QCOLOMBIA (Semana) Luis Plata is only 30 years old, but on his back he carries an infinite worry that overwhelms him. What began as a professional dream a couple of years ago, the pandemic turned into a painful drama and decorated by millionaire debts.
This young man from North Santander is part of the large number of Colombians for whom the arrival of covid-19 not only changed their routine and fractured their social relationships, but also caused them to fall into poverty, a great explanation for the social crisis that the country.
The situation in the national territory is alarming, which is reflected in the figures provided by the Dane. In the country, in 2020, monetary poverty was 42.5 percent, that is, 6.8 percentage points more than that registered in 2019, when it was 35.7 percent, and extreme poverty was 15.1 percent, that is, 5.5 percentage points more than last year.
Plata does know the price of a dozen eggs, because in the last year he has seen how the value of this food in the basic basket has constantly varied. He is two months away from finishing his studies in Agricultural Production at the Industrial University of Santander (UIS), of course, he does not believe that he can afford the right to a degree.
Four years ago, he arrived, with his family, displaced from Hacarí and Ocaña to Bucaramanga, and invested his capital in the purchase of land in the Dos district, in the rural area of the city. In September 2019, he received a millionaire bank loan, built sheds for 2,800 laying hens, planted 7,000 coffee plants, cieneguero plantain and Dominican hartón. He was left in debt, but hoping for his agricultural dream.
Six months after the project started, the coronavirus arrived and with it the collapse. The whole family had to shut themselves up, the price of the 30-egg bin reached only 5,000 pesos, but the feed for the birds did skyrocket, no one was buying the production at the real price. He had to fire his five workers, the last one he could endure until two weeks ago, it was to pay the salary or to be able to buy food from the house.
Plata is busy talking, on the verge of tears, he doesn’t know what to do. His life has given him so many blows that he only thinks of his parents, his wife and his 4-year-old daughter. His dream, like that of many other Colombians, was overthrown by the silent pandemic of increasing poverty.
The current outlook in the country is bleak. Between 2019 and 2020, 3.5 million people entered the level of monetary poverty; In exact numbers, it went from 17.5 million in 2019 to 21 million in 2020. Manizales, with 32.4 percent, is the one with the lowest record among the 23 cities and metropolitan areas, followed by Medellín, with 32, 9 percent, and the worst are Quibdó, with 66.1 percent, and Riohacha, with 57.1 percent.
And 2.8 million Colombians entered extreme monetary poverty, as revealed by the Dane, last April. This indicator went from 4.7 million people to 7.5 million. The capital of Santander and its metropolitan area reached a poverty level that touches 46 percentage points; that is, out of every 100 households, 46 are already poor.
In the main cities the situation worsens, they represent a high percentage in the increase of the sad figures. In Bogotá, for example, there are 1,110,734 people in monetary poverty. In the national reading, this number in percentage terms is 31.3 percent in the country. Cali is still on the list, with 375,990 people in this condition –10.6 percent of the national total–; Medellín, with 334,315, 9.4 percent; Barranquilla, with 307,578, which represents 8.7 percent, and the capital of Santander, with 165,035 citizens who are counted in poverty, which is equivalent to 4.6 percent of the total.
Anabelle de la Cruz is another of those affected by the impact of the crisis. A little less than a year ago she was in Bogotá working as a nursing assistant in a specialized clinic. She was fired last June and she was unable to re-engage. Her savings lasted three months, the payment of the rent and her maintenance were overwhelming, she had to return to her hometown, Baranoa, about 30 minutes from Barranquilla. She abruptly went from earning two minimum wages on average, to receiving zero pesos. She couldn’t help anymore in her house, where there are three younger siblings. They all had to tighten their belts and her mouth.
Is that if things are serious in the interior, in the Caribbean the data are scary. The region is cornered by low rates and the outlook for the future is even grimmer. People are literally starving. According to the UNDP, in this area of the country poverty would go from 46.2 percent in 2019 to 52.2 percent this year, and extreme, from 13.3 percent to 15.5 percent. La Guajira has the highest number and the Atlantic is the most affected due to the coronavirus crisis.
The most recent Dane report shows that four of the five poorest departments in the country are precisely in the Caribbean. La Guajira tops the list, with a monetary poverty rate of 66.3 percent; then there are Magdalena (59.8 percent), Córdoba (59.4 percent) and Cesar (58.3 percent).
The conditions of the pandemic plus the recent mobilizations of the national strike ended up aggravating the situation of many families and paint the outlook for the second half of this year more discouraging. For this reason, Luis Plata says that banks and other financial entities, such as Finagro, took off their shirts of empathy and forgot that the pandemic has many on the tightrope, debating between eating or paying creditors.
He is discouraged, he hardly plays with his daughter anymore. He takes care of his father, who is hypertensive, and his mother, who these days suffers from facial paralysis due to the insistent calls to collect. He plans to sell the farm for less than what he has invested to clean up debts and look for other options. His accounts were seized, so he has to make do with what he manages to get out of production. “I look for a solution to everything, because those are the principles that my parents instilled in me, do not remove what is foreign or eat what is foreign,” he repeats like a mantra.
For Alexandra Cortés, professor and director of the research group in Applied Economics and Regulation (Emar), of the UIS, the numbers are worrying because Bucaramanga “is the second city where the increase in the percentage of the population living in poverty was greater. There it increased by 14.7 percentage points, only after Barranquilla, where the increase was 15.6 points ”. For her, “the poor conditions of the people made them vulnerable to loss of jobs and income during this period of pandemic.”
In the case of the capital of the department of Atlántico, according to an analysis by the Faculty of Economics of the Universidad del Norte, what happened was that many people lost their jobs or those who depended on informality (which exceeds 50% in the city). ) saw their income drop dramatically.
Alan David Santos is another who is “cycling through Niagara” right now. He has taken several courses to work as an escort, he has not been able to get permanent employment in that area, so he searches for himself selling sweets on buses in Bucaramanga, although three weeks ago he also finished a construction job.
The bus thing is the way out that he found these days to be able to bring the market to his house – wife and three children –. It is a job with which he must obtain for rent, services and market. Is that, according to Juan Daniel Oviedo, director of Dane, in the last year the 23 main cities went from having an average of 90 percent of the population that could consume three meals a day, to only 70 percent.
“This means that only 7.3 million households out of the 8 million were able to eat three times a day. In addition, a quarter of the population started to consume only two food rations a day, and 179,174 households eat only once a day, ”he said during the presentation of the report, a couple of weeks ago. A bleak and worrying panorama.