Monday, February 6, 2012

Bogotá's Minute Men (and Women)

By Jorge Tadeo University.
Foreign visitors wonder what they are: these people standing on plazas, parks and streetcorners throughout Bogotá wearing or carrying signs saying 'Minutos.'

On Plaza San Victorino.  
Will they add minutes to your life? Save you time by doing your chores? Sell you a few minutes of their time and company?

No, they'll hand you a telephone chained to their waist and charge you the minute printed on those signs they're holding up. These people are living, walking telephone booths.

The ubiquitous minuteros result from the expensiveness of Colombia's cellphone industry. Relatively speaking, it can be quite expensive to make calls from your phone, particularly when calling between telephones belonging to different companies. The minuteros buy time in bulk and have phones from all of the companies. The real disadvantage is for the call's recipient, who doesn't know who's calling before answering. But when you want to call up that estranged special somebody who'd never answer if they you it was you, then minuteros come in handy.

The cell phone companies don't appreciate the minuteros employing their services more economically. And authorities have in the past talked of prohibiting the business (probably under pressure from the companies.) But don't feel sorry for Colombia's cell phone companies - Comcell, Movistar and Tigo - whose pricing schemes can resemble institutionalized theft - at least to me: they charge for calls by the minute. What if your call lasted only two seconds? They'll charge you for the full minute, anyway. How about if you signed up for one of their plans providing 150 minutes of talk time per month, but you left for vacation, got laryngitis or your phone got stolen, and used only a few of those minutes? Don't worry, the cell phone company will take all your time away, anyway. (At least that's all true of Comcel, whom I patronize guiltily, since they hold a near monopoly.)

On Carrera 5 in La Candelaria. 
As for the minuteros, their income varies widely depending on location: one man in the very busy Plaza San Victorino said he can earn 50,000 to 60,000 pesos per day - far above the minimum wage. But others earn much less.

In a nation with high unemployment and a big informal economy, the minute-selling business provides a way to survive for countless people who lack skills or opportunities. But you'll also make a sad observation on the limited opportunities in Colombia's economy by talking to some of the very capable people spend their days standing around with a couple of cell phones chained to their waists and yelling 'minutos!' 'minutos!'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

1 comment:

Joseph said...

In countries with good economy has great value of employment.We just need to support our government projects to have a better nation.