said that they have shut down the tourism side of their business completely and focused instead on online coffee sales. Café Banna promotes direct and fair trade with Colombian coffee farmers and during lockdown. They have increased the number of coffee lines on their site and launched a new brand of cocoa. “We’ve grown our sales online by 3,000% – which is great,” he said.

Curry Masala’s Xiomara Sánchez and Nadeem Javaid told us that they’d been able to keep their Parkway curry house in operation in part thanks to their other company which imports products from the Middle East. That and their savings allowed them to continue to pay rent, utilities, and staff. 

And Smoking Molly co-founder Santiago Zuluaga said their three brands — live music venue cum restaurant and bar Smoking Molly, local burger chain Smoking Burgers, and sandwich bar Brooklyn Deli — had all been affected in different ways. Though he added, “It’s no secret that the COVID-19 situation has taken its toll on the whole restaurant and hotel and entertainment industry.”

He told us that brands like Smoking Burgers which already had an established delivery service had been badly affected, but not as much as fine dining establishments, some of which have seen 90% drops in revenue. Still, he said, “Smoking Burgers has had a 60% reduction in revenue since April. So it was a real big hit.”

Paola Andrea Osma, CEO and founder of BeautyDreams who specialise in eyelash extensions and semi-permanent eyebrows, echoed this sentiment. “In reality,  having more than four months without income will affect any company, no matter how small it is. Economically, we have been very affected. But we have survived.”

Bogotá businesses take opportunity to grow online and launch new initiatives

Several businesses spoke of online successes during the lockdown. Valentina Quintero M., General Manager, Leloko, a petshop focused on cat products, said that 90% of their sales had migrated to digital media. “This allowed us to question ourselves and see how to move the experience that we previously had in the physical store on to our digital channels.” 

Ospina said Café Banna is looking at ways to function in a new normal where people stay at home more. That includes a pop up shop in Chapinero or Quinta Camacho where people can see products and then buy them online. “We’re also taking a course in how to sell online,” he said. “MercadoLibre is supporting a lot of businesses that have a social or environmental impact to sell more to their platform.”

Online options are limited for businesses that rely on in-person contact. For example, Zuluaga said their music venue Smoking Molly had been closed indefinitely. “We tried to operate virtually in March and April and it didn’t work out. So we have had to close down since May. It’s been really hard.”

He is concerned about how the new phase of restaurant opening will work, but true to form Smoking Molly will try to inject some live music into the New Reality. Before the pandemic, the band might not get on stage until 11 pm, but now they’ll need to perform and be closed by 11 pm. “We have to modify that so it fits the current situation and it’s going to be a bit tricky,” he said. “The type of events we’re going to be booking have to be a bit more calm, more jazz, blues – just one or two musicians on stage.”

Speaking of trying new things, Quintero has used the lockdown to launch a new brand called Babagú which specialises in dogs. “With this, I hope to have a greater share of the pet market since we were 100% focused on cats,” she said. “Now our customers can buy products for dogs and cats on our website.”

Resilience, optimism and concern for city’s New Reality

In spite of the difficulties, many of these business owners are positive about entering a new phase and say they have put biosecurity protocols in place to encourage customers to return.

Quintero says the new reality will involve constant change. “The road has not been easy, but the pandemic has shown us that the challenges are achievable and that every day we must adapt to the circumstances.”

Sánchez and Javaid are hopeful they can serve curry on their terrace. “Thanks to our clients who have not abandoned us, we’ve been able to survive this test.”

“With respect to the coming months, we are always optimists,” said BeautyDreams’ Osma. “All of this is motivation to be stronger every day and to be better and to make a difference.” 

Zuluaga is more cautious. “I think it’s good news, but it’s not like from September onwards everything is going to be great and restaurants and venues and bars are going to be able to sell again and things are going to be just fine and we’re going to be back again and nothing happened,” he said. 

While Ospina is looking forward to being able to visit the farmers and coffee producers again, which he says is central to their work. “I am optimistic,” he said. “We’re trying to do our best.”


Additional reporting by Artemis Maria Papoutsakis

Colombian football to return on September 8

Six months after the last official match was played in Colombia, football returns with Junior de Barranquilla vs América de Cali for the Superliga. 

Football in Colombia set to return on September 8
Colombian football set to return on September 8. Photo: Freek Huigen

After six months of football drought in Colombia, the league is finally set to return. The Superliga is first up with a match between 2019 champions Junior de Barranquilla and América de Cali. 

The last games were played in the second division on March 12 before the coronavirus crisis put all professional football in Colombia on hold. All the big European leagues and almost the entire world came to a standstill due to the outbreak of COVID-19. 

Colombia may have been quick to follow the rest of the world in shutting down the beautiful game, but it has been slow to blow the starting whistle again. Germany was the first major league in the world to restart in May. Since then, leagues throughout the world have gradually been getting players back on the pitch. But Colombia stayed behind, partly due to the country’s August peak of coronavirus cases, but also due to a power struggle within the league federation Dimayor. 

Read our latest coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

Now the quarantine is over and the problems within the federation seem behind us for the moment, the Colombian ministries of sport and health have struck an agreement on the return to football. It won’t quite be back to normal yet, as fans won’t be allowed in the stadium and a strict biosecurity protocol will be in operation. But at least Colombian football is back.   

On September 8, the first leg will kick off at 7.30 pm in Barranquilla’s second stadium Romelio Martínez. The return will be on September 11 at 7 pm in the Pascual Guerrero stadium in Cali. 

After that, the league will restart from where it left off in March, but more details have yet to be announced. 

Civilians ‘bear brunt of violence’ as wave of massacres sweeps across Colombia

WOLA warns that unless Colombia takes its obligations to former fighters more seriously we will see more killings.

In Támesis a wake held for the massacres in Colombia
A wake held for the massacre in Támesis. Photo: Red Jóvenes Suroeste

On the evening of Thursday, August 27, three young people were killed in the rural town of Andes, in Southwestern Antioquia. One of the three male victims was just 14 years old. This was the latest in a wave of similar violence in Colombia, four of which took place over the penultimate weekend of August. Many of the victims were under the age of 18.

According to an August 25 report carried out by peace and development NGO, Indepaz, 46 massacres have taken place in Colombia over the course of this year, killing a total of 185 people. The country’s most affected departments include Antioquia, Cauca, Nariño, and Norte de Santander.

Why are the massacres happening? 

In a recent Facebook Live discussion broadcast by the Centre for Memory, Peace and Reconciliation, Indepaz Director Camilo González Passo, put the recent wave of massacres down to “systematic action” to “dispute control over territory.” 

“Those who are armed are the principal protagonists, but there are always determinant forces behind them, who are accumulating wealth and power,” added González, who explained that they run illegal businesses such as drug trafficking, mining, and logging. 

These illegal armed structures include demobilised FARC dissidents, members of the ELN, demobilised members of the AUC paramilitary group, and other illegal armed groups, Gimena Sánchez, Director for the Andes at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) explained.

Sánchez blames the intensification of violence in Colombia on President Iván Duque’s “inability, unwillingness and at times obstruction in advancing implementation of the 2016 peace accord.”

“In particular, its disdain for transitional justice, lack of implementation of the rural land reform, alternative to illicit crops and the Ethnic Chapter,” she continued.

“The Duque government is prioritizing the Venezuelan crisis over the internal humanitarian and peace ones in Colombia,” she explained. “This makes it more difficult in terms of funding and actions for the international community attempting to advance addressing those issues in-country.”

What effect are these massacres having on local populations?

Part of the goal to control territory involves instilling fear and panic into the population, said Reverend Juan Carlos Osorio, leader of the Network of Craftsmen of Peace, Mercy and Compassion, who works with communities in Southwestern Antioquia. 

“Fear paralyses you,” he said. “When people are scared, they no longer go out to walk. When people are scared, they no longer meet up. When people are scared, it generates mistrust. When people are scared, the social fabric is destroyed.”

Is massacre the right term to describe these murders? 

While President Iván Duque has controversially refrained from using the term “massacres,” instead referring to the incidents as “collective homicides,” Indepaz defines the term “massacre” as the collective intentional homicides of three or more defenceless people, at the same time, in the same place and in the same way. 

“Massacre is a term that has been being used colloquially and by journalists,” Colombia’s Minister of Defence, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, told Blu Radio in an interview. 

Reverend Osorio disagrees. “When I heard the President referring to what had happened as a ‘collective homicide,’ I immediately thought of the term understatement…which is about dressing up reality,” he told The Bogotá Post.

“Words construct reality,” he added. “And I think this is what the president was trying to do, build a reality that is different from what the facts overwhelmingly reflect.” 

Has the COVID-19 pandemic compounded this violence?

Defence Minister Holmes Trujillo told Semana that this criminal phenomenon has been happening in Colombia for many years.

But WOLA’s Sánchez claims that these illegal armed groups have taken advantage of the pandemic and the lockdown restrictions to advance their military and economic agendas. “Narcotrafficking and illegal activity can only be taking place to the extent that it is due to corruption or such forces looking the other way,” she said.

Reverend Osorio also raises questions of corruption, given that Colombia has had one of the world’s longest and strictest lockdowns.

“How is it possible that, with so much institutional control from the police and the military [during lockdown], that they can move around so noisily?” he asks. “It’s also about asking the police authorities why their presence has been lacking,” he added.

What is the government doing to combat it?

On August 22, President Duque claimed he had launched an elite police unit to pursue the “delinquents.” And five days later, Defence Minister Holmes Trujillo announced the creation of a Special Unit for the Identification, Location and Judicialisation of Perpetrators of Collective Homicides, reported El Espectador.

The minister later told Semana that Colombian government was also prioritising ridding the country of illicit coca crops, because of their links to violence, killings of young people and social leaders, and deforestation.

What is civil society doing in response to the massacres? 

Reverend Osorio and his colleagues at the Network of Craftsmen of Peace, Mercy and Compassion are focused on advocating for peace during this year’s Semana por la paz, which is due to take place virtually from September 6-12. Last year, the network offered a diploma course for social leaders in development and social transformation.

Osorio and his team are also pushing for public policies to create opportunities for the country’s rural youth population. He believes they are particularly at risk of becoming involved with illegal armed groups due to a lack of educational and labour opportunities, which has worsened during the pandemic.


