Presenter, not President: Colombia’s Pitiful Income Gap – Liberal Article
On the sly this Christmas Eve, Colombian President Iván Duque gave Congress an early present. A 5.1% salary increase! Ordinary Colombians, though, were not on Santa’s (or at least Duque’s) nice list this festive season. Duque at first avoided announcing changes to Colombia’s measly pittance of a minimum wage – no matter how much citizens had broken their backs just to afford to put traditional natilla and buñuelos on the dinner table in December. Clearly, he’s facing a ‘gruelling’ schedule at his dwelling up in dreamland. Rental stipulation: must at all times be risibly out of touch with reality.
In that odd hinterland between Christmas and New Year, most Colombians had been cooped up and muddling through on the breadline. Yet for Colombia’s Congress, sickeningly complacent on their high horse, there was a party in the paddock.
Unsurprising, really. I too would be smug with a pay rise rocketing my salary 37 times higher than minimum wage. Yes, you’ve read correctly, and I too winced along with you. Colombia’s top earners, stony bigwig congressmen, are to receive 37 times more than those earning the lowest. President Duque’s bright idea is that Colombians best make do with unsettling disparity. Eerily similar to that one family member who, every holiday season, tediously manages to outstay their welcome; the gift that just keeps on giving.
Every evening Mr Big Shot himself graces Colombia’s screens, high and mighty as he reels off so-called updates on the pandemic. Under the pretext of ‘Prevention and Action’, this daily sham may as well be Duque breaking into a tap dance – a reality show to boost his own ratings. At least ordinary Colombians can get an eyeful of where the sacred budget goes. Straight down the drain, to be precise. I’ve gaped in horror at Duque’s circus parade for almost a year now. Surely – I beg – it’s time to nip this clown’s buffoonery in the bud? Why not give these funds to those who need them?
Eventually, on 29 December, Duque spared a paltry extra 3.5% increase for minimum wage (begrudgingly coughed up, mind you). That’s just $30,273 pesos (£6.55) extra per month. Does he expect Colombian families to actually live off this chicken feed? I myself seem to be clucking about like a headless chicken. Do I laugh or do I cry? If one thing’s for certain, it’s that Congress will be chortling. A monthly rise of $1,676,000 pesos (£357). Don’t be too disheartened, though – their cushy mansion walls should at least occasionally block out the gleeful guffaws.
Of course, far too many businesses are struggling in the face of the pandemic. I acknowledge hard-hit companies cannot afford to offer workers much more than they already pay, and Duque would’ve known this when setting the minimum wage. Employers need support too. However, it’s not so much the peanuts pay that makes my blood boil, rather the gaping abyss between politicians and the public.
Here’s a sobering thought: Colombian congressmen only work nine months out of twelve, but receive pay all year round. Meanwhile, the wages of medical staff are commonly missing in action for months on end. And that’s not all. Throughout the pandemic, despite all sessions being online since March, congressmen have continued to earn a monthly extra $14 million pesos (£2972) on representation expenses… Without even a step taken outside the house! Again, what are they using this money for?
What I’m really itching to know is, wherever did Duque’s campaign promises wander off to? Freezing Congress’ salary for ten years? This was pledged but it won’t be delivered. Empty promises. ‘Best sidestep that minor, insignificant detail for now,’ Duque must have thought, ‘anything to avoid actually doing my job.’ In all fairness, he has tried to reduce Congress’ salary, but congressmen have no qualms about shrugging off proposals. Note to self, commitment from uppity Colombian politicians must be taken with a pinch of salt.
Since the Christmas Eve remuneration increase, former president Álvaro Uribe has stated it will not be accepted. (A blatant lie, and a useless one.) Uribe, now President Duque’s political mentor, is the real power behind Colombia’s government. All he has to do as puppetmaster is pull a few of gormless Duque’s strings and, voila. But actions speak louder than words. The scant action taken by Uribe in the past really does say it all. No solution is in the pipeline.
