My taxi driver this morning was indignant, he was full of contempt for Bogota’s mayor Gustavo Petro, hatred for the President Juan Manuel Santos and possessed even more vitriol towards those who had turned a peaceful march – the Paro Nacional Agrario – in support of striking farmers into a battleground in several areas of Bogota.
This strike has been seen as legitimate and is widely supported by most sectors of Colombian society. President Juan Manuel Santos’ reaction to the nationwide strike is likely what caused the event to escalate to take the battle into cities such as Bogota and Medellin.
Downtown Bogota this morning was empty as I headed in for a meeting. There was talk of nothing else and the only visible work taking place was that of clearing up debris. It was a mess.
I spoke to a few shopkeepers about the events of August 29, and most had shut up their businesses with the increase in the violence. Almost all were complaining from the after effects of the tear gas fired by the ESMAD agents in response to the disturbances.
So, what next? Given the violence that started yesterday afternoon (blamed of course by the Government on the guerrillas), Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, in what feels like a last throw of the dice, decided to apply a mano dura aproach to the rioting enforcing a curfew – toque de queda – and prohibiting the sale of alcohol – ley seca – in various problematic barrios.
Then in perhaps in an act resembling that of his predecessor he called for his ministers to withdraw from negotiations with campesinos due to the violence and followed this up by militarizing Bogota. All over the city there was a heavy police and military presence. Does this make you feel safer?
Kevin Howlett of Colombia Politics described the scene this morning in Bogota eloquently as a “rarefied atmosphere” which conveyed the scene in the city perfectly.
Curiously, what we are seeing is a convergence of two extremist ideologies, albeit from polar opposite ends of the spectrum, pulling and pushing as if they were working together. You have on one side the Uribistas and on the other the guerrillas and both seem to be intent on one aim, that of ousting President Santos. Accusations are flying back and forth about either side infiltrating the peaceful marches to turn them sadistic. And while, as I write this, there seems to be some sort of agreement reached between the government and the farmers, after two weeks of centralist pretensions from Santos, this is an issue that will not go away and needs to be addressed.
Bogota felt as if she was suffering from the mother of all hangovers today.