“Young people will always be fresh meat for many illegal groups’ death projects,” he said.

And in rural areas of Antioquia, collectives of young people such as the Movimiento de jóvenes del suroeste and the Red de jóvenes Suroeste 2050, who recognise that their lives are in danger, are mobilising in response.

On the last weekend of August, the Red de jóvenes Suroeste 2050 organised a candlelit vigil — as well as performances, art installations and music — which took place in municipalities across Southwestern and Eastern Antioquia, in towns such as Concordia, Támesis, Pueblorrico, and Jardín, to honour the lives of those massacred.

Movimiento de jóvenes del suroeste is organising and collecting funds for a vigil for peace next month in Venecia, Antioquia, which will involve painting a mural, and carrying out a memory ritual and a candlelit vigil for the family members and friends of the young people who were murdered.

“We aim to make the pain we feel as young people about the violent events that have occurred in our country visible,” Red de jóvenes Suroeste 2050, whose representatives preferred to remain anonymous for security reasons, told The Bogotá Post. “It’s a cry of disagreement with the state’s absence in the peripheral or vulnerable areas of the country.”

“We fight so that violence doesn’t become our landscape,” the collective added. “It’s not normal.”

What does this mean for peace in Colombia? 

“Colombia has always been multiple conflicts rolled up into one,” said Sánchez at WOLA. “This post-2016 peace situation is particularly complex because of the fragmentation and re-organisation of illegal groups after the demobilisation of the FARC. Also, in terms of the ELN, the Venezuela situation has complicated things further since the group operates on both sides of the border.”

“Unfortunately, unless Colombia takes its obligations to former fighters more seriously we will see more killings of demobilised and recidivism,” she added. 

“The ELN-Colombia conflict will worsen, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence, as long as Duque refuses to agree to humanitarian minimums and to heed calls by the UN and the Pope to establish a ceasefire. The illegal armed groups linked to paramilitary structures and narcotrafficking will continue to grow.”

5 things we’re looking forward to now Bogota’s strict lockdown is over

The rules have changed, meaning that a lot of things are going to be possible for the first time in a long while.

Cyclists enjoy the sunshine and new freedoms as Bogotá starts to lift coronavirus restrictions. Photo: Oli Pritchard.

Now that we’re no longer under obligatory quarantine, there’s lots to look forward to in the coming weeks. For many people, this is a return to normal life, and crucially, to earning again. A lot of things that had been banned are now allowed again, which means there’s a clamour to return to find out what this New Reality will bring.

Restaurants and maybe even bars!

With restaurants already open and serving beer, the simple pleasures of going out for a meal are firmly in sight. Sure, there are limitations and it might not be easy to do. But Bogotá has plenty of sun and few mosquitoes, so dining al fresco might end up being quite fun. And it’s certainly a huge leap forward, both for customers and for the restaurants that have been haemorrhaging money.

Cielo abierto

Not only restaurants, but all kind of things will potentially operate outside. Why go to a five-star gym when you can enjoy exercising under all the stars of the night sky? There’s plenty that could be done outside, even here in ‘la nevera’. If this is managed well, it could be a really fun project and allow an even greater range of things to happen. We’ve already seen Yu-Gi-Oh nerds in the park, so it’s already underway.

Ciclovía is on the way back as a key part of Cielo Abierto. Photo: Oli Pritchard

Leaving Bogotá

Fresh though the weather might be in Bogotá, it’s nice to get out of the city and down a few hundred metres to enjoy some steamy tropical heat. And there’s plenty of tempting options just a short bus trip away. Of course, there are some national flights running too, and even international flights on the way soon. With the tourism industry in tatters, you’ll be doing a good thing too.

Non-essential shopping

While it’s been easy enough to get hold of essential items, it’ll be nice to be able to shop for non-essentials too, especially as online retailers have been taking great bites out of the market. A lot of Bogotá life still happens face-to-face, and getting that back up and running will make the city much more functional.

New ventures

The train of economic consequences has run through a lot of businesses, many of which have already folded. Some will be looking at the next few weeks as a vital period to re-establish themselves. Alongside them come new enterprises and ventures. New bars are already being fitted on the 45, for example, and Colombia’s boundless enthusiasm for projects means that more will soon follow.

End of Bogotá quarantine: 5 things that can jog on

With our Brave New Reality now firmly in place, let’s all wave goodbye to this list of irritations…hopefully!

Half empty streets is something we probably will miss. Photo: Oli Pritchard

Having been asked to write up a list of things that I wanted to see continue even after the strict quarantine had ended, I was given the prize of writing about the things I’ll be happy to see the back of. Many of them are already melting faster than a snowman in Cúcuta.

Worry

There’s been many things to worry about in recent months, being stopped by the police on your way to the shops was one. Although there was a soft-touch approach from the police in the end, you never really knew what rules they might enforce – and when. That’s hopefully a thing of the past, as it’s unlikely that things will get tougher from here on in. We appear to be on solid ground now. Random ley seca is hopefully not going to descend at the drop of a hat, for example.

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Military police

As a fully paid up snowflake liberal, I just don’t like seeing people in camo jackets wandering around my neighbourhood. Hopefully, it’ll be back to something approaching normality now and we can leave the threat of jackbooted thugs to other countries.

Zoom meetings

Well, they’re probably not over for a lot of people, but the end may well be in sight now. Quite a few people will be back into offices over the coming weeks, as Bogotá switches to the allegedly famous 4×4 model. I for one am looking forward to the possibility of working face to face again.

Curfew

With the lifting of quarantine by area, so we have no more curfew. It’s already been nice to step out after eight in the minty fresh area and not be confronted by silence. One of the nice things about the last few months has been an increase in community feeling and Bogotá is lovely in the cool evenings.

Online shopping

I imagine a lot of people will continue with this, but I for one am looking forward to getting back into shops and being able to pick things up and see exactly what I’m looking to buy. Plus, of course, it means more opportunities to channel money back to small enterprises rather than big outfits. Some local tiendas have done well out of lockdown but many non-essential shops have suffered.

Bogotá quarantine: It wasn’t all bad, was it?

The lockdown in Bogotá was tedious and lengthy, but there were silver linings among the clouds. Our columnist looks at five things we should hold on to in the brave new reality.

Empty streets might now be behind us. Photo: Oli Pritchard

As the city starts to emerge from over five months of lockdown, there are a few positives worth noting. For starters, the ICU system in Bogotá didn’t collapse. That’s a positive. Other than that, here are some of the things don’t want to see slide back to the way things were. After all, the benefits of a less traffic-clogged city are plain to see, if nothing else!

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1. Traffic

Bogotá without traffic jams and chaos is a much, much nicer place, as everyone notes every Christmas. The months of lockdown have been much the same. Air pollution never drops as much as you might think, but visual and aural pollution have decreased a lot. Crossing the road has gotten easier and there’s a sense that the city is currently concerned about who’s here, rather than who’s passing through to somewhere else. There’s a danger here that with the return to offices there’ll be a return to cars. Fingers crossed all round that doesn’t happen.

2. New bike lanes

With a decrease in motor traffic, there’s been an increase in cycling. And thankfully, this one is definitely here to stay. We had our doubts, but happily, we were proved to have been a little too paranoid and the temporary bike routes have been painted in. That’s a real result in a car-obsessed city. The demand is there – bike shops have faced incredible demand as some of the TransMilenio commuters have moved to pedal power rather than gas guzzlers. Let’s hope that Bogotá can take advantage of its cycling culture for once.

3. No chit-chat

With masks on, it’s much harder to engage in frivolous and needless social interaction. Also, the increased biosecurity levels in shops have helped this. In general, there’s a lot less casual friendliness going on, which is making life a great deal simpler. Shop queues whistle by as customers shuffle off worriedly rather than enquiring as to the local gossip. Maybe I’m a grump [Maybe? -Ed], but a little more efficiency in daily life would be no bad thing from my point of view.

4. Exercise

With limited options for getting out of the house, there’s been a noticeable uptick in daily joggers around here. That’s got to be a positive in a country with rampant levels of diabetes. In general, it’s probably a good idea to stick with the exercise, especially at a time when we’ve been reminded of the limitations of the EPS system. Even when bars open, you can still get out for a jog midweek, especially if there’s no commute to deal with.

5. Local shops for local people

With tiendas being somewhat more flexible about pico y cédula, they’ve provided a valuable service for people getting their timings wrong or unexpectedly needing a last minute item. These cornerstones of local life would be sorely missed if they disappeared, so maybe it’s worth popping in if you’ve only a few items on your list.

Colombia’s quarantine finally comes to an end

As Bogotá enters a ‘New Reality’, here’s what the new ‘new normal’ might look like.

Domestic flights open on September 1. Photo: Artemis Maria Papoutsakis

Colombian authorities have announced what amounts to a shift change in coronavirus measures. Some parts of Bogotá that thought they’d be in strict quarantine until the end of the month will instead have restrictions lifted at midnight tonight. Moreover, come September, restaurants can open (with restrictions), intercity transport will be allowed and we’ll even see domestic flights.

As with many of the new measures, some rules feel as if they change as fast as they are announced. And of course, it remains to be seen which rules are actually enforced. So bear with us, but here’s what we know right now.

Look after yourself

Bogotá mayor Claudia Lopéz is talking about a “New Reality” and President Duque sees it as selective isolation, but both are singing from the same hymn sheet on this one. The new phase of coronavirus measures is all about self-care and self-protection. Don’t go out if you have any coronavirus symptoms. Wear masks, maintain distance, and wash your hands.

The sanitary emergency will be in place until at least November 30, but from September we will have fewer restrictions on normal life. 

The four by four model: Monday to Thursday, Thursday to Sunday

Here’s where it starts to get murky. Bogotá’s ‘New Reality’ as explained by mayor López involves a four-days-on, four-days-off timetable. The idea is to reduce the number of people who are out and about — and reduce the number of people using public transport by allowing sectors to follow four-day weeks.

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There aren’t eight days in the week, which is why certain activities will overlap on a Thursday. And following some successful lobbying from other groups, there are a few other exceptions.

