Last Friday (27 July), Bogotá woke up with its main avenues blocked. The powerful taxi drivers’ group did it in protest because 8 of them have been murdered this year, the latest one, Mario Orlando Velásquez, 39, on Thursday night. The above 17-minutes Caracol TV report, broadcast at Friday noon (and co-presented by lovely Silvia Corzo), summarizes the chaos and everything most Bogotans had to go through in order to arrive to their workplaces or their schools or colleges.
It was too late when Bogotá mayor, leftist Luis Eduardo Garzón, himself elected mostly because of the votes of groups as the taxi and bus drivers’, ordered police to dissolve the protest and unblock the streets by force, after the local government and the taxi drivers’ representatives concerted a meeting for talks toward the resolution of their concerns around 10:00. The following video, posted by a left-wing group magazine, shows the police abuses in some points of the city. One taxi driver says they’re fighting for their own lives:
Since the Transmilenio system was blocked (their drivers were caught playing parqués), and some bus drivers joined the protest, people had to walk, ride a bicycle or trucks (even TV crew vans) in order to get to their destinations. Despite most people agree the drivers’ reasons to protest are fair and right, a lot of them don’t endorse the way they chose. The latest location unblocked was Quirigua, a neighbourhood northwest of the city, where the traffic started to flow again after 12:30.
Jaime Restrepo slams Mayor Garzón at his centre-right blog Atrabilioso:
Who would say that? To paralyse a 7-million-habitant city is very easy: all you need is to block some avenues, yell speeches, shoutat the police and to have a fainthearted mayor. What happened last Friday in Bogotá shows tangibly two of the Luis Eduardo Garzón administration’s biggest flaws: mobility and security.
It seems Lucho Garzón is always surprised by the strikes and the protests: one year ago the Mayor woke up (who knows if after one of his usual party nights) with the city paralysed and only by noon he was able to take some measures. As he woke up and landed on his functions, Bogotá was a riot, blockades and walker tides hurrying for get to their workplaces chaos.
Restrepo also criticizes Garzón for some nominations for important posts at his administration (he appointed a journalist for Secretary of Mobility).
Italian blogger Doppiafila, who already had expressed his lack of sympathy toward cabbies, wanted to remark some points:
- [The taxi drivers’] group shows it’s completely irresponsible and unaware of the “protest gradualness” concept;
- This lack of civility is bad for the taxi drivers (who deserve it), but -above all- [also] for the other groups, because it contributes to the bad fame all the unionized have in this country;
- I think there are political issues behind the protest, instead the 8 drivers’ deaths;
- There are 47,000 taxi drivers in Bogotá -all of them above 18 years old- with an electoral potential which includes their families and the huge economic related activities around this fleet;
- I think, therefore, that the truth message went to the candidates for the Bogotá City Council and it could be summarized as: “we’re so many, we’re so strong and we have no qualms: shall we talk about our needs, please?”
Journalist and blogger Carlos Sanabria, who is a member of the awarded Generación Invisible collective, has a wonderful “first-person” feature. He posted the audio of an interview with the passengers and the driver of a small bus known as colectivo who took some people, including him, from northern Bogotá to Calle 85, a middle step to downtown. He also interviewed the taxi driver who took him to his job at a national radio network, catching the radiotelephone conversations of the cabbies. Sanabria usually spends around half hour from his home to his job. On Friday 27 July, he spent two hours. He also referred to a phrase Mayor Garzón said to the media:
“I didn’t even know there was a strike”. A statement who you don’t know if it’s baffling or shameless.
It’s pretty obvious this issue will be one of the main discussions on the campaign for the 28 October local elections. We’ll see what happens.