A Tragedy in Bogotá

The authorities are doing the right thing. Public Health is one area in which private markets and individuals must take a back seat and allow the government to take all actions necessary for the greater good. But drastic actions have drastic consequences, good and bad.

Today began a 4 day lockdown in Bogota with only essential trips outside allowed, and never more than 1 person at a time. KC and I listened to the birds chirping even at 9am as the usual sounds of traffic on the Septima that begin at sunrise never materialized today. The sky started off overcast and as the morning progressed, so the skys began to open up.

Today is the first day that I’ve woken up to the severity of consequences that will unfold due to actions taken. Some of the best, most successful restaurants and coffee shops in Colombia are intending on laying off their staff. And if these successful establishments are laying off staff, imagine what that means for the thousands of businesses that were just scraping by.

The employment situation in Colombia was already fraught with the arrival of millions of Venezuelans willing to work for whoever would take them, at whatever price. This either created or exacerbated a situation in which Colombians became xenophobic and employers could take advantage of cheap shift labor with little to no benefits. None of this was ideal, but I was positive that a growing economy with an increasingly integrated Venezuelan community would shift the tide in favor of the worker. Anecdotally, that appeared to be happening, albeit slower than I had hoped.

That was the situation we found ourselves in before the virus lockdown began. Now, unemployment for the working class who live paycheck to paycheck is about to skyrocket faster than the exchange rate of the dollar against the peso. I don’t think anyone here is prepared for a downturn on the scale that now seems inevitable.

Mesa Salvaje will reopen in a month or so with the same team as when we closed our doors. We may even look to see if we can hire some of the talented people who find themselves out of a job through no fault of their own. But if we’re in a recession, maybe our business doesn’t rebound back to the levels we were achieving before the close. Maybe we find ourselves unable to put all those manhours to good use. KC and I have an emergency warchest which is currently helping us through the first wave of consequences without too much panic, but will it be enough to serve us through a prolonged slowdown?

KC and I are in a position of absolute privelege and we feel fortunate that we can support our staff through a very difficult time. This tragedy isn’t about us. This is a tragedy for the incredible city of Bogota, and its 10 million inhabitants, most of whom are not ready for what is about to come.

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