Here’s the plan:

  • Monday to Thursday: The first four days are all about production. Manufacturing, wholesale and activities that don’t involve customer contact 
  • Wednesday to Sunday: Shopping for non-essential goods and hairdressers get in early. Big chain stores can open every day as long as half their products are considered essential goods.
  • Thursday to Sunday: Restaurants will be able to operate for this four-day weekend (more on that shortly). We’ll also see parks, ciclovía, and other outdoor activities opening up. Gyms will be allowed to operate outdoor activities, though it’s not clear what days this will happen.
  • Every day: Essential activities, such as the production and transport of food and medicine. Construction (one of the first sectors to return to work) can operate from Monday to Saturday after 10 am. Offices and professional services can operate every day apart from Thursday, providing 70% of staff continue to telework.

The essential activities are much the same as we’ve seen for a lot of the lockdown, but the list does seem to have been expanded. Launderettes, for example, have now made it onto the everyday essentials list.

Before you get too excited, pico y cédula will still be in operation in grocery stores, shopping centres and notaries. So you’ll still have to restrict your essential everyday activities to every other day.

Restaurants, bars and clubs

Bars and clubs will remain shut and on-license alcohol sales are not allowed in public venues until December 31. This is one of the areas where the rules seem contradictory. Mayors can request permission for alcohol sales in certain venues. And in Bogotá it looks like bars that serve food will be able to open and serve alcohol — but only until 9pm. So the new reality may herald a new wave of gastropubs in the country. That or a lot of prominent empanada sales.

Restaurants can open indoors at 25% of their normal capacity. And, starting on September 3, we’ll see the start of the city’s Cielo Abierto plan. From Thursday to Sunday every week until the end of December the city’s restaurants will be able to operate in the open air. This can be on patios and extensions, in outside spaces and streets constructed for this purpose or plazas. It may also take the form of drive-throughs and food trucks. 

Smoking Molly boss Santiago Zuluaga told us that restaurant owners — almost all of whom have faced severe losses over the past five months — are hopeful but worried about the new measures. “We’re worrying a little bit because we see that it’s not really organised and it’s only really a 25% increase in the capacity in the restaurants and it’s only Thursday through Sunday,” he said. “It’s understandable and it’s not a good idea to just open everything. But I don’t think there’s going to be a major difference.” 

Is this the new normal? Photo: Otto Berchem

Clubs, along with swimming pools, theatres, cinemas and casinos will not be able to open in the New Reality. Churches were originally on the banned list, but concessions were made to allow pilot projects in which families can attend religious ceremonies from their cars.

Schools and universities

While educational establishments such as pre-schools, schools and universities can open for four days a week, the Ministry of Education has said this will be a very gradual process which will only begin in October.

It will start with pilot projects with limited numbers of students in classrooms. And each school will need to request a reopening date.

Transport and flights

Domestic flights will reopen from September 1, with 14 routes. El Dorado will run at 12% of its normal capacity and the hope is to gradually open more flights. The country’s roads will be open and intermunicipal travel will be allowed.

In Bogotá, TransMilenio operations are going to have to expand a little to accommodate the increase in passenger numbers. Previously, they could run at 35% capacity, that’s now been increased to 50%.

Windows on all public transport must be kept open, masks must be worn and passengers are not allowed to talk on the phone. Hard to see that last one being followed.

Leaving the country

Consular services will open for Colombians, especially those due to study abroad, and are included on the list of everyday activities. Colombia’s borders will stay closed until October 1, but humanitarian flights will continue to operate.

In summary: Bogotá’s New Reality

  • No more strict quarantine by sector
  • Pico y cédula will stay
  • Restaurants can open in a limited capacity from September 3
  • Domestic flights will operate from September 1

Before you get too excited, remember all of this is conditional on public health — the whole idea of selective isolation is that if cases rise, those areas may be closed down again.

Bogotá’s strict quarantine: Cuarentena in the strictest sense?

This time the authorities mean business. The police have already enforced this quarantine more than the past six weeks.

Military police on Carrera 13. Photo: Oli Pritchard

The city’s new wave of strict quarantine measures seem to be the real deal this time around. With seven sectors of the city under cuarentena estricta, this final fortnight follows six weeks of sector-specific lockdown. Up until now, the implementation of these heightened measures has been fairly lax and it was widely thought that this one would be similar. However, the first morning of the new regulations – applying to barrios such as Teusaquillo and Usaquén for the first time – has seen police enforcing the rules.

In the Parque Nacional, a high-profile and easily visible spot for flaunting the rules, police moved around 10 am to send a load of mountain bikers home, then cleared the upper reaches of the park. There isn’t a time limit on these restrictions, other than the post 8 pm curfew, but it appears that mid-morning matters. After the cyclists were given their marching orders, other exercisers were commanded to jog on and even dog walkers told they were ‘bad owners’.

Police send exercisers home

Eventually, even people on the séptima were sent home and the only cyclists continuing on the cicloruta were commuters. This is a sea change from the previous laissez-faire approach. This time it’s not the alcaldía half-heartedly attempting to keep order, it’s police motorbikes, cars and horses getting involved with sirens. They’ve set down a marker already, and only time will tell if they will continue in the same vein.

Usual street vendors absent from Calle 53. Photo: Emma Newbery

Elsewhere in the city, various people have reported fewer street sellers hawking their wares, even for a Sunday. As before, mask-wearing is being stuck to very well. Our reporter in Galerías clocked up 68 people with masks covering faces, only five with neck-masks while talking on the phone or drinking coffee and nobody unmasked. She also commented that there wasn’t a single street seller by the shopping centre.

Usaquén quieter than usual

In Usaquén, our man on the street says it’s quieter than usual. He saw police stopping two separate groups for cédula checks. Hardly super-unusual, but not something he’s seen before in the neighbourhood. In south Chapinero there are few people on the street and a single shoe-shiner waits forlornly for trade that refuses to pass him.

It’s not all heavy-handed, though. Lourdes in Chapinero seems to be fairly busy, and there are plenty of people on the streets. Joggers have crossed over from Usaquén to get their exercise in and things seem to be roughly normal.

One of our team described San Luis as ‘deserted’ — though it’s not usually bustling on a Sunday — and reported a police checkpoint on Carrera 24 with 63. It’s hard to know for sure, but police presence seems to have stepped up. Military police were also on Carrera 13 near the Ecopetrol building and one reader said motorcycle police were moving séptima vendors on.

Overall, it’s going to be hard to judge fully until we hit the working week. Many businesses are loth to open on a Sunday, even less so when there’s a holiday following. Tuesday will give us a lot more information about the state of play, but the suspicion has to be that this lockdown may well be stricter than before. It’s certainly true that there has been a statement from the police today, but what that signifies is as yet unknown.

Strict quarantine for seven Bogotá zones, this time including Candelaria, Teusaquillo and Usaquén

Mayor announces widespread measures to restrict movement and activity in the Colombian capital.

Another round of strict quarantine measures announced in Bogotá.
Another round of strict quarantine measures announced in Bogotá. Photo: Otto Berchem

It’s been a week of will-she, won’t-she for Candelaria, Teusaquillo, and Usaquén dwellers. On Monday, the health minister announced that Friday would see the start of strict quarantine in these areas. But Bogotá mayor Claudia López refused to confirm the new measures until this evening.

Indeed, today’s announcement went much further than had been thought. Antonio Nariño, Chapinero, La Candelaria, Puente Aranda, Santa Fe, Teusaquillo and Usaquén will all go into strict quarantine from August 16 to August 30. The mayor said that this will be the last localised quarantine.

https://twitter.com/Bogota/status/1294071531224604672

Several zones such as Chapinero and Antonio Nariño, which have already had two weeks of strict lockdown, will be locked down again. The strict measures are currently already in force in Barrios Unidos, Engativá and Suba, running until August 15. López said that Barrios Unidos had high numbers of cases, but it would not be fair to force a further two weeks of quarantine on to its residents.

Earlier in the day, the mayor had announced a series of measures to reactivate the economy. These included extending tax payments for restaurants, hotels, and other industries; exempting theatres and museums from property tax completely until 2022; and reducing municipal taxes (ICA) for impacted companies.

What’s the difference between a strict quarantine and a normal quarantine?

Putting aside the question of how strictly any of the quarantine in Bogotá has been enforced so far, for many people who have been staying at home, the strict quarantine is not so different. There are basically fewer exceptions, so activities that had been allowed to re-start should shut down again.

In theory, the rules for the strict quarantine are the same as the initial lockdown in the city: Only essential workers and essential errands are allowed. In practice, based on what’s happened so far, many non-essential shops may not be obviously open, but a knock on the door might prove otherwise.

One big difference is the curfew. Between 8pm and 5am, the area needs to be shut — no commercial establishments, no discreet socialising, no movement. For example, a few people told us they couldn’t get an Uber into a strict quarantine zone after 8pm.

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We can also expect ley seca to be enforced at the weekends. So alcohol will not be on sale in major supermarkets from Friday to Sunday.

Exercise is not allowed, though there’s little to stop people crossing into other zones for their daily jog or cycle. One person per household will be allowed out to do the shopping.

Pico y cédula will be enforced throughout the city until the end of August. And facemasks continue to be compulsory in public spaces.

How many cases are there in those areas?

It is difficult to calculate how many people live in the affected zones because the borders of the strict quarantine don’t necessarily marry up to the official borders of those areas. But it does seem that the additional strict quarantine zones are in areas with high numbers of confirmed cases.

ZoneConfirmed casesEstimated cases/population
Usaquén7,4661/67
Chapinero3,2891/42
Santa Fe3,1991/34
San Cristóbal7,6031/53
Usme6,4441/71
Tunjuelito4,3071/46
Bosa12,7321/52
Kennedy20,4171/53
Fontibón6,0791/65
Engativá12,4861/71
Suba17,5261/69
Barrios Unidos2,6261/92
Teusaquillo2,3681/64
Los Mártires2,3871/41
Antonio Nariño2,2521/49
Puente Aranda5,6311/46
La Candelaria6691/36
Rafael Uribe Uribe8,6961/43
Ciudad Bolívar11,3101/62
Fuera de Bogotá1,771
Sin Dato6,852
Source: bogota.gov.co and Veeduría Distrital 

Is the rolling strict quarantine working?

As with many things related to the coronavirus, it’s difficult to say. Especially as López pointed out in her press conference, it takes two weeks before any measures impact the numbers. 

