By Juan Carlos Botero, EL ESPECTADOR, December 8, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
How long since you heard this false and astonishing phrase in the Congress? “Nobody ever died of inequality,” stated Representative Miguel Polo Polo. That’s false, because Colombia is the second most unequal country on this continent. And astonishing, because the man that said this is a member of the Afro-Colombian community, one of the communities that has suffered the most lethal effects of this injustice.
That a phrase should stand out in the Congress for being false and astonishing is saying something. Because the truth is to the contrary: inequality kills people. Many people. Maria José Pizarro pointed out that 70% of the nation’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of 10% of the population, and every week in Colombia, five children die of hunger. In this country inequality is so vast that the majority have no access to decent health care, to three meals a day, or to water, and people are trying to live on starvation wages.
Doubtless, the economic recovery has been remarkable. But the most remarkable fact of that recovery is not its success, but the fact that its benefits have not been equitable, and while a fraction of the country gets richer every day, the greater part of the population is engulfed in poverty.
The pandemic aggravated the crisis. Now there are 3.6 million more poor people than there were before. Forty-two percent of the population lives in poverty and 30% are vulnerable to poverty. That means that three-fourths of the country have fallen over the cliff into poverty or are close to the edge. One crisis or the loss of a job will be enough to take them into abject poverty.
The reality is this: inequality is, first of all, a political problem. There are societies that have diminished the gap between the few who are rich and the many who are poor. Stiglitz points out that sixty years ago in South Korea only one person out of every ten was graduating from college. Now it’s one of the countries with the highest number of university graduates. When there is political will, the tragedy of inequality is reduced.
That’s not the case in Colombia. Who establishes the country’s objectives? Is it the Afro-Colombians, the indigenous people, the minorities? Whoever establishes the objectives will see to it that their interests will get the most attention. In Colombia the concentration of wealth in a few hands is obvious, and the Tax Code has been designed for those who enjoy the power, with shortcuts and benefits for the most influential groups. When people or regions have more power than others, they don’t seek the common good, but rather the good of certain individuals, and civilized coexistence disintegrates.
Nobody is looking for perfect equality. But really reducing extreme inequality, so that a minority of citizens are not the only ones with access to the best of everything (health, education, wages, housing), while the majority of citizens have less and less and receive worse health care, education, food, and housing. Well-being is not against the law in Colombia. Nobody is prohibited from entering the best schools and hospitals in the country, nor from working at the best businesses or going to the best universities. People don’t fail to enter these places because it’s prohibited, but rather for economic reasons. That’s a problem of unfair distribution of income. Of inequality.
Miguel Polo Polo is from Tolú, one of the poorest places in the country and with the worst malnutrition. He was accused of plagiarism when he was a candidate for Mayor and now he has 12 lawsuits before the Council of State, accusing him of possible irregularities. The Afro-Colombian community needs and deserves a better Representative. At least one that doesn’t say things that are so false and so astonishing.