Should you spend any substantial amount of time in Bogotá, you’ll doubtless be stuck in a traffic jam at one point or another either near to the Carrera Septima downtown, alongside the Calle 72 close to the Universidad Pedagogica or along the NQS 30 by the Universidad Nacional…in which case, get ready to enjoy some tear gas courtesy of Bogotá’s Esmad riot police.
Today it seemed that the students at the militant leftwing Universidad Pedagogica were protesting the increase in cost of a fare of the Transmilenio bendy bus system. Yesterday, the students were demonstrating at the Universidad Nacional. The increase is 200 pesos per journey and while it may not seem like a lot, roughly seven cents, imagine that people living on the minimum wage, paying rent and existing on the peripheries of the formal economy, already struggle to make ends meet.
So, I did get a lot closer than this photo lets on and had to cover my mouth with my hoodie as the fog of tear gas descended. My eyes stung and I was relieved when a merciful breeze blew the foul-smelling tear gas elsewhere. My advice is to get out of there when the tension is palpable and tear gas will undoubtedly be used.
I am not suggesting that you involve yourself in the actual body of a demonstration as this will herald serious repercussions, but stand back, from a safe distance, and witness a red-blooded protest in action, you’ll never forget it. For some further advice about demonstrations in Colombia, please read this article.
Even when there’s no demonstration, I do recommend that you take a stroll in this direction to check out some of the militant graffiti in the area since it’s very illustrative and incredibly creative.
Remember though that just around the corner from here, there have been small explosives detonated. So, do be careful. There were not only petards on the Calle 72 but also in the district of Teusaquillo and on an earlier occasion, right by the police stand in Lourdes Park.
While most of the explosives have been attributed to the ELN guerrillas putting pressure on the Government to cede to demands at the negotiating table, there remains a great deal which is unclear to me.
But, back now to the demonstrations today here. Surely there is some way to demonstrate without such damage to private and public property and without hindering the local people on their journeys home on a Friday afternoon?
For the time-being though, stay safe, and try your first dose of tear gas should you be in the area of a demonstration. Remember there is a march on April 1 in Bogotá ostensibly against corruption but also to object to the peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas.