Colombia: COVID-19, raw capitalism and a corrupt and useless government

"We are facing one of the greatest challenges in our history," said Iván Duque on Sunday, 15 March referring to the health alarm the country is facing due to the increase in cases of people infected with the COVID-19 virus. The disease, already declared as a pandemic by the WHO, has crossed the ocean and surpassed our borders to settle in Colombian lands.

Its arrival has been a relief to the government which was at its lowest point in popularity and was jumping from one scandal after another. The entire leadership of the government and its political allies, including of course, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, have been accused of participating in a long list of crimes including: buying votes in the last presidential elections, links to Mexican drug trafficking, spying by the National Army on journalists, politicians and activists of all stripes of the national left, and a long list of other crimes. Therefore, Duque, together with his clique, has not hesitated twice to take this lifeline to focus all media and government attention on the new virus and its repercussions on the country, calling for "national unity".

Of course, his concern is superficial and only seeks to arouse a feeling of terror amongst the majority of the population to push them to accept any deal that might represent a solution. However, there is no truly effective solution behind the actions being taken today to prevent the rapid advance of the epidemic, and none of them remedies the underlying problems that have been dragging down the working class, poor peasants and marginalised majorities of the country for decades. This momentary "breathing space" provided by the situation will soon become a heavy burden that the weak government structure will not be able to bear and that will expose the failures of the system and the rottenness of our state, led by the most inept members of the Colombian bourgeoisie.

A healthcare system on the brink of collapse

The problems we face in Colombia, in reference to the current situation, are not very different from those suffered by other nations. However, our organisational and economic capacities differ greatly from those of the so-called first world countries. To date, the virus has claimed more than 7,500 lives worldwide [at the time of writing] and has broken through the frontline defences of the most advanced nations. It will no doubt be any different here, where one of our biggest problems is the overwhelming demand for care in overcrowded hospitals and healthcare centres since long before the arrival of COVID-19.

In fact, we are already in a season of peak flu and in several cities of the country not only do we handle the virus crisis, but also we have to take care of other possible respiratory diseases caused by the high degrees of pollution in the air. None of the local administrations have been very effective in dealing with these environmental by-products, making the work of health workers much more difficult.

Corruption is the main health issue in Colombia. It is one of the causes of the dismal medical scenario we face today. Of the supposed 95 percent enrolled in the contributory and subsidiary healthcare programme, only 30 percent receive full coverage. For example, in rural regions historically abandoned by the state, medical treatment is a fantasy. Our peasants, as well as the indigenous community, have no faith in the healthcare system that has abandoned them to their fate. Harassment by paramilitary groups is a more latent concern there. The arrival of a new virus in these territories will only represent one more evil to face. What is certain is that it is not very clear what protocols the government is following in these areas to prevent or handle the spread of the pandemic. So it is not wrong to assume that, if anyone in the rural areas is infected with COVID-19, then the figure is likely to be far above official estimates.

On the other hand, the health worker sector, already over-exploited and victim to multiple cuts will be one of the most affected by the increase in contagion. By having to redouble care in the midst of poorly equipped or often non-existent facilities, the environment will become a living hell. The worst thing is that their precarious job situation will worsen as the economic crisis deepens. In short, the system is walking a tightrope.

A dependent and backward economy

On the other hand, we have the economic crisis that has exploded in the face of international capitalism and that has begun to be felt in our country with the overflowing growth of the dollar, exceeding 4,100 colombian pesos. The burden of years of crisis and managing it putting all the weight on the shoulders of the working class worldwide, accumulating it until they burst with the arrival of the COVID-19 and the fight for oil prices. The bourgeoisie in every corner of the planet is in a panic. Life will become increasingly difficult for the poorer classes who, cornered by fear, today find themselves in a docility that will soon change in the face of the prospect of hunger and misery.

The fragile national economy is facing an equally complicated moment with the deepening crisis. Last week, oil speculation alone represented a loss of $2 trillion. In the future, the loss will be greater, since this is one of the products that brings the most profit to our treasuries and it will continue to fall. Our confidence in this kind of resource, for which we have paid in blood, in massacres, and the disdain for promoting more advanced industrial development takes its toll on us.

Colombia strikeAnger will explode at the government's response to the emergency, and there will be futher mass demonstrations calling for change / Image: fair use

The effects of this blow and others, such as the effect on tourism and trade, will eventually hit the ordinary people. Workers will find their food more expensive without an increase in their salary, or will be victims of massive layoffs. The economic blow has left the country in a rather fragile state, with financial panic leading to constant stock market closures. The government has no money to spend, but still continues to protect the interests of big business to whom it injects money to "strengthen" its economy, further impoverishing the suffocating lower classes. With unemployment rising and inflation about to skyrocket, there is no bright future in sight.

What about the national strike?

Right now everything is very quiet, several initiatives are moving and there are proposals to have a cacerolazo (pot banging) protest at home on 25 March. However, the credibility of the Mesa Nacional [National Strike Committee] has almost disappeared and the majority have chosen to join local assemblies or student groups with more advanced proposals, but recent events have slowed down these processes.