What we do know is that ICU occupation has hovered around the 90% mark for several weeks. This map shows that some hospitals are at 100% capacity, but others are around 80% — some even lower.

López assured viewers in tonight’s Facebook live presentation that the social distancing, sector-specific quarantines and face mask wearing had all helped to reduce the impact of the virus.

One big challenge of the rolling quarantine is that people tend to live and work in different parts of the city, meaning that businesses could be closed for workers who are allowed to work and vice versa. 

The idea of these localised shutdowns is to reduce the total number of people in circulation. 

Even though the stricter measures have not been heavily enforced, in this respect at least, the zone-specific measures have curbed the numbers of people in circulation.

Authorities know that after four months, it is no longer feasible to close down the whole city. But the latest announcement — which will impact over one million people — shows these restrictions are still a major weapon in their COVID-19 armoury.

House arrest for ex-president Álvaro Uribe Vélez

In an unprecedented move, Colombia’s Supreme Court has put Álvaro Uribe Vélez under house arrest while it decides whether he should stand trial for bribery and witness tampering.

Álvaro Uribe Vélez
Photo: Wikipedia

Senator and former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez will be confined to his home for up to a year, while the Supreme Court investigates charges of witness tampering and procedural fraud.

What actually happened?

Colombia’s Supreme Court has made history by putting former president and now senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez under house arrest. Uribe Vélez is accused of witness tampering and procedural fraud. Note that he hasn’t been found guilty of those crimes, only that the five judges have essentially decided that there is enough evidence to move forward with the case.

And in moving forward, they’ve ordered the house arrest as a medida de aseguramiento — or assurance measure. Given that he’s facing charges of interfering with justice, the idea is that he’ll be less able to do that if he can’t leave his house. It is the first time that this measure has been taken against an ex-president.

So Uribe Vélez’s under house arrest but he hasn’t been convicted?

Exactly. Uribe Vélez will be confined to his house, beginning immediately and it could last for up to one year. Various bits of evidence still remain to be processed before we even get to a trial.

What is Álvaro Uribe Vélez accused of?

This is a bit of a tangled web, so bear with us. Back in 2012 and again in 2014, Polo Democrático senator Iván Cepeda clashed with Uribe Vélez, accusing both him and his brother of founding a block of the AUC paramilitary group, allegations that stretch back years.. He presented testimonies from ex-AUC combatants.

Cepeda was then himself accused of witness tampering. But the tables were again turned in 2018, when the Supreme Court ruled that Uribe should be investigated.

A lot centres around the former paramilitary Juan Guillermo Monsalve, and even more centres around the actions of Uribe Vélez’s lawyer, Diego Cadena. Cadena has already been charged with trying to interfere with Monsalve’s testimony as well as other testimonies. Both he and Uribe Vélez say he did so of his own accord. To understand more, check out La Silla Vacia’s rundown of what happened and who’s who.

Note that the Supreme Court is not investigating whether Uribe Vélez was connected to the paramilitary group, it’s investigating whether he tried to interfere with witnesses who might have said he was.

What happens next?

Uribe Vélez continues to deny the allegations against him. He is likely to decamp to his home in Medellín, as he can choose which house he wishes to be arrested in.

In terms of the case, this is really just the beginning. The Supreme Court now needs to investigate further and make a final decision on whether to take Uribe Vélez to trial. 

Innovation and technology: Essentials for business resilience in Latin America

Survey respondents are cautiously optimistic about the region’s ability to bounce back.

Photo: ThisIsEngineering at Pexels

2020 has rocked the world’s economies like no other year in recent decades, especially in Latin America. Measures taken by different governments to counteract the spread of COVID-19 mandated millions of people to stay at home and thousands of businesses had to close their doors

Now, as lockdown restrictions in certain parts of the region begin to ease, the impact of the pandemic on the business ecosystem is becoming evident, unveiling – among other things – stories about those companies that survived the storm and even increased their profitability. 

In a survey conducted by Biz Latin Hub, 56% of executives and business owners in Latin America expressed their concern about the negative impact of the pandemic on the region’s economy. However, a crisis can also be an opportunity to become stronger, and in fact, more than half of the respondents were cautiously optimistic about the future and Latin America’s ability to bounce back.

Opportunities for online businesses in the region

While the pandemic had some serious consequences for Latin America’s economy, it meant an increase in profits for multiple businesses that were already prepared to offer their services or products through e-commerce platforms. As people were prevented from going outside, there was only one way to continue doing business: Using the internet. 

In countries like Mexico, for example, online sales of laundry and home care products saw a 403% increase in March this year. Mass-consumption products acquired through e-commerce platforms increased by 114% due to the pandemic outbreak. Likewise, 44% of Argentinians expressed their intention to buy online products, and in Brazil, April sales on e-commerce platforms increased by 28%.

Read our latest coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

The experience that companies have had in the last few months indicates that businesses that are able to operate online may have been more resilient to the impacts of COVID-19. “We are facing an extraordinary moment. While some businesses are struggling with lockdowns, delivery services, e-commerce usage, and other market solutions are rising,” says one of the respondents in the doing business in Latin America survey. 

Furthermore, financial entities in Brazil are implementing fully online procedures to continue doing business in the country, as claimed by one of the respondents: “All banks in Brazil – including the financial company I run – are structuring their system to sign all contracts online, so the COVID-19 situation is increasing our business opportunities in the finance sector.” Likewise, one of the respondents in the survey suggested: “Colombia needs to focus on the sectors with growth potential and job creation (services, IT, and software, etc.).”

Growing markets in Latin America drive a call for digitization

According to the survey carried out by Biz Latin Hub, despite the current challenging times, more than 45% of the respondents expressed they expect Latin American economies to recover and grow in the future. Furthermore, more than 57% of the participants in this survey already own a business in Latin America and expressed a desire to expand further into other countries in the region.

The Biz Latin Hub survey also reflects the fastest growing business opportunities in Latin America. Out of the total of the respondents, 23.8% work in the area of ​​professional services and consulting, 8.8% operate in the technology and telecommunications sector, 6.3% work in the medical industry, and 6.2% are dedicated to the import/export of products. The remaining 54.9% work in different industries, related to natural resource extraction, manufacturing, tourism, logistics, financial services, among others.

Increasing amounts of foreign investors are looking to expand their business to Latin America – a region with an incredibly dynamic market and a population of more than 626 million people whose access to mobile phones will reach 80% in 2025. Business opportunities in Latin America are countless, even for those who have not yet decided to build an online business brand. 

Tech ecosystem overview in Latin America

Companies in Latin America are increasingly relying on technology and innovation to offer their products and services to a broader audience. The Fintech industry is a great example of this, as this sector is positioned as one of the most attractive industries for foreign investors.

Financial entities that offer their services with the help of technology are considerably increasing throughout Latin America. Countries like Mexico, Chile, and Colombia lead the rankings of countries with most Fintechs startups in Latin America. Furthermore, the governments of the region have promoted the creation of regulatory frameworks to define the operating rules for this sector.

In 2019, the Mexican Chamber of Deputies unanimously approved the ‘Fintech Law’. This new legislation seeks to regulate Fintech companies and promote financial inclusion throughout the country. Likewise, Chile announced that it plans to process a Fintech law before the National Congress in mid-2020, despite the pandemic and the quarantine decreed throughout the region.

Furthermore, although the e-commerce sector in Latin America is not as developed as in other regions like Europe or the United States, online sales through e-commerce platforms saw an exponential increase in recent months. Its use is expected to grow even more, as more people now understand how to access products or services through the internet.

The future is digital

So far, companies that may achieve greater success during current global health and economic pressures are those that have been resilient enough to adapt and rely on technological advances to continue doing business. This way, they can overcome all challenges that prevent them from reaching their clients in Latin America, a market with great potential for foreign companies looking to expand in the region. 


This article was provided by Biz Latin Hub (contact@bizlatinhub.com).

Colombia’s quarantine measures extended until August 30

‘There will be weeks when we’ll see challenges’ says President Duque as he announces that the nationwide compulsory isolation will continue for another month.

Colombia’s new normal: Social distancing and empty streets.

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Colombia approaches 270,000 and the number of deaths passes the 9,000 mark, President Iván Duque has announced that the country’s mandatory isolation will continue until August 30.

The isolation was supposed to finish on August 1, but those living in cities like Bogotá, Medellín and Barranquilla which have been implementing stricter lockdowns in recent weeks will not be surprised to hear of the extension.

“We’re not talking about a national peak,” said Duque. “The peaks have presented themselves at regional levels. Some have passed, some will come in the coming weeks and months.”

Duque’s presentation that focused on the administration’s achievements — both by comparing Colombia with other countries in the region in terms of numbers of deaths per million people and in terms of the health supplies that have been delivered to various regions and cities. In doing so, he sought to head off those who are critical of the length of the country’s isolation measures.

What’s all this about the regional measures?

It’s all about the regional measures. Today’s announcement does not extend the lockdown for everybody, rather it extends the timeframe in which the government and local authorities have the power to act and shut down certain sectors, cities or towns. 

Essentially it follows previous moves by continuing to relax the lockdown in areas with limited numbers of cases and tightening restrictions in places with high ICU occupancy and high numbers of cases or deaths.

  • Locations with no or limited cases of COVID-19 will continue to open, but with restrictions on big gatherings such as clubs and concerts.
  • Locations with low and medium COVID-19 cases will continue with pilot schemes, and controlled re-opening or closing organised by local authorities and the ministry of health.
  • Areas with high numbers of cases will continue to see severe measures, increased  testing, and additional courses of action such as strict quarantine of affected sectors. 

So, for example, we’re unlikely to see any changes to Bogotá’s sector-specific rolling quarantine. There’s also the promise of more distanced activities, such as drive-in movies. That said, we’re likely to see continued restrictions on alcohol sales so don’t get any ideas about any socially distanced drinking.

What does it mean for flights?

International flights were supposed to start again in September. Today’s presentation did not address whether the extended isolation will stop this from happening, but the Minister of Health did say that we may have to wait until mid-September before we see a reduction in the numbers of cases in Bogotá. No doubt there will be more announcements in the coming days.

New cycle lanes: A Bogotá bungle

Cone, but not forgotten: the strange case of Séptima’s invisible cycle lane.

