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Colombia: Protests and Vandalism Cause Food and Medicine Shortages


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Melina lives in San Javier, the well-known comuna 13 of Medellín. In this commune, more than 74 % of the population lives below the poverty line, and because of the extensive informality surrounding work, many of the young people have lost their jobs since the pandemic began.

“There are too many unemployed young people, they don’t have jobs, and they can’t find them, and the worst thing is that many of them went to university and have studied, but they still can’t find work, especially with all this going on,” says Melina, concerned about the situation of young people in her neighborhood.

The young people in Melina’s neighborhood are not the only ones in Colombia facing a difficult situation; unemployment among the country’s young population exceeds 21 %, almost 7 points above the average unemployment rate.

The strikes have affected the price of essential goods in neighborhood stores, such as San Javier in Medellín. (EFE)

As if that were not enough since the protests began, the situation has not improved in the neighborhood. Melina has watched with surprise the prices in the stores, starting with the protein that triggered a national strike, the egg.

“See, the basket of eggs used to be worth 9,000 (USD $2.37) and they are already at 14,000 pesos (USD $3.68) in the store,” but eggs are not the only products that are scarce. “I live with my two children and I buy a pound of meat and I have to make it last, this time I could not buy it, it went from 7,000 (USD $1.84) to 9,000 pesos (USD $2.37).”

Melina says that a liter of oil has gone from 7,000 pesos (USD $1.84) to 16,000 pesos (USD $4.21), and a kilo of potatoes is no longer worth 2,700 pesos (USD $0.71), it has gone up to 5,000 (USD $1.32). In a little less than a week, Melina saw her casual purchases go from 25,700 pesos (USD $6.76) to 46,000 (USD $12.11), inflation of almost 80% in her basic shopping basket.

“If the kids want to protest, let them do it, but not like this,” Melina comments with concern about the country’s current situation. “Look, that protest was to overthrow the tax reform, it has already fallen, and Mr. Carrasquilla resigned, and what they are doing with the blockades is hurting us, the poorest.”

The different blockades along the southwest of Colombia have caused shortages in many cities of the country. (EFE)

Despite Melina’s mishaps, the blockades have not been as strong for Medellín, as Kevin Giraldo, who is a fruit and vegetable supplier in Medellín’s main supply center, La Mayorista, explains: “The blockades in Antioquia (the department where Medellín is located) have not been as severe as in Cauca and Valle del Cauca”. Although the distribution of products coming from the south has been affected, such as pitaya, passion fruit, sugar, and meat products, Kevin believes that the rise in prices in Medellin is not only due to the blockades in the south.

“Although there have been shortages of some products, the price increases also respond to panic. There is uncertainty and people start to buy more than usual and suppliers raise prices,” says Giraldo about the situation of wholesalers in Medellin.

In Pereira, after several hours of negotiation, it was possible to lift the blockades of fuel stations, which supply about 30 % of liquid fuels in the departments of Quindío and Risaralda.

In the capital, the financial situation of the companies was worsened by the blockades, according to a survey conducted by the Chamber of Commerce of Bogotá.

Out of 1,015 companies consulted, 55 % have registered losses amounting to 10,810 million pesos (USD $2.844 billion). If the blockades restricting commercial activity were to continue, 35 % would close partially; 48 % would reduce costs to sustain the operation; 21 % would reduce the number of personnel hired, and 6 % would close completely.

Los supermercados hoy estaban full, se sentía la tensión/pánico en el ambiente, y se comienza a ver una de las consecuencias de los bloqueos en las carreteras: el desabastecimiento (Jumbo Santa Ana está mañana ) pic.twitter.com/mQ5K4cL8HZ

— Carolina M. (@Carmedinat) May 6, 2021

Cali, the city most affected by the shortages

In Cali, the capital of Valle del Cauca, the shortage has hit hard. Supermarkets already show many depleted sections, while at gas stations long lines are observed, extended for entire blocks with vehicles waiting to be able to refuel. The army has had to establish custody points at different gas stations to prevent the theft of the precious fuel.

#NoticiaW | Algunos ciudadanos se arriesgan a sustraer de forma irregular la gasolina de una estación de servicio en Cali, en la avenida Roosvelt con 34, ante el desabastecimiento de combustible en la ciudad >> https://t.co/tbm3iWvODO pic.twitter.com/wX2BkUe22t

— W Radio Colombia (@WRadioColombia) May 5, 2021

Supermarkets are already beginning to see empty shelves where meat and even the sugar for which Valle del Cauca is so well known, are scarce. Repeated blockades in some neighborhoods of the city keep corner stores out of stock, and merchants complain that the curfews will bankrupt them.

The sanitation situation seems to be worsening, as garbage trucks have been unable to collect garbage for several days, causing the city’s garbage to accumulate in many neighborhoods.

The numerous illegal tolls persist, causing annoyance and citizen demonstrations against them. Many citizens report that these illegal tolls charge citizens between 5,000 (USD $1.32) and 10,000 pesos (USD $2.63) to cross, and even go so far as to carry out searches.

Economist, writer and liberal. With a focus on finance, the war on drugs, history, and geopolitics // Economista, escritor y liberal. Con enfoque en finanzas, guerra contra las drogas, historia y geopolítica

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