The main focus seems to be on confronting the virus and preventing its advance, adding a little to the institutional discourse. This is not entirely wrong, of course, since the concern is general and the disease and its effects will reach the poorest layers. But it is harmful to give silent and uncritical support to this proposal of national unity and calm. The only one who seems to be more connected to the demands of the masses is Senator Gustavo Petro of Colombia Humana (Humane Colombia) in union with the Unión Patriótica (Patriotic Union), a wing of the PCC (Colombian Communist Party). However, his ultimate goal is to use that social muscle at the ballot box and not in the heat of the struggle. This is a mistake, because in our opinion with a little political savvy they could take power right now.

Finally, one thing is clear with the dark days ahead, the rank and file will not stand still. Anger will explode and there will be mass demonstrations again calling for change. The sit-in by some employees at the El Dorado airport last Tuesday, demanding greater rigour with the protocols, security measures for the employees and a stop to the mass lay-offs; the protests in prisons asking for better health protection for the prisoners. As well as the general unrest expressed in social networks and the cacerolazo on Wednesday 18 March, all due to the government's ineptitude with the closing of the airport and other strategic errors all are examples of this. It is necessary to be prepared for when the unrest increases.

Taking stabs in the dark

In a country like ours it is useless to take a health situation like the current one in a lax way and the institutions know it, that is why they have tried to be efficient. However, it is only a comic show without a happy ending. To give an example, there are an uncountable number of errors and contradictions that have become apparent during the development of the imposed protocols that have begun to break the longed-for feeling of conciliation and national union.

So far Duque and his cabinet have announced the total closure of land and sea borders, closure of schools and universities, public and private and self-isolation if you have symptoms, the activation of home care protocols and after declaring the state of emergency, confinement for people over 70 for two months. However, none of these decisions is fully achieving its prevention objective, since they are initiatives that must fight the reality of a country that is in one of its most critical moments socially and politically. The lack of personnel, supplies and training at the borders; overcrowding in prisons; the non-suspension of international flights; the delay with the imposition of quarantine; and the lack of protection for formal and informal workers who need to leave their homes to survive, are some of the obstacles that make everything work halfway.

Duque Image Flickr Inter American DialogueThe Duque government has no real interest in providing a solution to the problem we face / Image: Flickr, Inter American Dialogue

The Duque government has no real interest in providing a solution to the problem we face. It just wants to look good internationally and delay the collective unrest in the face of its ineffective response; but it is not doing very well. Like the rest of the bourgeoisie in the world, our ruling class has no plan to combat the public health problem, they just put out one fire after another. In the future, their best programme is to continue as they are, without too much effort. The interests they defend are those of the big companies, as in the case of the airlines, which are allowed to break the guidelines so as not to put their profits at risk. The same applies to the large retailers, whom they blindly obey. An example of this is the decree issued this Wednesday 18 March, by the Presidency of the Republic which forbids any local government to impose curfews or carry out lockdown drills in their towns or cities under the threat of sanctions. The document was issued in response to complaints from members of the ANDI (National Association of Businessmen of Colombia) and FENALCO (National Federation of Commerce) who denounced economic losses due to these measures. The response of some local authorities was that of contempt, which led to the revelation of the deep fracture within the oligarchy.

The only way to stop a catastrophe on a global scale, such as the one we are experiencing, is to implement a Shock Plan that firmly defends the interests of the majority. This could consist of: a greater investment in the healthcare system to cover all material demands such as the increase in intensive care, beds, respirators and basic instruments, the hiring of health personnel and the manufacture of supplies. To avoid the number of infected people, it is necessary to impose a total quarantine with the payment of a salary for those affected. Stop the illegal layoffs. The cancellation of debts, rent, mortgages and energy bills for the duration of the pandemic. The majority of public capital should be used for this purpose and the rest should be gained through a special tax on large fortunes and the nationalisation of social security. Progress in research and improvement of the means of production should also be encouraged.

None of this, of course can be expected to be done by the national upper class and their puppets in the state. Each of their movements, though disguised by the cover of the general interest, seek only to save their own skins and those of the big capitalists.

The future

The government's opportunism to cover up its clumsiness and blunders with this situation has gone wrong, since behind every bad decision there is a huge and deep abyss of death and poverty that sustains heavy pillars of corruption and misgovernment. These are years of oppression in which the national bourgeoisie has been unable to respond with anything other than violence, clumsiness and criminality. The only solution in sight is to overthrow this corrupt government and the class it represents, since there is no solution of any kind in them, just as there is no solution in the system they represent. The people are aware of this. As the great Marxist Alan Woods wrote, "the people do not know what they want, but they know what they do not want," and here we no longer want this murderous ruling class that has hijacked the country for centuries.

Therefore, President Duque is not wrong when he says that we are facing one of the greatest challenges in our history. Indeed, we are facing one of the greatest challenges, that of the socialist revolution and it is the workers of the world who must assume it. The working class of Colombia is ready, but it lacks revolutionary leadership and must build it. From here we make the call to do so, studying the greats of Marxism and preparing the most advanced and audacious layers of the proletariat so that in the future they will be the ones who are in frontlines of the workers as they go into battle. Today more than ever the fight against barbarism is a necessity!

Socialism or barbarism!

Down with Duque and his corrupt government!

For a free and socialist Colombia!