There was a cicloruta on the séptima in the past months, but that seems gone now.
There was a cicloruta on the séptima in the past months, but that seems gone now. Photo: Oli Pritchard

Claudia López has an unfortunate habit of making promises that end up not being entirely completed. ESMAD has been as active as ever, new TransMilenio routes are breaking ground and pico y cédula is nominally active. Her quarantine measures are much more impressive on paper than they are in real life, with widespread disobedience – notoriously, even she has broken her own rules.

Will the same thing happen, then, with the ciclorutas? The measures were brought in temporarily to help lighten the load on public transport, widely recognised as a coronavirus danger zone. Cities worldwide are looking towards bicycles as green alternatives to public transport, and Bogotá is no exception. With a relatively high level of infrastructure in place, the world-renowned ciclovía and a population very receptive to bicycles, things looked rosy and the mayor duly announced that the new cycle routes would be made permanent.

So far, so good, and cones went up to demarcate the area for bicycles. Commuters flooded in and it looked to be a roaring success. Every day as I crossed on my morning run, there were plenty of cyclists and cars didn’t even seem particularly angry about having less space. Worryingly though, no paint was laid. I put this down to pressing priorities elsewhere and celebrated the focus on cycling. Then last week, the cones disappeared.

Read our latest coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

On the Séptima, the cicloruta has, for some unclear and probably boneheaded reason, been put in the middle of the road. This is a bad decision on a number of levels and there are many good reasons why other countries have never seriously considered this model. For starters, it’s hard to get on and off a centrally-located bicycle lane. And that’s exactly what happens here – the cicloruta runs down from the north past the Javeriana until the Parque Nacional, where it crosses calle 39 and abruptly stops.

This leads to a really confusing situation where cyclists whizz down at relatively high speed only to find themselves suddenly trapped with three lanes of traffic between them and the pavement as cars and large vehicles pull into their lane to make a left turn across them. For an inexperienced cyclist taking to two wheels because of the pandemic, this must be quite a frightening position to be in.

I spoke to an Alcaldía worker hanging around at the junction, who claimed the cicloruta still existed, just without cones. He didn’t see any need to try and enforce it though, or to try and avoid the potentially disastrous situation up the road. In his words, he was “following instructions”. That’s what Nazi war criminals say. Maybe it does exist, maybe paint trucks will arrive to formalise the lane. But maybe it won’t. After all, this does happen here.

It’s a sadly common trope in Colombia to see things appear on paper and then not materialise in reality. Like some Orwellian nightmare, we are told something is happening despite the evidence in plain sight. It was somewhat surreal to be told that the cicloruta in fact still existed even as I saw buses and trucks pull into that space.

There are now major doubts about the ability and desire of the mayor to bring plans to fruition, so cyclists of Bogotá have good reason to fear that these ciclorutas might go the way of pico y género and be quietly scrapped. Let’s hope that López doesn’t live up to her nickname of Fraudia this time.

Cuarentena Estricta: how was it for you?

As Chapinero joins seven other sectors in exiting two weeks of strict quarantine, we evaluate the effects of the increased lockdown.

Plenty of people in the park during cuarentena estricta.
Plenty of people in the park. Photos: Oli Pritchard

The cuarentena estricta for eight sectors of Bogotá was lifted today, as per the schedules listed. But how much changed over a fortnight of heavy lockdown? Well, not much at all, in truth. If you were in the Parque Nacional on Sunday afternoon, you would have seen a festival of picnickers and strollers. Footfall wasn’t affected much in the zone as a whole, but at least free testing was made available.

The Parque Nacional served as a useful petri dish – a high-profile, clearly visible landmark of Bogotá. It’s split between Chapinero and Santa Fe, both of which were under the same regulations. Although in the first days there were far fewer people than normal, by last weekend it was at more or less full capacity. Like people, parks do bounce back. Ice cream sellers were out in force and there were plenty of family and friend groupings.

The official line on exercise was that it was banned throughout the area under quarantine. In reality, there were joggers, tennis players and footballers throughout the park. Masses of mountain bikers and a few real cyclists charged up and down the hills, straight past the home of the mounted police with nary a word. The ciclovía was largely operational.

Elsewhere in the zone, there was limited adherence to the stricter regulations. Lili Pink continued to keep their doors open, for some reason, but about half of the local papelerías closed. It seems that essential services include lingerie but not photocopies. Carrera 13 stayed largely open for business, as did most restaurants and all the tiendas. The dry cleaners and tailors shut their doors, but were open if one were to knock on the door.

It’s worth noting that those dry cleaners are about 50m from the police station, so it’s hard to believe that this is fully clandestine. The police continue to play a complicated role in this pandemic – they abandoned the Parque Nacional completely towards the end of the first week, giving it a quite sketchy feel. A few people reported seeing police cars pulling over more people throughout the zone, but there didn’t seem to be any more boots on the ground.

Read our latest coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

Of course, it was made yet easier by the fact that strolling across county lines was no problem at all. So, although my local hardware store was closed, a five-minute hop across the Caracas solved that problem quickly. It seems a little unfair and somewhat counterproductive – many people continued to go out and get stuff done, but they simply had to cover a bit more ground and create more opportunity for infection.

So in the end, cuarentena estricta had some effect, but probably less than had been hoped for. After a day or two of adaptation, people reverted to how they had been before, but some more businesses shut their doors. The real effect may be more subtle: Further erosion of respect for the rules and less obvious reasons to follow the rules.

Getting a coronavirus test in Bogotá: First person account

As the number of coronavirus cases in Bogotá climbs towards its peak, more and more people are interested in getting tested. We find out how it works.

Get a coronavirus test in Bogotá, the location in front of the Carulla on the 63 with séptima. Photo: Otto Berchem
One of the coronavirus test locations in Bogotá. Photo: Otto Berchem

I live in Chapinero Alto, just near all the no-longer-visitable restaurants of the Zona G and firmly in the centre of a strict quarantine zone. Once derided as posh and upper-class by my Bohemian and salt-of-the-earth friends down in Teusaquillo, my fiancée and I now find ourselves unable to venture past Calle 100 to the apparently pristine gomelo fiefdom of Usaquén.

Read also: Latest information on how to get a coronavirus test in Bogotá

However, lepers that we may be for this fortnight in Chapinero, we do have access to free COVID-19 tests! Last week I decided to take full advantage of this dubious perk. Each day, the Chapinero local council tweets out a list of free testing facilities in the neighbourhood. You can see today’s list below:

https://twitter.com/AlcaldChapinero/status/1286275702275428352
Coronavirus test in Bogotá today.

Last week there were many more, including in the Carulla supermarket on calle 63 and barrio Juan XXIII’s salon comunal, both within walking distance for me. On Wednesday I popped down to Carulla at around 8.15 am, only to discover a line stretching halfway to Usme and then some. So I hiked up into Juan XXIII and joined the hillside line in about 90th place. I stood in line for the best part of two hours, advanced about two metres in that time (I’m genuinely not sure whether they had actually started testing anyone by then) and then gave up and slunk back home in time for work. No dice.

The next day I decided to get up a bit earlier to see if I could beat the foot traffic. I headed off to Carulla again, this time at about 7.45 am, a good 45 minutes before testing was due to start. This time there were even more people in the line! I raced back up the mountain to Juan XXIII and this time managed to nab 44th spot in the line. Two hours later, I was outside the testing room, being interviewed by a little woman in astronaut gear. She filled out a form with all my personal details, asked me if I’d had any symptoms (for those asymptomatics worried about wasting their time in the line, only to be turned away at the end, this did not seem to be a prerequisite for the test), then gave me the form and sent me to wait by the door. Ten minutes later I was inside, being interviewed by yet another person with a form. I was given both forms back to hand to the nurse/doctor administering the test, who instructed me to sit down and keep my mask down.

Read our latest coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

The test is pretty straightforward and takes about 15 seconds. You slip the mask down past your nose, the tester slides a cotton bud up a nostril, keeps going until it’s slightly uncomfortable, twists and removes. Done. It’s definitely uncomfortable, but based on what certain friends have told me, there are far less pleasant tests involving cotton buds out there. The person administering my test informed me that in seven days (yes, you read that right) I would be able to jump on the Min Salud website and check my test results. I was also told I would be phoned if I had tested positive.

So here we are, a week after my test and still no phone call yet. I mistakenly thought yesterday was seven days after the test and attempted to access my results on the Min Salud website. I was unsuccessful. Not because I had only waited six days, but because there seems to be no link whatsoever to test results on the Min Salud website. After a quick google, I found the right page and put in my details, only to be told that there was no record of me on file.

Coronavirus test in Bogotá: Might have to wait a bit for the test result.

Let’s put that down to my getting the days of the week wrong and try one more time. 

Here’s the link for those playing at home: https://covid19.saludcapital.gov.co/index.php/resultados

Cédula in… phone number in… ‘No se encontraron registros asociados al número de identificación’.

Ah well.

If you want to get tested, either call your healthcare provider or 123

Strict quarantine to return to Bogotá

As coronavirus continues to grow in the capital, mayor Claudia López has announced stricter rules as of Monday.

Quarantine in Bogotá will return in phases.
Quarantine in Bogotá will return in phases. Photo: Alcaldía de Bogotá

Coronavirus is coming. As the numbers of coronavirus deaths and cases continue to mount both in Bogotá and throughout the country, mayor Claudia López has announced stricter rules beginning next week. From Monday, Chapinero along with seven other localities will enter a fortnight of heightened and tightened lockdown. This is in response to the UCI occupancy rate in Bogotá rising as high as 85% this week.

This means a complete ban on any activity from 8pm to 5am, total restriction of movement in each respective localidad and the prohibition of alcohol sales. All businesses will have to close, except those providing necessary items such as food and medicine. On paper, it seems close to the rules originally brought in for the simulacro and that lasted for the initial lockdown weeks.

What are the new restrictions?

Exceptions are largely the same as in previous periods of strict quarantine, so you’re fine with food and pharmacy shopping (only between 5 am and 7 pm) and you can go to the doctor (including EPS and private services) as well. Anyone looking after vulnerable people is also exempted. Again, it’s expected that only one member of each family will be allowed out. Exercise and dog-walking are not mentioned, so it’s unclear at present what these restrictions will be. As usual, there remains a lot of false information out there.

