Classism is pervasive in Bogotá, and it’s all thanks to the estrato system.
The estrato system is, theoretically, a way to subsidize public services by having richer neighborhoods pay for the electricity, gas, and water of poorer neighborhoods. Residences that are low on the estrato scale pay less for public utilities than what they’re worth, and residences that are on the high end of the estrato scale pay more to make up the difference.
This seemingly benign system is so good at classifying the socioeconomic circumstances of the people of Colombia, that for most of Colombian society the word estrato applies to people as much as it does to places. Certain mannerisms, fashions, accents, and values have come to be associated with certain estratos, and there is normalized and implicit strife and discrimination between them. It’s not unusual to find people in Bogotá who discriminate against people that are of a lower estrato than they are.
Racism is just as pervasive in Bogotá. In 2014 there were 74 reported cases of racial discrimination in the city, of which 57 were cases of race-based violence and harassment, and the rest were passive discrimination. The targets of most of this discrimination were afro-Colombians — Colombian descendants of African slaves.
Ironically, very little of this discrimination is aimed at foreigners. As outsiders, they seem to be immune to the effects of class and racial discrimination, regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances back home. The Colombians reserve their prejudice mainly for their fellow Colombians.
Bogotá has serious infrastructure and security problems that make it very unwelcoming. It’s no secret that there are more motor vehicles in the city than there are roads to carry them, and that the city’s public transportation systems are both inefficient and insufficient. It is very difficult for the elderly and the disabled to use public transportation because of how hard it is to board buses and taxis. If you are unable to climb stairs, enter cars, and muscle through crowds very quickly, then getting around in Bogotá without external assistance is incredibly difficult. Even walking around the city is dangerous, as crosswalks are scarce and there is a high amount of motorcycle traffic — a constant source of accidents.
Mobility isn’t the only issue. According to the Colombian Center for the Study and Analysis of Cohabitation and Security (CEACSC), there were 27,753 reported cases of mugging and robbery in Bogotá in 2014, and 4,792 reported cases of household break-ins. Both numbers are larger than they were in 2013, and the CEACSC predicts that they will be higher still in 2015. Security and safety are issues that affect everyone, but children, the elderly, and the disabled are particularly vulnerable in Bogotá.
Colombia is on the tail end of a very long and painful armed conflict. The main belligerents in the conflict (the Colombian armed forces, leftist guerrillas, and right-wing paramilitaries) have been fighting each other for decades, but most of the fighting takes place in the rural areas of Colombia. Bogotá, as the center of Colombia, has had parts of the conflict spill over into the city, but compared to the other parts of the country it’s peaceful. People who live their entire lives in Bogotá may never bear the full brunt of the armed conflict.
There is, however, one way in which Bogotá is suffering the consequences of the armed conflict: internal displacement. There are over 470,000 people living in the streets of Bogotá as a result of being displaced from their homes due to the armed conflict, and 68 more arrive every single day. Most of these are families that come from the rural areas of the country and have nowhere else to go. Bogotá’s internal displacement crisis is one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world today, and it lurks quietly in the corner of everyone’s eye.
Bogotá is the economic and political center of Colombia. It is home to the country’s biggest companies and its best educational institutions, as well as over nine million people. A city this big is bound to have its fair share of problems, and as is often the case, no one is able address all of them. However, in Bogotá, no one is even trying. People don’t take action to preserve the city because they feel that their actions won’t have any effect.
The result of this situation is a vicious cycle: People don’t act to preserve their city because they think things won’t change, and when things don’t change, people don’t feel the need to act to preserve their city. Many of the citizens of Bogotá see things like litter, graffiti, and stolen manhole covers as inevitabilities — not actual problems to be solved.