Colombia: transport strike paralyzes Bogotá

On the morning of March 1 members of Bogotá’s Small Transport Providers Association (APETRANS), which represents about 90% of the Colombian capital’s transport owners and workers, pulled some 16,400 buses and collective taxis out of service in a dispute with Mayor Samuel Moreno Rojas over his plans for modernizing the city’s public transportation. Bogotá residents used trucks, bicycles and even vehicles drawn by animals to get to work and school in what most observers described as “chaos.” On March 3 Mayor Moreno ordered the closing of public schools to relieve the congestion caused by the strike and authorized the sharing of individual taxis and other alternative transportation methods. He also sent 500 extra police agents to the streets in collaboration with the army’s 13th Brigade.

By the time the mayor and APETRANS president Alfonso Pérez reached an agreement on March 4, the police claimed to have arrested at least 215 people for looting, attacks on transport or disorderly conduct. On the night of March 2 some 300 youths reportedly destroyed a police station in the La Gaitana neighborhood in northwestern Bogotá. Businesses said their sales had fallen by 60%.

Mayor Moreno’s plan, the Integrated Public Transport System (SITP), seeks to rationalize the capital’s transport by consolidating routes, replacing antiquated and polluting buses with new buses, and starting a subway system. APETRANS was demanding a greater role for its members in the new system and a higher rate of compensation for older buses retired from service. In the settlement, Moreno increased the payments for buses, while the transport providers gave in on their demand for more participation in the SITP.

Politicians on the right took advantage of the strike to attack Moreno, a member of the center-left Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA) party. Bogotá “lacks a mayor,” former president Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002, Conservative Party) announced on March 3. Moreno needs to “do his job,” Pastrana continued, “or if he can’t, he runs the risk of being recalled.” On Feb. 18, well before the strike, Germán Vargas Lleras, presidential candidate of the right-wing Radical Change party, said he wouldn’t discount the possibility of promoting a referendum for Moreno’s recall. (La República, Peru, March 3 from EFE; El País, Colombia, March 4 from Colprensa; La Opinión, Los Angeles, March 5 from El Diario-La Prensa, New York)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 9

See our last post on Colombia.