It is the government’s duty to abate disparity. It is Duque’s obligation to start acting like a president and stop acting like a presenter. This is quite simply a no-brainer. Yet those in charge appear to have no brains. As ‘The Duque Show’ invests in yet another farce – a contract for Mr President’s very own interview programme – Colombians face an uphill struggle before he so much as glances in their direction. Outside of the circus ring, when Duque gets down from the trapeze, the cameras switch off, and the music ends, there are still no answers to when they will receive dignified pay.
Written by Junior Liberal Writer, Natasha Tinsley
Point of Information
Colombia’s complicated – A Conservative Response
My colleague clearly holds a great deal of disdain towards the current political system in Colombia at the moment. It may be justifiable. But after a look at Colombian history, I think it is fair to say it has overall moved towards a more democratic existence.
Whilst it is true many feel Uribe still holds an influence in Colombian politics, something which was predicted, ultimately his power has declined. From his court case in 2019 slashing his popularity amongst the Colombian people and finally resigning his seat in the senate after being placed under house arrest.
With regards to the income gap, it appears that Colombia was actually undergoing significant economic growth pre-pandemic that was expected to accelerate within 2020. The World Bank attributes a great deal of Colombia’s current financial dire straits to the pandemic, and so I feel my colleague is giving too much weight to the inherent corruption of the system as opposed to COVID-19.
My colleague also seems to fail to mention the economic successes of Colombia over the past twenty years. The Colombian economy grew uninterrupted between 2000 and 2020 (when the pandemic struck) and between 2010 and 2020 managed to halve its number of people in poverty.
Unfortunately, wealth disparity is still a major issue within Colombia, and this is something that needs to be addressed. Even more unfortunate is the timing of the pandemic which has significantly hindered Colombia’s economic development. But, from looking at the history of Colombia I would like to be optimistic, they have consistently been moving towards greater democracy with the aim of having domestic peace.
Rome was not built in a day, and neither are democracies. Colombia may still have a long way to go, but we should hold hope for this nation and that it has better times to look forward to. Obviously, we should highlight Colombia’s political flaws in order to achieve improvements, but for a nation that was already working towards peace through democracy, I feel we need a gentler hand when evaluating the situation.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Peter Pearce
Unjustifiable – A Labour Response
Wholeheartedly agree with Natasha. As Peter points out the economy has continually grown since 2010, so why are the poor left behind? To me, wealth inequality is one of the most devastating by-products of neoliberal capitalism. Many praise it for having increased the World’s GDP. However, when you look beyond GDP it becomes clear that it is actually the richer getting richer (bringing up the average accrued wealth), whilst global inequality sharpens. It never trickles down.
According to the World Inequality Database, Colombia’s top 10% shares 48.9% of the national income, whereas the bottom 50% earns a measly 12%. This is despicable. The decision to increase Congress’ salary symbolises a lack of commitment to reducing the income gap, instead Duque panders to the few.
The poor can’t afford a flippant approach. In 2018, 14 children per 1,000 births died before the age of five, 346 dying from malnutrition. Poverty in Colombia has been increasing since 2018, with 190,000 people slipping into poverty. This will inevitably be exacerbated by COVID-19.
Due to the pandemic, Colombia will receive a $700 million loan from the World Bank in an effort to strengthen the public health care system, expand social programmes, provide help to businesses. Duque is obligated to ensure that this reaches those who need it the most, rather than lining the pockets of those who already have plenty.
However, over 100 trade unions and social welfare organisations signed an open letter to the government, condemning a proposed law that would reduce workers’ healthcare coverage. The letter reads, “It constitutes a deepening of the business of healthcare through oligopolies and monopolies”. It highlights that now 22 million people cannot access adequate healthcare, meaning the virus will rip through entire communities.
But hey, the government generously suspended the use of teargas due to fears that it would make people more susceptible to COVID-19; we should be encouraged by such benevolent measures.
Of course, the road to fair and equal wealth distribution is long, some say impossible, but that does not negate the need to hold politicians to account in the meantime.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Abi Smuts