Read our latest coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

How this will be actually enforced is hard to see. There’s been a widespread lack of adherence to the existing rules in recent weeks, and enforcement has varied widely between more and less affluent zones of the city. Locking down several sectors at once will require enormous numbers of law enforcement, surely leading to a corresponding lack of safety in other zones. 850 extra law enforcement have been announced, which will hopefully make enough of a difference.

There are also questions over things like deliveries. Will it be possible to order alcohol from one sector and have it delivered across the border to one in lockdown? 

Which sectors are being shut down?

Bizarrely, the schedule for locking down localidades has been mapped out already, suggesting that it won’t be responsive to actual case numbers. That said, the schedule is for the next six weeks, so it’s likely to be open to extensive change. Also, the first localidades to be locked down are not those with the highest case numbers – Kennedy leads the list but is in Group Two, Suba is second but in Group Three. The whole city has been placed on orange alert, so it’s possible that we will see some localised zones on top of this. However, with limited uptake of the CoronaApp, it’s hard to get precise details. 

Also, only fifteen localidades currently are in the schedule, so it’s unclear what will happen in Antonio Nariño, La Candelaria, Sumapaz, Teusaquillo and Usaquén. For the moment, they are all considered low-risk and thus not being scheduled. Given the high number of previous cases in Usaquén (1,620, twice that of Chapinero), it’s likely to face some sort of lockdown, and Teusaquillo has a similar rate to Chapinero so also stands a good chance of lockdown. Sumapaz might yet avoid it due to its tiny population density as the only fully rural localidad.

A small carrot has been offered alongside the stick of lockdown, as López also announced that vulnerable families will receive guaranteed handouts while in lockdown. Like previous efforts, it’s limited, as this applies only to 550,000 families and is just COP$240,000 – less than a third of the minimum wage. With so many people blocked from earning, this is unlikely to go far.

When are the lockdowns?

The full schedule of localised lockdowns can be found on the website of the mayor’s office (along with the full rules for lockdown), and currently looks like this:

Group one lockdown (Monday, July 13 – Sunday, July 26)

  • Chapinero
  • Ciudad Bolívar
  • Los Mártires
  • Rafael Uribe Uribe
  • San Cristóbal
  • Santa Fe
  • Tunjuelito
  • Usme

Group two lockdown (Monday, July 27 –  Sunday, August 9)

  • Bosa
  • Fontibón
  • Kennedy
  • Puente Aranda

Group three lockdown (Monday, August 10 – Sunday, August 23)

Constructing peace continues even during lockdown

Series of Facebook Live conversations offer a chance to understand the work involved in historical memory.

Efforts for peace continue during coronavirus. Photo: Indepaz

The coronavirus lockdown has put so many things on hold, including many aspects of the country’s fragile peacebuilding efforts. However, the Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica (CNMH) are continuing their work to document, analyse, and preserve first-person accounts of Colombia’s decades-long armed conflict. 

Individual and collective stories make up our understanding of history. And the conversation series co-hosted by CNMH and Universidad Distrital’s IPAZUD gives the public the chance to hear more perspectives of what happened during the conflict and what it did to people’s lives.

Diálogos por la memoria histórica — Dialogues for historical memory — began with a talk about the complex and controversial chapter of paramilitary forces in the Colombian conflict. What have we learned about paramilitarism in Colombia? was led by Jenny Lopera, Director of Truth Accords, CNMH. Find more on the discussions below.

And on June 18, Possibilities for reparation was led by Sebastian Londoño, Director of Memory Construction, CNMH.

Today (July 3), at 3pm, Fabio Bernal, Director of Colombia’s National Museum of Memory, will discuss the museum-in-progress and its preservation of historical memory as a form of symbolic reparations. 

The session on July 16 at 3pm will be led by Marcela Rodríguez, Director of the Human Rights Archives. And the final forum will take place at 7.30 and 10.30 AM on July 30, with Universidad Distrital Radio Station, LAUD, Revista de la Mañana program in conversation with Darío Acevedo Carmona, Executive Director of the Centro Nacional de Memoria Historica. 

First forum: “What have we learned about paramilitarism in Colombia?”

Mediated by Andrés Hernández, IPAZUD’s Coordinator for the center’s Conflict and Memory section, and led by Jenny Lopera, the forum examined the work of peace-building through testimony collection. Lopera explained that part of the Truth Accords’ remit was to work towards reparations, partially by involving armed conflict victims as participants in the process. 

While we speak a lot about the FARC, paramilitary activity is another pillar of the country’s unrest, taking root in the 80s and morphing into the armed gangs we see continuing to fight and terrorise rural Colombia today.

Hernández defined peace “as a full concept rather than as the absence of war.” In other words, peace-building does not happen overnight. It is a complex and ongoing process that requires many considerations and institutional commitments.  

Without going into the details of what can at best be described as a partially failed demobilisation of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) in 2004, one aspect is very relevant to today’s peace-building. Over the past decade, the CNMH have worked to collect testimonies from the ex-combatants – and have collected over 18,000 testimonies from demobilised paramilitaries. 

Read our latest coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

Nicolas Otero, one of the Center’s researchers and a testimony collector described the process as complex and evolving. “Historical memory isn’t singular, but one that’s in a constant process of being constructed,” Otero said.

Alberto Santos, another researcher who participated in the forum, described his experience working on a quantitative report on the effects of paramilitarism in Colombia. Over 9,000 ex-paramilitaries participated in the unprecedented project, which found that 52% of them had been victims of the conflict before being recruited by paramilitary groups. Santos went on to describe the significance of the report’s findings, which helped the Center construct a better understanding of the targeted socio-economic characteristics of paramilitary recruits – those with little financial means and few options. 

According to Otero, part of the testimony collection procedure is an official recognition of what took place and an acknowledgment of the violence. He described the interview methodology of listening rather than interrogating, which helps to frame the process as one of participation and empowerment. 

“For example, the procedure puts horrific events of violence – violations of human rights, violations of international humanitarian law on display. Victims demand recognition, that they are recognised as victims, as human beings, as Colombians and as subjects with rights.” 


IPAZUD (Instituto para la Pedagogía, la Paz y el Conflicto Urbano de la Universidad Distrital) is the Universidad Distrital’s Institute for Pedagogy, Peace, and Urban Conflict. The research center focuses on education and Colombia’s conflict with particular attention to the effects of the armed conflict on the city of Bogotá.

The virtual forum series represents a new partnership between CNMH and IPAZUD in a joint effort to offer educational opportunities for the public to engage with historical memory and its implications for the future. Each forum will feature one of the CNMH’s four areas: The Truth Accords, Memory Construction, Colombia’s National Museum of Memory, and the Human Rights Archive. 

Worried about your business in Colombia during the pandemic? Here’s what you need to know

It is possible to continue doing business in Colombia, even during these uncertain and challenging conditions.

Nobody expected a worldwide pandemic during the first half of this fiscal year. And as countries around the world grapple with the impact of restrictions designed to slow the spread of the virus, the future of global business is unsure. Particularly here in Colombia with its closed borders, new temporary trade and restrictive travel policies.

Here are eight challenges and actionable solutions for those who, despite the difficult conditions, want to continue business in Colombia. 

Opening a bank account

Despite the novel coronavirus pandemic, companies are still able to open a corporate bank account in Colombia, but it does depend on the bank.

Solution: Banks are working towards implementing fully online procedures to open a corporate bank account in Colombia. Many banks now accept digital copies of required documents to open a corporate account. Banks like Bancolombia, Banco de Bogotá, Itaú, AV Villas, Davivienda and BBVA, accept digital signatures for documents and online processes.

Minimizing costs & outstanding payments

It’s a crucial time for companies and entrepreneurs to do everything they can to manage business risks by minimising costs and receiving outstanding cash payments. 

Solution: Try to negotiate rent, utilities, printing and cleaning contracts, and any other regular expenses you may be incurring that your company is not utilising or is unable to utilise at this time. Based on current observations in Colombia, companies may be able to negotiate between a 10-30% discount on these expenses.

Be persistent in following up on outstanding payments. Your legal representative can send a letter of demand to those who owe money to the company. Note that in Colombia, it is difficult to enforce contracts that are not written in Spanish. If needed, prepare English and Spanish versions of contracts.

Avoiding visa costs

Colombia’s decision to close its borders means that individuals doing business in Colombia on temporary visas are unable to leave, even though their visa may be expiring. Normally, people who stay in Colombia for more than 183 days must start paying taxes.

Solution: People stuck inside the country due to these unforeseen circumstances (force majeure) can apply to extend their visas through a residency waiver. This ‘residency waiver’ stops visitors from becoming eligible to pay tax. Waivers can be obtained on a case-by-case basis through a request to the DIAN.

Keep in mind that Decree 941 gives Colombian authorities 35 working days to respond to requests of this nature. Find out as soon as possible if you or your staff are eligible for this waiver and apply as far in advance as possible.

Hiring staff

With Colombia’s borders closed until June 30, companies cannot obtain working visas for foreign nationals currently outside of the country. This is challenging for companies in the middle of their hiring process. There are two ways to tackle this challenge and continue doing business in Colombia.

Solutions – Option 1: First, companies doing business in Colombia can choose to try and find local staff under their own initiative. However, for those facing a language barrier, or with little knowledge of the local workforce and expectations from employees and the government, this can prove difficult.

In addition, if you haven’t yet incorporated your business in Colombia to hire your own employees, this first option is not possible. Under the current circumstances, companies cannot incorporate in Colombia. 

Likewise, nobody can request a tax identification number – a crucial element of the company incorporation process in Colombia, also known as a RUT – before the National Tax Authority, DIAN (Dirección de Impuestos y Aduanas Nacionales). The DIAN is not accepting requests for a RUT during this time.

Solutions – Option 2: Companies may hire local talent through a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) based in Colombia. This eliminates any need to travel to Colombia for hiring purposes. 

A PEO in Colombia can support companies by hiring locally and alleviating language and bureaucratic burdens for the employer. By partnering with a PEO through a ‘co-employment model,’ the PEO becomes the ‘Employer of Record’ for the hired personnel in the eyes of the Colombian government. 

