Skip to main content

Tomorrow September 27, the strike in the south of the capital of the country begins, it is organized by different urban sectors of the peripheral areas of the capital; but why is the south of Bogotá striking? Why on the 27th of September? This date remembers one of the greatest tragedies of public and environmental health of the Colombian cities. These environmental, social and political conflicts have only been getting worse as Diego Pinto presents in this article.

By Diego Pinto*. On September 27, 1997 after an accumulation of methane gas and leachatesi the landfill Doña Juana produced an explosion that caused the landslide of more than a million tons of trash. This catastrophe has caused since then, serious impacts to the health of thousands of families who inhabit Ciudad Bolívar and Usme; and the contamination of the Tunjuelo River which harms all of those who live in the south of the city.

Today, 20 years later, hundreds of social, environmental and popular organizations in the south of the city announce a strike in the entire basin of the Tunjuelo River.  Ciudad Bolívar, Usme, Bosa, Techotiba (Kennedy), Rafael Uribe, San Cristóbal and other localities have manifested their intention of mobilizing against the improvisation of bad governments, that have favored business and economic gains over life in conditions of dignity for the millions of people who live in the south of the city.

Doña Juana

In the year 1988 the poorly named landfill Doña Juana began to function and today it receives around 7,000 tons of trash every day that come from all over the city and even from some municipalities close to Bogotá. The presence of this dump creates bad odors, respiratory and skin diseases, proliferation of flies and rodents, and contamination of the subterranean water sources, like the Tunjuelo River.

While the communities of Mochuelo protest the difficult situation that they have to live with due to the presence of the dump in their territory, the UAESP -Special Administrative Unit of Public Services- opened up a new bidding process for the management model of solid residues for 4.8 billion pesos, leaving out not only the recycling population but also without looking for mechanisms of agreement about the final disposal of the garbage; so without discussing the necessary closing of the dump that is the demand of the affected habitants.

The administration of the landfill that is in charge of the consorsium CGR has not been able to solve the impacts to the community. There are no clear solutions for a scheme that benefits the most vulnerable populations like those that work as recyclers, and on the contrary, it is evident how they have been able to amass a good amount of money for some business owners, such as the participation of Luis Alberto Ríos Velilla, owner of Servigenerales and Aseo Capital and with clear ties to the political party of the current mayor.

This situation has unleashed different protest actions by the inhabitants that are tired of dealing with the situation and demand that the district have a serious discussion with profound solutions. This has not happened, due to the denial by the administration of Enrique Peñalosa that against the demands of the community, has manifested his intention to use the landfill for 50 more years, ignoring the recommendations of the environmental authorities.
This situation has been the detonating factor to discuss why there are some sectors in the city that should carry the weight of the social and environmental problems of the city. It is the South not only geographically but in general the margin, the peripheral, where its inhabitants must deal with undignified conditions so that the business model of a few can consolidate.

Peñalosa and his model of the city

If the problems of the city have been accumulating for a while, it has been under the current administration that they have exacerbated and been unveiled. The model that privileges the PPP (Public Private Partnerships), that seek to privatize public companies and that tend to strengthen a type of model of territorial organization of the Center-Periphery that the mayor Peñalosa has chosen to make the pockets of some businesspeople (above all the construction sector, due to their evident ties to Cambio Radical, the party of Vargas Lleras) get filled, while the populations have to deal with the negative aspects of the model.
The territorial model that Peñalosa wants to introduce is evidenced in the interventions in the Bronx and in Maria Paz, located in the locality of Kennedy, that looks to generate spaces for the real estate business by displacing with the pretext of security problems for the population that lives in those territories. This, on top of the growing mining activity in the south of the city where not only communities are displaced but also there are irreversible impacts to nature contaminating water sources, damaging the soil and altering the order of the ecosystems.
The treatment of the informal venders as if they were delinquents, instead of offering options to formalize employment that have the necessary budget to dignify the work of thousands of Bogotanos; the de facto exclusion of the recycling population in the treatment of solid residues scheme and the growing unemployment are also examples of the disposition of the administration and although it affects the whole city there are important implications in the South.
Without even talking about mobility where it is clear that the big businesses benefit with the model of rapid transit buses (Transmilenio) and the option of the underground metro is discarded that could solve the grave situation that is presented in terms of transportation.
Despite the multiple spaces of negotiation that the communities have tried to initiate with the district administration, it has not been possible for the mayor and his government cabinet to give solutions to the needs and problems in the south of the city, instead the response has been the militarization of the neighborhoods and the repression of social mobilization by the Anti-Disturbance Mobile Squad -ESMAD- (riot police).

The strike in the south, emergency break in the face of the crisis

Due to the grave situation of the unresolved issues and the lack of disposition of the public entities to attend to these situations, those living in the south have decided to go to the streets to demand dignity for the south of the city. The demands include issues of territorial organization with payment of the social and environmental debt; social rights, human rights and a dignified habitat; access to justice, security and cohabitation in the territories.
The expected result of these days of mobilization will be that the administration gives clear answers, defined routes to the solution to the different problems where the communities are protagonists and not just consulted or informed about the decisions.
These days of strike and mobilization are added to the many others that demand the exit of the administration of the mayor Enrique Peñalosa, and are a clear manifestation that the people take out the bad governments not only by the legal paths like the recall of the mandate to govern but also, above all through social mobilization. Because of this, as of September PREPARE, because it is time for the neighborhoods and the historically marginalized sectors to take power.
*Diego Pinto Millán es sociólogo, especialista en análisis de políticas públicas. Vocero del comité Unidos Revocamos a Peñalosa. Miembro de los Procesos Urbanos del Congreso de los Pueblos e integrante de la Dirección Política en Bogotá de Poder y Unidad Popular.

26/09/2017 Lanzas y Letras