Wednesday’s National Strike can either go two ways: one, the majority of demonstrators march peacefully and as night falls, the streets of Bogotá are emptied in preparation for the 8 pm curfew. The second scenario – and equally possible – is that the protest descends into chaos as hordes of criminals attack shops, banks, police command posts, and inevitably the capital’s mass transportation system TransMilenio.
The Paro Nacional has as its lead petition the repeal of a tax reform bill that was presented to Congress by the government of President Iván Duque to raise an additional US$7 billion to compensate for the fiscal deficit incurred by the coronavirus pandemic. But the clarion call to defy recommendations by the national government to avoid crowds and public gatherings as the country grapples with record deaths from COVID-19, as well as per-day cases of infection not seen since January with the second peak, has been championed by strike organizers, trade union representatives and political leaders of every left-wing party or coalition.
As the protest gains momentum on social media, two of the strike’s most outspoken supporters, Senators Gustavo Petro and Gustavo Bolívar, are calling for civil disobedience and indefinite strike action. By rallying their bases to take to the streets, not for one day, but for as long as it takes to revoke the Reforma Tributaria, they are also attempting to cripple the country by dealing an economic death blow to the presidency of Iván Duque. By threatening to hold hostage an entire nation during a pandemic that has claimed the lives of 72,000 Colombians, the “two Gustavos” have shown their utmost disdain of good citizenship and patriotism, worsened by the reality that the country’s health system is buckling under the strain of overcrowded ICUs.
The anti-tax reform protest of #28A is a carefully orchestrated ruse to push Colombia’s democratic integrity to the brink, motivated by scores of professional instigators and pedestaled by their community managers. In a tweet on Monday, Gustavo Petro professed that “During Strike Day it’s better not to work, take out the car, do financial transactions, buy soft drinks, visit shopping centers, or use TransMilenio. So they feel what’s it’s like to have a strike that could last indefinitely.”
The “they” referring to the already severely impacted businesses with coronavirus lockdowns, as well as the entire gammut of the country’s financial, industrial and manufacturing sectors. Former Bogotá mayoral candidate Miguel Uribe Turbay responded to the former militant of the M-19 guerrilla expressing a sentiment many who oppose the protests believe is a dangerous provocation to bring down a democratically-elected government. “Gustavo Petro never changed: he continues to extort Colombians,” stated Uribe Turbay. Even President Duque’s closest political ally, former right-wing President Álvaro Uribe Vélez has questioned many of articles in the Reforma, and is calling for ammendments to reach “consensus” among lawmakers.
Should the security situation deteriorate on Wednesday in Bogotá the responsibility to guarantee public order rests entirely on Mayor Claudia López. President Duque could authorize a city-wide curfew at the request of López if confrontations between rioters and police continue Thursday, not unlike the violence that besieged the Colombian capital in the days following the start of the Paro Nacional on November 21, 2019. After a night of looting and confrontations between vandals and members of the Metropolitan Police, then-Mayor Enrique Peñalosa issued a curfew that was enforced with the help of the Colombian Army.
Given the precedent of #21N, and other social protests that get infiltrated by violent “collectives,” Bogotá residents should limit their movements and avoid places where confrontations have broken out in the past, among them, the historic center and Plaza de Bolívar; Parque Nacional (Cra 7 with 32); Los Héroes monument (AutoNorte with Calle 80); Centro Memoria Histórica (Calle 26 with Cra 30); Centro Bavaría (Cra 7 with Calle 28); Calle 170 with AutoNorte. And taking advice from one private security agency “every business and residence should assess safety protocols and enforce stay-at-home orders.”
The lack of empathy by the National Strike Committee with the country’s medical community contrasts with the government’s ongoing efforts to secure coronavirus vaccines. On Monday, Colombia’s Minister of Health Fernando Ruíz confirmed that one million additional Sinovac vaccines left China and arrive in Bogotá Tuesday evening, completing 800,000-second doses for persons aged 65 or over. U.S pharma giant Pfizer will also hand over an additional 540,000 doses on Wednesday. While Monday saw an encouraging deceleration with 12,839 new coronavirus cases, within hours of the start of Paro Nacional, the Ministry of Health confirmed 17,578 new cases and 436 deaths raising the nation’s total to 72,235