The PEO can hire staff on behalf of the company and can also ensure the hiring company is fully compliant with local employment regulations for that employee. A PEO in Colombia will handle the relevant paperwork and manage payroll and social contributions for a company’s employees in Colombia. A PEO can be the best option to help your company continue business in Colombia remotely.

Forecasting cash flow

The Colombian peso (COP) has depreciated significantly. With a fluctuating currency, companies cannot easily forecast their cash flow and run the risk of generating lower income amounts.

Solution: To prevent unpredictable cash flow and avoid any further volatility of the peso, it is best to create a compensation account. This is a corporate account established in Panama, in which companies can receive and hold US Dollars. Though the account technically sits in Panama, the compensation account is considered to be Colombian for administrative purposes.

Additionally, be aware that companies may review exchange rates set in a contract if the rate fluctuates by more than 20% of the agreed amount.

Renewing your commercial license

Companies that continue business in Colombia must renew their commercial license each year. Due to the pandemic, these renewal deadlines have changed.

Solution: Due to current restrictions on business and government institutions running at low capacity, the Chamber of Commerce extended the deadline for companies to renew their commercial license from 31 March to 3 June.

Tax declaration deadlines have also been extended. These extended deadlines differ for each company depending on their tax identification number. Information about the deadlines specific to your company’s identification is available on the DIAN website.

Notice that companies can also carry out their General Shareholder Meeting online in order to fulfill their annual obligation.

Changing administrative processes

Public Notaries, which play a big part in company incorporation, liquidation, and other procedures, may require physical presence from the company owner/legal representative.

Solution: Despite the possibility of a few administrative processes requiring a physical presence, many of the mandatory procedures set by the Chamber of Commerce can be carried out online.

Government institutions are implementing online and digital processes in order to improve the ease of doing business in Colombia. The country is investing in technology and innovation to achieve this. The company’s legal representative, with appropriate credentials, can fulfil most of the administrative needs of the company online.

Dealing with delays

Dealing with institutions can be hard, especially during a worldwide pandemic. Be patient, expect some delay during this time, and where necessary, operate with a local legal representative to avoid further setbacks.

Yes, it is possible to continue business in Colombia

Despite the COVID-19’s interruption to the economy, there are solutions to avoid it fully halting your business operations. Whether you are having trouble hiring staff, opening a bank account, forecasting your cash flow, minimizing costs & outstanding payments, renewing your commercial license, avoiding visa costs, or changing administrative processes, there are solutions.


This article was provided by Biz Latin Hub (contact@bizlatinhub.com).

Virtual drag show to celebrate Pride in Colombia

If you’re missing this year’s Pride celebrations, why not join in tonight’s virtual drag show?

The drag show will be virtually this time. Photo: WikiCommons

This is usually the weekend when fun-loving bogotanos get to choose between sweaty headbanging at Rock al Parque and slightly less sweaty rainbow flag waving at the city’s Pride march. This year, the only way to participate in either event is through your computer screen.

Idartes have organised a series of online events and activities that you can join and watch from home. And the people behind a new physical and virtual LGBTQ+ space in Chapinero have picked today to launch their first podcast — a virtual underwear party with Mis Amigas Drag.

Read our latest coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

Cristina Rodríguez, Maritza Tamayo and Carlos Medellín tell me that Mis Amigas Drag al Desnudo has an “undress code” and will be the first of many online events, and eventually physical ones too. Whether it’s lectures, dances, DJs, the idea is to create a space that recognises the importance of identities, bodies, sexualities.

There’s a voluntary COP$5,000 donation that goes to Red Comunitaria Trans. Aside from that if you want to take part, all you need is a willingness to shake off your inhibitions and dance the night away via zoom. The organisers assure me that you don’t have to strip down to your undies, though they say the idea has gone down well with instagrammers who are already posting pictures. 

Cristina explains it’s more about being who you are and being proud of who you are: “There are different types of bodies, it’s not that you always have to be a perfect person with a beautiful body.”

More broadly, Carlos says, “The idea of the body and identity come across in a thousand different ways, but it doesn’t have to be a vision that is vulgar. It can be something that we talk about honestly.”

The show starts at 9pm tonight – get your tickets on their website.

Going Local in coronavirus: The Viral versus The Virus

In Colombia, coronavirus conspiracy theories are growing online. Is there an antidote?

Frontline doctors face threats while working in the covid-19 front line.

A voice audio drops in my WhatsApp: “Dear friends and family, gather close to hear this important message”.

The voice is firm, female, confident, middle class with a touch of paisa accent, like honey on rust. Soothing. The message is anything but.

“Doctors called my mother to the clinic for asthma control, but they are looking to kill her for 30 million pesos. Please, stay away from hospitals. Never go to the doctor, watch out, they are injecting people with coronavirus to kill them.”

The voice continues calmly: “It’s all part of a plan to reduce the population. All over the world families have had to give their quota. Don’t let it happen to you.”

This perfectly produced fake news from a seemingly educated and articulate source is just a small part of a social media infestation that in some corners of Colombia has converted hero health staff into villains.

It’s called the Cartel de Covid and plugs into a wide range of genuine public fear and frustrations wrapped in culture war zeitgeist that somehow coronavirus is at best an invented crisis, at worst a murderous scam.

Find the flower arrangers

The narrative reached its zenith this month when a doctor in Soledad, Atlántico, was sent two funeral wreaths after a patient he was treating died of COVID-19. The doctor is now under protection and an investigation is underway to find the flower arrangers.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 death scam trope keeps trending. Last week’s was a video of protestors outside a Bogotá clinic chanting “Here are doctors in the Cartel de Covid” organised by a bereaved family who said their “grandma went in fine but got coronavirus and died.”

How did we get here?

Unpicking the Cartel de Covid conspiracy tells us something about Colombia, its health system, our collective behaviour, how we test and treat COVID-19, and quite a bit about the virus itself.

And like most urban myths, it has roots in facts: This one being the unusually high number of COVID-19 patients in ICU (intensive care beds) in Cali. In fact, city hospitals were reporting twice as many patients in the ICU than the national rate.

Read our latest coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

Of course, there could be many legitimate medical reasons for this, many of them in the interests of the patients. But for local politician Abraham Jiménez it had to be money.

“While a normal bed for a COVID-19 patient costs 15 million pesos, an ICU bed costs 29 million,” announced the Cambio Radical senator, demanding a government investigation to uncover possible price gouging by the city health facilities.

The script was written: Hospitals were cashing in on sick and dying COVID-29 patients.

Mayo 27 2020 - Desmienten posible Cartel del Covid que se estaría gestando en el Valle

Sick of corruption

In Colombia, there are many good reasons for people to believe this. The complex public-private health system is rife with corruption, stories of which are drip-fed to a public already worn down by daily tramitología battles while trying to deal with their local privatised health clinic.

Some scams happen on a spectacular scale, such as with the infamous Cartel de Hemofilia lead by a local governor and health secretary who conspired to defraud the state of billions of pesos by creating a fake cohort of haemophilic patients.

But these big-scale embezzlements or desfalcos were headed up by politicians and back-room state officials. In contrast, the Cartel de Covid conspiracy aims its ire at front-line medical workers.

The “29 million-pesos ICU bed” calculation has warped into the “30 million cash” sum pocketed by medical doctors for every sick and dying patient they infect. In fact, it has doubled to 60 million pesos in recent days.

The irony is many medical workers in Colombia never even receive their regular salary, let alone a cash bonus for killing their patients.

Invisible menace

Another factor in these nutty theories surrounding COVID-19 lies in the illness itself, and the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes it. It’s new and startlingly strange; a vascular disease that spreads like a respiratory one (an early error was comparing it to flu) that scientists are only beginning to understand.

What we do know is that COVID-19 is a truly invisible menace with a long incubation period (14 days) and an ability to spread through symptom-free carriers (80% of infected have mild illness or nothing at all).

And while in its early days, the coronavirus outbreak could be tracked from patient to patient, Colombia long ago reached “community spreading” stage whereby its stealthy advance makes it pop up seemingly randomly. This just feeds the “granny got sick at the clinic” narrative – rather than believing granny got infected by dad who works in the market.

Testing times

Then there’s the testing. Nasal swabs sent to centralised labs for PCR testing are highly accurate but take days or weeks for results. The much-hyped blood drop rapid tests give feedback in minutes, but many false negatives, especially early on in infection.

Discordant results between these types of tests is fertile ground for conspiracy theorists.

“I tested negative last week – but now the hospital says I’m positive. They infected me,” is one story circulating. This follows the proliferation of paid-for rapid tests in private clinics that are happy to take your money but unlikely to explain the finer points of validation studies, viral loads, sensitivity and specificity. A bad test is worse than no test, as the virologists say.

Meanwhile, local health authorities are scrambling to scotch on-line theories that even the rigorous PCR tests – free to patients – are somehow a scam.

These unscrupulous posts “persuade people not to be tested, which causes yet more cases because those who are infected delay the isolation processes and it is easier to infect people,” wrote Cúcuta’s Health Secretary in their local paper this week.

Testing is vital for identifying at-risk patients and treating them on time. If no-one tests then vulnerable folk – mostly the elderly, but also with underlying health problems – turn up late and die.

Bully-boy doctrines

The fearful messages and lockdown rules emitted by authorities nationwide have been amplified and twisted into the bully-boy doctrines imposed with extreme prejudice by the country’s myriad armed gangs.

“Anyone with COVID-19 will be killed,” is one message from pandilleros in the Pacific port of Tumaco, writes a friend. In some barrios the locals throw rocks at medical teams trying to trace and track positive cases.

“We need to urgently put out messages to confront these attacks on the medical mission,” says my contact there.

In some barrios, people are too terrified to report anyone sick or seek help at the hospital. The result is empty wards for mild cases but overflowing critical beds as desperate people take the severely sick only as a last resort. And often too late.  

It happens at all social levels; Estrato 6 families have threatened elite clinics with lawyers if they test sick a sick relative.

And it happened to my own family when an aunt was hospitalised in a private clinic on the coast. She clearly had COVID-19 symptoms. No test was done. She died and was laid to rest with a traditional family funeral. We watched in Bogotá on Zoom.

“Why the hell didn’t they test her for COVID?” a doctor friend asked, puzzled.

