Bogotá quarantine: Soacha’s red cloths

By Emilse Cruz Villada April 3, 2020

Our look at how quarantine is affecting different areas of Bogotá takes us further afield to Soacha.

Soacha Quarantine
Red cloths hang poignantly in Soacha’s windows during the quarantine. Photo: Emilse Cruz Villada

Quarantine or no quarantine, there are still a lot of people in Soacha who can’t afford to stay home. A lot of people are staying in, but there’s still plenty of activity on the streets.

From my window, I can see red cloths hanging in many windows. It’s difficult to see so many of my neighbours are struggling – the red cloths are a way to show people that they need help. There are a lot of people who are not officially catalogued as vulnerable, so don’t receive assistance, but because they work independently are losing money.

I’ve lived in Soacha for a long time, but there’s more poverty here than I realised. People would rather die from the virus than from hunger, they say the virus would only kill one member of the family but hunger will kill them all.

Some do not have a choice. Mario, a 40-year-old builder, couldn’t work even if he wanted to. Even without the quarantine, nobody’s doing any renovations. Coronavirus fears mean clients won’t risk having any unnecessary people in their homes. “I’ve got a bit of money saved,” he told me. “But it’s not going to last for long.”

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That’s a sentiment echoed by Soacha resident Jhoana, a hairdresser who works from home. Her business has been suspended to combat contagion, which puts her in a difficult situation. “I am not classified as vulnerable so I don’t qualify for help from the government,” she said.

Landlord Carlos lives on one floor and rents out the other. He is concerned about what will happen as his tenants can’t work and need to use the money they have to cover their food costs. He won’t throw them out, but his small allowance doesn’t go very far towards the costs of public service and utility bills.

And the quarantine is no picnic for those who can still work. Armando is classed as an essential worker because he’s employed in a supermarket. He needs to support his family, even though on some days he has to cycle the 24 km into Bogotá because of limits on who can enter the TransMilenio stations. He says it’s a tough ride but he can’t afford to lose his job.

The TransMilenio in Soacha is operating a ‘pico y cédula’ service that limits the use of the service according to ID numbers. Depending on the day and the final number of your ID, you’re only able to use the service at certain hours — this in an attempt to thin traffic and limit the spread of the virus.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Yuliana’s routine hasn’t changed much at all. The only real change is that they have to wear facemasks and gloves at the warehouse in Abastos where she works. She’s able to get to work by buseta and says that if anything, her trip is easier now because there’s less traffic.

While Soacha is closely tied to Bogotá, it’s actually a different municipality. The mayor of Soacha, Juan Carlos Saldarriaga, is asking citizens to help neighbours who have hung red cloths from their windows that show they are in immediate need. He says they have received an extra 50,000 food packages from the government and the Red Cross which will be distributed, but that more help is needed.

What’s worrying is the number of people pinning their hopes on an April 13 end to the quarantine. Mario spoke for many when he said he’s holding on “I’m not receiving any help at the moment, so I’m waiting for the quarantine to pass so that everything can go back to normal.”

But this week, Bogotá mayor Claudia López warned that the lockdown may well continue until June. If that happens, several of the people I spoke to this week would not be able to cope. Both Mario and Jhoana said if the quarantine is extended they will need support from the local authorities, and that they would also have to ask family or friends for financial help.

It looks like we’ll see a lot more red cloths in the windows of Soacha by June.