Social Strata in Colombia: A Need Or A Relic?

Current senator and presidential candidate Gustavo Petro seeks to end the social strata in Colombia, a measure that has been in force since 1985.

View of a street in a neighborhood in Bogotá

Photo: Wikimedia – Felipe Restrepo

LatinAmerican Post | Nicolás Donoso

Current senator and pre-candidate for the presidency of the Colombia Humana party, Gustavo Petro, who leads in voting intentions according to various polls,  recently stated that he seeks to put an end to social strata, a system that has prevailed for 27 years in the coffee growing country and that generates diametrically opposed opinions and positions between one sector and another.

But what are strata? And why have Petro’s statements generated so much controversy? In simple words, the strata are a mechanism to redistribute wealth and where it is sought to guarantee the population’s access to the most essential services such as water, electricity, gas and housing; and then a division is made that will depend mainly on the geographical area where people live.

According to the National Planning Department (DNP), it is through the social strata where the price of paying basic bills, taxes and at the same time the delivery of subsidies is established that usually go to the aid of the most disadvantaged sectors. In addition, according to the same institution, there are six economic strata with which the hierarchy is made.

In the first three strata are the people with fewer resources and who, therefore, receive greater support from the State, because they have less purchasing power. Those in stratum 4 are in an economic situation that is considered stable, so they do not receive subsidies but do not pay a greater amount of taxes either, and strata 5 and 6 are those with higher economic income, and who can and should pay. extra for the services of people who live worse off.

Also read: Ingrid Betancourt and the faces of the post-conflict in the Colombian elections

The pros and cons

One of the positive aspects of having strata is that citizens can count on the same basic services to be able to survive, in addition to having the possibility to enter the state universities; all this regardless of the stratum to which you belong.

People who are in the lowest strata can pay less to be able to enroll their children in a school and university, to receive medical attention, and even to pay the basic monthly bills, because they receive greater support from the State and from the economic groups with greater power. While citizens with higher incomes or who live in residential neighborhoods can opt for the same or better services, because they have more money and are in a better economic situation.

However, this subsidiary measure also has negatives, since it promotes separation and inequality, although initially it was intended to achieve a completely opposite effect. In order to define which stratum citizens belong to, the State is in charge of reviewing how the house is found, the materials with which said house was built and the street in which the people live, and other matters of great importance are ignored, such as the income they receive per month, the number of inhabitants who live in that residence and the employment situation that each one is going through.

Likewise, the strata end up promoting discrimination, prejudice and exclusion, since citizens are pigeonholed into a stratum and identified in relation to the place where they reside, labeling and condemning it. Colombian men and women are categorized, and stigmatizations are repeated. According to the World Bank, Colombia is the second most unequal economy in Latin America, surpassed only by Brazil, and the strata do not help reduce that gap.

Even today, the social strata in Colombia do not satisfactorily match the economic reality of the families. There are people with high incomes who prefer to live in a house located in stratum 2 or 3, and thus pay less taxes.

Inequality persists and grows larger. And this is reflected in a country that has or does not have strata. It is clear that sectorization is not the way to go because it divides instead of uniting, promotes segregation instead of integration and produces inequality instead of greater equality. In the middle of the presidential campaign, politicians must understand this and not throw phrases into the gallery, take charge of the situation for the good of the population and not just give themselves political tastes to win more votes. Because that’s not the way

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