“Maybe the clinic was scared to report a coronavirus case,” I suggested. “They didn’t want protestors outside with waving placards. Bad for business.” 

So keeps turning the vicious circle: Delayed medical assistance means more hospital deaths which in turn reinforces the Cartel de Covid rumour that has taken root. Front-line doctors now face furious family members barging their way into wards to remove the sick and dying, arguing that “doctors are making money from each body they cremate.”

No Más Infectados Ni Muertos Por Covid, Cuál Es La Clave? - Oswaldo Restrepo

Victims to victimisers

As if medical staff didn’t have enough problems already.

Since the start of the outbreak, the shortage of PPE – personal protection equipment – has caused rifts between front-line medical staff and health authorities and governments across the globe.

Colombia is no exception, and doctors and nurses’ unions have clashed with the government.

First, there were the state’s clumsy decrees attempting to force medical staff to work on COVID-19 wards (the legal moves failed). Then medical unions revealed the government was bucking its duty to provide masks, gloves and other protective material (it palmed that off onto workplace insurers then failed to follow up).

Then there were pay disputes, mass sackings, promised COVID-19 bonuses that never materialised, and the usual shenanigans that show up in Colombia when workers claim their rights.

“The health minister turned us from victims into victimisers,” states Herman Bayona, president of the Colegio Médico de Bogotá, writing in Las 2 Orillas this week.

Strict lockdowns across Colombia have created fear, and also a backlash against authorities

The minister’s comments have “questioned the ethics and professionalism of the doctors, making them seem like the determinants of criminal and corrupt behaviour”.

“Doctors are being attacked and sent death threats as part of a political power struggle,” affirms a close friend who works at high level in the medical profession. “The state doesn’t want doctors to denounce the government for its wrongdoings”.

Whacky WhatsApp

This plays to a counter-conspiracy theory: That behind the “Cartel de Covid” rumour runs a deep state plot to scare medical staff and soften the ground for any upcoming failures.

But that makes no sense. Colombia has done better than most to protect and prepare the population – and risk the economy – with some of the strictest lockdowns on the planet. Why bring it all down with some whacky warbling on WhatsApp?

The fact remains that even as Colombia enters its most critical phase of the coronavirus outbreak – deaths are over 2,000 and rising fast – the Cartel de Covid rumours could mean sick people stay home, doctors don’t work, no-one wants a swab, and clinics cover up COVID-19 deaths.  

In effect, the country is fighting viral attacks on two fronts. We need to win on both. 

Black Lives Matter comes to Colombia

Justice for George Floyd, Justice for Anderson Arboleda: Black Lives Matter in Colombia

Black Lives Matter in Colombia: Illustration of Anderson Arboleda.
Illustration of Anderson Arboleda. Illustration: Dani Sanjuan @danidsanjuan

On May 19, police in Cauca are alleged to have beaten 24-year-old Anderson Arboleda, who later died from his injuries. The reason? Arboleda had been suspected of breaking the department’s strict quarantine curfew. Just six days later in the United States, Minneapolis Police Officer Chauvin killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. As the United States and the rest of the world turn their attention to #BlackLivesMatter, Colombian artists and activists have highlighted the case of Arboleda: a horrific death of a young, Black, Afro-Colombian, unarmed man at the hands of police.

Bogotá saw a major Black Lives Matter protest on June 3, when various groups gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy to protest police brutality and the deaths of black people transnationally. One group burned a U.S. flag; others carried signs with slogans such as “ACAB, #BlackLivesMatter”, “Justicia para George Floyd,” and “Anderson No Murió, Anderson Lo Mataron. ACAB.” The signage highlighted the global nature of police violence, an issue that was central in the paro nacional as many criticised the government for its harsh treatment of protesters. 

Similar demands were seen following ESMAD’s killing of 18-year-old Dilan Cruz. But unlike the national strike, the June 3 protests centred Black and Afro-Colombian voices and highlighted Colombia’s violent form of anti-Blackness.

Media silence

ChocQuibTown’s Goyo, the first major musician to denounce Arboleda’s killing, wrote “Racism is when police murder a young [Black man] in Puerto Tejada supposedly for failing to comply with the quarantine. And this isn’t reported by big media outlets. Is this not enough to outrage a country?” J Balvin quickly followed suit, publicly demanding an investigation. An illustration of Arboleda surrounded by a wreath (echoing the viral, memorialising portrayals of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery)  has circulated on Instagram. “Por qué en Colombia No Lo Ves?” reads the post.

Aurora Vergara, Director of the Center of Afrodiasporic Studies at Universidad Icesi, told La Silla Vacia, “It’s not recognized that the foundation of the Colombian nation we know today derives from a system of slavery. And this doesn’t allow us to recognise that in 169 years the conditions of these human beings that are descendants of those that were enslaved have not changed much.” While Colombia’s history of slavery and development of race is distinct from that of the United States, Colombia’s own history of racism can be seen in police brutality towards Afro-Colombians and the assassinations of many Afro-Colombian social leaders.

Read our latest coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

Vergara continues, “For Colombia, George Floyd leaves the messages that racism kills, and it kills in different ways.” She cites the fact that Black men in Chocó, have the lowest life expectancy in the nation. Afro-Colombians overall see a lower life expectancy and an infant mortality rate three times the national average.

These inequities in health connect to a widespread devaluing of Afro-Colombian lives, exacerbated by poverty, the armed conflict, displacement, and access to government services. While Afro-Colombians represent a quarter of the population, they make up almost 80% of those living in poverty. More than 30% of Afro-Colombians have no water and sanitation services. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) argues these statistics can be attributed in part to disparities in land access. WOLA’s 2015 report on Afro-Colombians also found that many Black workers were regularly exploited for their labour, and ESMAD’s efforts to negotiate labour disputes have ended in violence wreaked upon those same exploited workers. “Colombia is officially a plural-ethnic country, but it is not treated that way,” wrote the authors. 

Afro-Colombians remain invisible

Colombia is home to the second-largest Black population in Latin America, but Afro-Colombians remain largely invisible in media, politics, and other positions of power. Only recently has “Afro-Colombian” been seen as a political and racial category; in 1993, when Afro-Colombian was introduced into the census, only 1.5% of the population checked its box. The United Nations reports that many Afro-Colombians historically identify with their geographical community, making political organisation difficult.

The lack of Afro-Colombian recognition continues in even leftist social movements. On June 15, more bogotanos returned to the streets. These protests, which made their way to El Centro, had #BlackLivesMatter wrapped up in a large list of demands. Some called for better government support for families and individuals barely making it through the pandemic’s economic consequences. Others repeated demands to end corruption at the national level, echoing calls seen during the paro nacional. But groups of protesters, including members of Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN) and Matamba, a Black feminist organization,  maintained their focus on Black lives, demanding justice for Anderson and other Afro-Colombians. Like previous marches pre-pandemic, many denounced ESMAD and local police’s violent responses. Photographers captured a gang of neon yellow-clad police officers kicking and surrounding a young person on the ground. Government forces launched tear gas and detained several on the streets. 

Related opinion piece: Who polices the police in Colombia?

Mayor Claudia López condemned the actions of protesters for violating strict quarantine rules. “It’s evident that those who called these protests in the middle of a pandemic have more interest in destabilising health and democracy and protecting it.” Right-wing US officials have cast similar critiques on Black Lives Matter protests; US-based protesters have responded with signs reading, “We are risking our lives because our lives are at risk.”

The question remains as to whether or not future anti-government, anti-brutality movements in Colombia will centre Black lives. Already, the June 15 marches saw many protesters launch a race-neutral attack on the government, failing to name disproportionate effects of violence on Afro-Colombian communities. At its core, the Black Lives movement in Colombia questions the nation’s self-conception through a homogenous, mestizo, multicultural identity. As protesters and Afro-Colombian scholars alike have noted, ignoring race and ignoring Blackness allows violence against Afro-Colombians to continue unchecked by both the political left and right.

Let’s walk the line: Johnny Cash virtual tribute tonight

Smoking Molly, Carlos Reyes and La Pole Artesanal want to help keep the city’s music scene afloat with tonight’s livestream.

The past three months have been dominated by duel health and economic fears. The lockdown restrictions have left many people unable to work temporarily, while others have lost their jobs completely.

Unsurprisingly, hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs – which still may not be able to open for some time to come – have been hard hit. While home deliveries make up for some restaurant trade and we’ve heard of a couple of tiendas starting to serve beers on the street, it’s not easy for venues like Smoking Molly, a blues, rock and jazz bar/restaurant in the Macarena to domicilio that live music vibe.

It’s not only the bars and clubs themselves that suffer, it’s also those who supply them. How many of the city’s fledgling craft breweries will still be here when we reopen? And how many artists, musicians and chefs have now joined the ranks of the unemployed?

That’s why it was great to hear from Smoking Molly boss Santiago Zuluaga about a virtual Johnny Cash tribute tonight at 8pm. It won’t be led by a boy named Sue, but by a man named Carlos Reyes. Reyes is a bogotano musician who often graces the Smoking Molly stage and we can expect a great mix of arrangements.

“Our business and our industry have taken a really hard blow, especially the artists,” Zuluaga said. “So we’ve been having conversations about how we can keep the scene going and the wheels going.”

He thinks it’s really important to keep the creative momentum. “Right now we’re having a bad time, but we’re partnering up with the venues, the music entrepreneurs and the artists to produce these types of things.”

Tonight’s broadcast is a collaboration between craft beer makers La Pole Artesanal, Carlos Reyes and Smoking Molly. 

Reyes speaks of the necessity using broadcasts like this to keep the community together. “Although it is necessary to migrate to the digital world through these broadcasts, we must not forget that the live scene is something that we built together during many years and constitutes the essence of this community.”

So if you’re up for a bit of Folsom lockdown blues, log in tonight at 8pm and hear Johnny Cash all over again.

@smoking_molly_
@lapoleartesanal
@carlosreyeslega

Oli’s big topic: Who polices the police?

There’s a clear discrepancy between what is officially allowed and what is actually happening in Bogotá at the moment.

Police code Colombia
Police aren’t enforcing the quarantine rules in Bogotá. Photo: Bogotá.gov

Pico y cédula is here at last! After so long waiting to catch up with more innovative areas of the country,