Bogotá protests: How was it for you?

By Oli Pritchard November 24, 2019

As the protests in Bogotá enter a fourth day of high tensions, we’ve heard a lot of stories from around the city.

Bogotá protests: Protestors express themselves in creative ways.
Bogotá protests: Protestors express themselves in creative ways. Photo: Otto Berchem

With the current chaos that’s engulfing the capital, pretty much everyone in the capital has been affected in one way or another. On social media the likes of Residente and María Fernanda Cabal have been predictably active, but so too have plenty of ordinary folk around the capital.

What’s clear is that there’s no one single story on the protests in Bogotá. From the people who couldn’t reach the main action on Thursday because the TransMilenio stopped working, to terrified communities in conjuntos during the curfew, to people who couldn’t go clubbing on Friday night. But what’s also clear is that a lot of the stories are third hand – a friend of a friend of a friend told me… We spoke to a cross section of people who’ve been affected by the protests in Bogotá to get some first-hand accounts. If you want to add yours to the mix – or message us live from the protests in Bogotá today – comment here, get in touch or ping us on social media.

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‘Today seemed like a tense calm’

Lina Rivera, Ciclovia, Sunday

In today’s ciclovía I saw very few people. The comments I heard as I pedalled around were that people were calm. It seemed like a tense calm, though, that people wouldn’t let the protests change their routine. As the morning went on, more people started to come out, but the feeling stayed the same. At the end of my ride it seemed as though everything was just as it normally was.

‘Everyone was carrying a cacerola’

Kevin Pérez, Avenida La Esperanza, Saturday night

This march was a very peaceful protest compared to all of the other ones today. Almost all of us were students. We met at the Maloka Park and from there we walked to Corferias. Everyone was carrying a cacerola, and lots of people from the Salitre conjuntos joined us along the way. At the end, a guy recited the principal intentions of the strike and invited us to another protest on Monday.

‘It was a fun atmosphere’

Hans Luyckx, Parkway, Saturday night

It was a fun atmosphere, happy happy joy joy, lots of music, singing and dancing. There were actually two cacerolazos in Parkway – one on the crossroads of 45th and 24th and one in Parkway itself. Mostly young slightly alternative people at the crossroads and a more diverse bunch on Parkway. They had huge speakers out on the Parkway playing ska and rock en español. At about 10.30pm two police buses came this way but then took off again.

‘It was all manipulation through fear’

Heinner Rodríguez, Ciudadela Colsubsidio, Friday night

At around 9pm the alarms of the conjuntos close to me in the 80th started to sound. In seconds the neighbours were united with bats, sticks and even chains. A few minutes later the alarms sounded out all over, near and far. At one point tension increased as people started to spread the word that groups were coming towards us. I decided to fly my drone and go to the points where the vandals supposedly were coming from. There was nothing. The barrio was empty, completely empty. It was all manipulation through fear, I could see very far with my drone and there was nothing there, just scared people.  

‘The people ran… and afterwards calm descended’

Mildred Méndez, Villa Luz, Friday night

Here it passed exactly like they said on social networks: The alarms sounded, the administrator of the building went out with a megaphone telling everybody to come out with sticks. The whole place came out and reports arrived that many vandals were coming from all sides, the people ran… and afterwards calm descended. It was like that a few times. Fortunately nothing happened. I didn’t see anyone. There were rumours that people were coming down from other barrios, that they were coming to us, and really nothing at all happened.  

‘Vandals tried to enter the conjunto’

Adriana Buitrago, Tintal, Friday night

For my part I was a guard with my neighbours. Vandals tried to enter the conjunto in four vulnerable points but weren’t able to get in. I saw them trying to enter and quickly called some men from the apartment. They came immediately and with machetes pushed them back. The vandals tried to come through the rubbish chute as well. We divided ourselves inside the conjunto to stay alert. I was on guard until midnight and afterwards other neighbours took their turns. I haven’t been able to sleep for fear. It’s a terrible lack of calmness, I haven’t rested at all.

‘A lot of chaos and fear’

Carolina Rubio, Centro, Thursday/Friday

I left work at six o’clock on Thursday and met a friend to go to Plaza de Bolívar. Everything was in chaos – protesters attacking ESMAD and vice versa. I had so much fear but at the same time a desire to follow what they had already started. Friday was the same, a lot of chaos and a lot more fear, because the government wanted us closed down. It was for that reason that they did what they did in the day. And, in the night, total uncertainty. Everyone united and armed with sticks, with machetes and even guns.

‘Tired of injustices’

Marcela Lizcano, Torcoroma, Thursday/Friday

My concern really was for the builders I work with, because all of them live far away from the site, in places like Usme, Soacha, 20 de Julio. Returning to their houses was a problem because in the afternoon everything was complicated due to the security problems. They’re regular guys and hard workers that need to work to sustain their families and they had to walk a long way, arriving home very late.  Also, on Friday I was scared because my son’s teachers rang me to say that outside the kindergarten everything was being destroyed. That was scary. I think that all of us are tired of the injustices from the government of this country.

‘Spontaneous protest, full of rage and joy’

Otto Berchem, Chapinero, Thursday night

I was helping to put my son to sleep. Tired, after marching to Plaza de Bolívar, and walking back to Lourdes in soggy sneakers. Just as my son was about to go down, there was a racket coming from outside. I got up, and saw a neighbour from across the street, leaning out of the window clanging a pot. My wife asked what was going on, and before I could answer she shouted “¡Cacerolazo! Quick, grab a pot or pan!” There I was, banging a frying pan with a wooden spoon, my wife at the window to my right, my oldest daughter at the window to the left doing the same, other neighbors joining in across the neighborhood. The spontaneous protest, full of rage and joy, is something I’ll never forget.

‘I couldn’t breathe’

Lina Vargas, Avenida 26, Thursday

We were eating in the Gran Estación square when a big squadron of ESMAD came from a side street. When they set foot on the floor of the square, we were a little confused, we didn’t know what they were about to do, then they started throwing tear gas grenades even when we were just resting. In that moment, I couldn’t breathe, I covered my mouth and nose with my hoodie and ran as far as I could. During the march, I had met a lot of friends, but in that moment everyone ran to different sides. We ran all the way to the other side of 26 street but we were cornered. A man was in the middle of the street sharing water with magnesium milk, when we washed our faces with that, we could breathe normally again. We started walking with our hands up to go to the 26 street, this time looking for our way back. The ESMAD continued to throw gas, so we walked with our eyes closed and hands up screaming ‘SIN VIOLENCIA’. Once we made it, we started our way to Plaza de Bolívar through the rain. It was a very long walk.

Accounts have been translated from Spanish where appropriate and lightly edited for clarity. If you are joining the Bogotá protests today, keep in touch on twitter.