Colombian protests and small businesses

By Tasha Sandoval December 2, 2019

The small business community is feeling the effects of the protests, but many still support the movement.

Colombian protests and small businesses
Photo: Tim Mossholder, Unsplash

According to national merchant’s federation Fenalco, the Colombian economy lost more than COP$150 billion daily in the strike’s first week, between November 21 and 28. They also calculate that COP$50 billion of the money lost can be directly attributed to disruptions in Bogotá. 

The US dollar also shot up significantly in the last week, as foreign investors got nervous about the protests and their potential economic consequences. As of Monday morning, December 2, the dollar is at COP$3,515.

The hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit, as tourists and business travelers have cancelled their plans. According to la Asociación Hotelera y Turística de Colombia (Cotelco), Colombia’s hotel and tourism association, the industry has lost an estimated COP$1 billion since the strike began. 

To express their discontent with the economic slowdown, business owners in the central business district of San Victorino protested against the strike on Thursday, November 28. People expressed frustration at how much the strike has slowed down business, as limited transportation and fear of getting caught up in a riot kept many bogotanos off the streets. 

Eneldo 100% Natural, a vegan restaurant across the street from la Universidad Nacional, has had to shut its doors often since protests began. The restaurant, which has been open for a little over two years, has served the Nacional community, as well as its surrounding neighborhood of El Recuerdo, offering no-frills vegan lunches.

Eneldo 100% Natural had to shut its doors on November 29. Photo: Tasha Sandoval

Despite the instability, the restaurant’s owners, Ingrid Alejandra Castro Caro and Diego Armando Jimenez Parra expressed unequivocal support for the strike. “My husband and I have always supported the strike,” said Castro Caro.

“Whenever we can, we march with the youth, but there are consequences. These are consequences and we knew going into it, being surrounded by a public university, especially la Nacional, that this kind of thing happens. It’s something that’s always going to happen. We support the strike because if the government listens to the people who are protesting, it’s going to be for the betterment of all of these young people, to all these people that will come after us.”

“And so we support the strike 100%, but we small business owners have to look to other opportunities.”

Ingrid Alejandra Castro Caro, vegan restaurant owner

Castro Caro explained that due to a combination of circumstances, Eneldo 100% Natural closed its doors on Friday, November 29. Slow service during the long student strikes at La Nacional in 2018 caused the restaurant to close for weeks on end or open and serve less than ten lunches per day. After the strike ended, business never picked up again. 

“There just isn’t real stability,” said Castro Caro.  “And so we support the strike 100%, but we small business owners have to look to other opportunities. We have to try to not get angry and not think ‘Oh no, now I have to close up shop because of these young protesters.’ No, we have to see it as hope that something is going to change in the future. And as they say, as one door closes another one opens.”

Read all our coverage on Colombia’s national strike

Marcela Orozco, owner of dance studio Suculenta Escuela de Baile in the North’s El Retiro neighbourhood, has also felt the effects of the strike. 

“What happens in the city, what happens in the country, affects everyone’s mood, even when it comes to something as fun as going to dance class,” said Orozco. 

She first cancelled planned dance classes on the night of the national strike of November 21. Transportation throughout the city became so complicated that she went on to cancel her classes, which go from 5 to 9 pm, for 8 consecutive days. 

“It amazes me, really, that a lot of people who you might think would never be willing to go out and march for their country are maybe doing it this time”

Marcela Orozco, dance studio owner

“It was worrisome to leave at that time and not know if we were going to be able to get transport. That’s the fundamental reason that we decided not to have class the day of the strike,” said Orozco.

Orozco added that she also “understood that the mood of the people and the city’s conditions weren’t in line with going to dance.”

Despite the effects that it has had on her dance studio, Orozco fully supports the strike, and expressed optimism about its possible effects.

“It amazes me, really, that a lot of people who you might think would never be willing to go out and march for their country are maybe doing it this time,” said Orozco

“People think that you can’t change things by banging on a pan but I do think that the fact that everyone’s going out on the streets and that people are uniting under the same sentiment can be the beginning of the government starting to take on a different attitude. I think that strikes are an extreme measure, but I also think that this time, it’s been different.”