When Crisis Strikes, We Embrace the Nanny State

A man wearing a face mask crosses a footbridge in Bogota, in this undated photo.

I really thought we had it this time. This was something special, something different. We here at MiKo were hoping against hope that the national strikes of late 2019 would morph into some kind of transcendent, historical movement that would throw off the horseshit “authority” of the political class, like a snake shedding its skin.

But leave it to Colombia to disappoint you as much as it captivates you. It’s a savage dichotomy that drives many of us to self-medicate. As much as we have slacked off writing since late last year, so too has the “revolution,” the “revolt,” or as we have dubbed it, the “Latin Spring,” slacked off in forwarding the cause of not only challenging the Duque administration, but the state itself.

There was talk of restarting the movement after the Christmas/New Year break, and there was a deflated, underwhelming attempt at it, and then promises for more of the Paro Nacional on March 16. But since that strike was called by the much-hated taxi drivers’ union, no one but the yellow cab drivers attended (and not even in great numbers).

Back in February, there was talk of the “real” national strike taking place on March 25, or tomorrow, but we all know that’s not going to happen, and for good reason. That still doesn’t blunt the sting to the diminishing hope of turning this banana republic into something resembling a real one — the hope that the energy and intensity we saw last year would carry on.

But alas, not all of the holiday partying and quintessentially-Colombian apathy towards their politics and broken society (though those ills should not be diminished) are to blame. No, it was a weird suction cup ball-shaped virus that seemed to come to the aid of governments and leaders besieged by massive and sustained street protests. As a kind of collateral damage, the coronavirus succeeded in snuffing out the gathering momentum of social movements here, there, and everywhere.

The Pacifying Effect of the Coronavirus

No more do we read about the popular uprisings in Venezuela, Hong Kong, Colombia, Haiti, Chile, Bolivia, Iraq, Lebanon, and (for a time) Ecuador. Those have rightfully and logically been put on hold by the deadly virus that has become a pandemic and has killed thousands.

As we all here in Colombia languish in the dull shut-ins of our own making, it’s hard not to stare at the news with open-mouth, face-drooling, dumb-struck numbness, and wonder at how something like a new, flu-like novel virus has managed to pacify us so effectively.

*Disclaimer: Yes, the coronavirus, aka COVID-19, is serious, deadly, has caused anxiety, fear and panic the world over, and for good reason. The lockdowns, curfews, travel bans, and so-called “mandatory isolation simulations” are aggressive but necessary measures to stop the spread of the virus — and this temporary inconvenience is well worth the lives it will potentially save.

Those very reasonable and rational measures are not what’s shocking. It’s not even surprising that those of us who want to fight for a better world put doing so on hold to ensure our own survival. What is surprising — disheartening even — is the collective amnesia that afflicts us in the face of this health crisis. The apparatus of the state — the thing being fought against not so long ago — is now what we turn to in the hopes that it will save us from sickness and death.

Even the government’s fiercest critics, who were at the vanguard calling for Duque’s resignation amid his weeks of shitty, gaffe-prone governance, have changed their tune. As if we’re all in some bizarro-world nightmare, the likes of Gustavo Petro, Gustavo Bolivar, and Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez, don’t talk about the need for Duque to step down anymore. Rather, he is a competent president making prudent decisions that will protect the country.

Coronavirus: A Gift to Governments

“How quickly we all become fascists in times of crisis,” one of our contributors said recently. This resonates with me, and I’m not entirely sure why. Politicians of different stripes are still slipping the blade to one another to score political points, but when it comes down to the serious business of curbing the spread of coronavirus, they’re all behind the war effort, as it were.

The spread of COVID-19 has been a gift to autocrats, kleptocrats, populists and puppet-governments everywhere. The momentum carried against them in 2019 can now be easily dismissed, assuming the virus eventually ebbs and the promised government subsidies come in. Afterward, any attempt at renewed reform through mass social protest will be met with cynical hisses of “didn’t we just save you?” And in simplistic terms, those authorities will not be wrong.

President Duque is counting on this. If he is able to stem the spread of the illness effectively with the National Quarantine, keep the lights on and the water running, and then salvage the economy and employment once it subsides, then his dismal approval rating will shoot up, and he will be lauded as the one who “saved Colombia” from the deadly disease… in much the same way many people believe his political patron “saved Colombia” from the FARC guerrillas.

A victory over the coronavirus would reinvigorate Duque’s administration. And we will all thank him for it; he kept us safe in our time of need, after all.

For more stories like this, visit our website, at MiKolombia.com.



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Journalist. Misfit. Malcontent. Provocateur. A better Colombia is possible. mikolombia.com