Carlos Restrepo is a Colombian baker whose pastries have delighted visitors to the neighborhood of Puente de Piedra in Madrid, Cundinamarca, for the past fifty years. The Politic sat down with him to talk about the protest movement that rocked Colombia in late 2019 as part of a broader tendency in Latin America. The outspoken small business owner may provide some insight into the perspective of those across the continent who feel that their livelihoods are threatened by increasing demands for change.
Why did you decide to move to Puente de Piedra and set up your business?
Man, for the tranquility… the tranquility and the people, above all the people, the warmth of the people. They’ve treated me very well here. They’ve behaved marvelously with me. And the customer is primordial to me. Without the customer I could not live. The people who come from outside… they’re the ones who move my business… the tourists.
What kinds of tourists go to your business?
I’ve received a lot of important characters here. Yes… among them Mr. Aurelio Iragorri, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, Guillermo Botero… all of them very important.
And what do you think attracts those people?
I think the product and the way in which I attend them, my way of being, my charisma. And people come and seek the product, it’s very important that the customer seeks me and not the other way around.
Now, the other day we were talking about the recent strikes in Colombia. Has your business been affected at all by these strikes?
Yes, they’ve been very harmful. Yes, because the people can’t get here since leaving Bogotá becomes impossible.
What’s your position on these strikes in general?
My position is very simple. It’s that here those so-called strikes should not exist. They don’t even know why they’re protesting! Those who protest aren’t losing anything, the ones who lose are we who work, who produce, and they aren’t producing anything in their marches, other than harms and damages.
It’s interesting that you’re suggesting that most people going out to protest don’t know why they’re protesting. What do you think the motivation of the organizers is?
Well, part of it is some sectors want to tell the rest of society not to mess with them. The public school teachers in this country have very high salaries compared to everyone else, and yet the union goes to protest because they want to show their strength, so that others don’t question why they’re doing such a bad job of teaching our children. The public school system here is very bad, and families need to look somewhere else if they really want to teach their children.
Would you say that experience provides a better education than the public school system?
Of course! That’s how I’ve gotten this far!
But back to the motivations of the protesters, it seems like for the most part they want to knock down the Ivan Duque government, or at least to destabilize it. The government tries to respond to their supposed grievances, but they just keep on asking for more. They demand things that the government just can’t give them. Or do you think that the government can afford their 104 demands? Especially in this country, where there’s so much poverty? Now I ask myself—if they’re making these demands now, why didn’t they make them under the Santos government? Why now? Why didn’t they demand the same things of the other guy?
Do you think it might have to do with Former President Santos’ political alliance with Gustavo Petro, the former M-19 terrorist and mayor of Bogotá who Duque defeated in the 2018 presidential elections?
Of course! Do you know what that is? Socialism! Do you think most Colombians want socialism? I think not. We may be poor, but we’re hard-working and like to live with dignity. The only ones who want that model for this country are those who don’t like to do anything, who want to receive everything. Just look at how things are in Venezuela. They had so many natural resources that people lost the incentive to work. They learned to receive, but never to produce. And now that their country is broke, you see so many of them in the streets of our main cities, looking for money or jobs. Disgracefully, that’s the case.
What’s your motivation to keep on working hard every day?
I have an obligation to my wife, my kids, my grandkids, and I’d be willing to do anything for them. I keep on fighting, even at my age, for as long as my strength allows.
Do you think that perhaps these people who choose to protest rather than work do so because they don’t value their families enough?
Maybe not so much, and the other thing you have to consider is that a lot of these people are probably paid to do harm. Do you think all of those people would be willing to stand out there in the sun and block the streets and burn tires from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM for free? There’s someone sponsoring all of this.
Who do you think is sponsoring this?
Probably Petro and the FARC terrorists with all of their cocaine money. Those are the ones who are interested in creating chaos.
So you think that the drug cartels are interested in Colombia becoming a second Venezuela?
Of course! They would love to have a people submitted to them. They’re trying to defend their trade routes, which the country has worked so hard to cut in the past 20 years.
Well that does make sense, because one hears nowadays that the Venezuelan military is running the drug business there and making a big profit.
Of course! There’s a lot of money involved here. And the Venezuelan military and government officials are the only ones who eat well in Venezuela! The children, the elderly, they’re all dying of starvation and in undersupplied hospitals, or looking for food in the trash. Not the military, they have everything!
Back to the issue of Colombia, how do you think the country would be today if there weren’t people interested in sowing instability, from the protesters to the terrorists and drug cartels?
We’d live really well… this would be a paradise, we wouldn’t have to invest so much in defense. And it all really comes down to ignorance. I’ll bet that none of those protesters know who Che Guevara was and all of the harm that he did, or that he was one of the main murderers of this entire continent, but they continue to wear his shirt. And I’ll tell you something else! A lot of it is promoted by Cuba, because since their revolution they’ve lived off of the charity of other socialist states. Russia sustained them for a very long time. Then, when the Soviet Union collapsed, they looked to Venezuela and began living off of their cheap oil. Now they’re trying to do the same to Colombia and other places in Latin America.
Would you say that most people know what’s going on?
Yes! The people know! That’s why we rejected the Peace Deal with the FARC in 2016, because we know what those people really stand for. Colombia is not a country of communists and it has never been that way. People here may be poor, but we like to live with dignity. We are a wise people.