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Colombia: What Covid-19 Lays Bare

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

16 April 2020

Covid-19 has laid bare many of the elements of capitalism around the world. Companies' profits are more important than human lives and the governments are more concerned with resuscitating the economy, i.e. the generation of profits, than how to resuscitate a patient. Such is capitalism. In Colombia the virus has also laid bare some things; the type of government we have, the nature of a kleptocratic State and the useless character of some of the so called alternative voices.

The tardy decisions taken by Duque's team - (lets be honest, he doesn't make decisions nor even think, he is the stereotypical village idiot!) - were influenced by the needs of the Avianca airline and other companies to continue to make a profit and risk our health in the interests of their commercial balance. The decision to give billions in public funds to the banks and to personalities who financed the election campaigns of the Uribistas, Liberals, Conservatives and others (in these matters they have few political differences) in order for them to loan it to the poor, instead of donating that money directly to the poor, either as cash, food and essential items is a crime. It is the plunder of the exchequer and, as we all know, the banks are not lending to the poor, nor even to the middle class, that money remains in the banks vaults.

We face a ruling class that for more than 70 years has ruthlessly murdered the poor who opposed their policies! The only surprise is that anyone is 'surprised' by what the Uribistas and other sectors have done. So be angry but don't be surprised, as if it were the first time in the history of the country that a President stole money to give it to the rich. They all did it in their time; Samper, Gaviria, Pastrana, Santos, Barco etc!

The reaction from what passes for a Left in Colombia has not been much better. On the one hand Gustavo Petro made statements about what is obvious, that Colombia's health law, Law 100, has to go and he proposed a debate after the crisis on the issue, but as the reformist that he is and as someone who in his own words seeks a lasting alliance with the bourgeoisie, the question arises, why do we have to wait until after the pandemic? Now is the moment, when the people can see the consequences of that law in front of their eyes and what the Right wants. They can see that their lives are merchandise. Now is the moment, not for a debate, but for a clear proposal of a national free, quality health system and the abolition of private medicine! Non public systems prioritise the profits of the companies, mixed systems, in general are poor quality systems for the workers and good quality systems for the rich and that is not acceptable. It is not acceptable that whether one lives or dies in a hospital depends on one's income. A debate in which the result will be negotiated is a half hearted measure.

The State does not care whether people die or not. There are lots of poor and if they die, then neither Duque, Uribe and Santos care much. How can we say such a thing about the "great man of peace," Manuel Santos? Simple. He was a minister in the Liberal government of Cesar Gaviria in which Law 100 was passed and then in the government of Pastrana and both of Uribe's mandates and later he was President.

The situation we find ourselves in is the monster of all of them. Now they fear the possibility that the villagers will, as in the Frankenstein movies, come to the castle to burn it down with them inside. Thus, the time for a debate on Law 100 is now, not later! Later on it will be subject to negotiation and who supports which candidate in 2022 and almost certainly it will become an issue to be resolved through the presidential elections, as Petro is one of those who doesn't like to mobilise people other than on election day. Meanwhile, doctors will die, patients will die at a greater rate than normal, as the poor always die due to problems with the health system, but not as evidently, they die far from Congress!

López, the great... López

The moment seemed to have arrived for Claudia López to show herself off as a presidential candidate, as she already had the Mayorship of Bogotá from where she could publicly disagree with state policy. For some, López represented those so called New Citizens, she was a woman and lesbian and so she was 'progressive'. The reality of the first few months of her government, let the mask slip quickly, even before the problem with Covid-19 emerged. When she was a Senator she became famous for some debates and interventions on the issue of paramilitaries. López, like the best politicians in Colombia knew how to hire a good legislative team, which carried out good investigations, but her style of debate was like that of her opponent, Uribe Vélez, both of them are loudmouths. The immense emptiness of her proposals and her lack of political ability can be seen now as Covid-19 can't be beaten by shouting at it. Everyone is aware of that except, it would seem, her!

When the crisis broke out, she and others demanded that the airport be closed, which was logical. Then she declared a simulacrum of quarantine without thinking about how it should be done and less still about the poor who live from day to day; if they don't work, they don't eat. Then she says she won't charge people for public services and retracts, almost immediately, acknowledging she has no powers in the matter. But she had played her card, she publicly shouted that she wouldn't charge for public services, knowing she could do nothing about it and then looked on as Duque refused to declare the suspension of charges. With this manoeuvre she aims to profile herself as a presidential candidate in 2022.

Her actions regarding Covid-19 when not demagogical are improvised and poorly planned. She shouts again, in the same style as Uribe, that those who left Bogotá before her simulacrum, which was extended without any thought to merge into a national quarantine, would not be allowed back into Bogotá - then later yes they could! Now she can't even stop the rich from leaving Bogotá for Easter Week, just like she hasn't managed to deliver food to the most needy. The word inept seems to be the most appropriate.

But in 2022 López will play with her image in the midst of this crisis and it won't be very difficult to put forward a more serious, more capable image, as long as she is being compared to Duque. Anyone is more... than Duque! But her policies are rightwing. She started her mayorship scolding the students, her declarations in the midst of the crisis have

an authoritarian tone and air about them such that no one can doubt her rightwing and repressive tendencies (which she has never denied).

The Colombian government decided to buy 18 tanks for the ESMAD (specialist riot squad) at a cost of 12.000 million pesos (roughly three million dollars) as is well known, in the midst of an epidemic, good right wing politicians cannot forget to equip themselves with good repressive tools. Equipping the ESMAD is more important than equipping the doctors. It also signed a contract to supply bullet proof vehicles to all of Bogotá's city councillors, most of whom have no security problems. We are lacking ventilators but they spend 2,600 million pesos (roughly 650,000 dollars) on armoured plated cars for layabouts. On these points Claudia López said nothing, as she is in agreement with them, in the face of protests in the south of Bogotá, send in the ESMAD, but not food!

On the issue of the San Juan de Dios hospital, where she does have responsibility and direct power, like her predecessor Peñalosa, she prefers to knock down buildings and speculate with the site. She has decided we don't need the building and that it is better to speculate with the land than to treat Covid-19 or other types of patients and she has permitted the hiring of the Corferias convention centre at a cost of 11,000 million pesos (2.75 million dollars) as a space to equip a temporary hospital, instead of equipping San Juan de Dios as a permanent hospital. There was some discussion as to whether San Juan de Dios could be equipped or not as an emergency hospital, but there is no doubt that it could be fitted out as a normal permanent hospital, instead of the corrupt handover of public funds to the owners of Corferias.

Another politician Iván Cepeda, proposed taking one trillion pesos (250 million dollars) from the Ministry of Defence for the fight against Covid-19. The proposal is not bad, but again it comes up short and is a half hearted measure regarding the problem. Now is the time to demand the most, not the least, it is time to make fundamental changes, not short term ones, and none of this can be subordinated to the 2022 elections.

What we see in Colombia is a savage capitalism willing to walk over any number of dead that are deemed necessary to guarantee profits for the usual suspects and we also see a Left leadership that believes it is negotiating some point or other in some draft law in some Senate commission. Meanwhile the naïve, and a few cynics, that campaigned for Claudia López and backed her remain silent or praise her decisions, as they live far from the misery of Bogotá, where the quarantine is a lack of food, a lack of medical care, a lack of everything except CS gas!

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