Colombia: The Pandemic hasn’t Stopped Crimes and Violations of Human Rights

By Resumen Latinoamericano on June 29, 2020

With more than 88,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, Colombia has now passed China in number of infected people and has become an important focus of the pandemic on the continent.

The reports of the Ministry of Health warn that 4,149 new cases have been detected and 129 patients have died within the past 24 hours.  Europa Press, in a just-published note, gives a total of 2,939 people dead in the country, due to coronavirus.

Since the beginning of June, Colombia has been showing signs of deterioration in its healthcare situation.  A notable upturn in infected cases put the country on track to have some thousand new cases daily, at the same time as the government of Ivan Duque began to consider reopening the economy.

But these most recent reports of the Ministry of Health involve a new record of daily new infections, putting Colombia in the situation of being a dangerous center of spreading infection for those countries with which it shares borders.  The data shows a critical health-care situation.  But it could be even worse.

The numbers presented by the government of Ivan Duque are not reliable and show signs of being under-counted. This is what the La Silla Vacía (The Empty Chair – a Colombian news website) has been reporting since the end of March.

“This afternoon (March 28) the National Institute of Health confirmed that just recently there has been damage to one of the two machines used for processing the specimens that arrive daily for the detection of coronavirus.  This is a situation that, together with the problems of transporting specimens for testing from various areas, has meant that the number of cases reported officially are fewer than those that in reality exist.”

Citing as a source the Office of the Inspector General of Colombia, the website is concerned that the capacity for processing test specimens has decreased so that the numbers of infected people found do not give a true picture of the real spread of coronavirus in the country.

While the coronavirus has practically paralyzed Colombia, this has not paralyzed the crimes committed daily against the civilian population by the armed forces of the Colombian government.  Actually it seems as though the violations of human rights are also showing an upsurge as dangerous as that of the pandemic itself. Last week the country was shocked after the case of a brutal rape of an Indigenous girl by seven Colombian soldiers was revealed; this occurred in the town of Embera-chamí in the department of Risralda. “It appears that the twelve-year-old child was alone, picking guavas near a military encampment when the seven soldiers (of eight, according to the victim) kidnapped her and raped her during the night in the village of Santa Cecilia, part of the town of Pueblo Rico,” reported La Vanguardia.  The media attention that this case generated forced government institutions, including President Ivan Duque himself, to issue a strong statement to condemn this act and assure people that the soldiers involved in this rape will be punished with the full force of the law.

But, just as occurs with COVID-19, the legal functioning of the Colombian government in protecting the population from crimes and violations of human rights cannot be trusted either. A rise in the number of killings of community leaders demonstrates this.  Only 24 hours ago, 3 assassinations were reported: Salvador Jaime Durán, of the Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo; Ovidio Baena, of the Workers Union; the Indigenous governor of Agua Clara, en el Bajo Baudó (Chocó).   A total of eight community leaders have been assassinated in the past two days by armed factions operating with the consent of the Colombian government.

Everything points to the fact that 2020 will be worse than 2019 in terms of the systematic practice of assassinating social and political leaders. In May, the NGO Indepaz warned that so far in 2020 there have been a total of 100 killings of leaders linked to the struggle against mining, land take-overs, and unchecked paramilitary violence. As we have grown accustomed to, the Colombian government has swept all this under the rug and attempts to minimize the reports.  They employ exactly the same sort of apathy and carelessness that have contributed to the epidemic getting out of control.

As the social and human rights crisis becomes more severe, Ivan Duque chooses to look the other way.  The economy is already in a recession, according to the IMF, and this topic is the one that does greatly concern the occupant of the Casa de Nariño, the Colombian equivalent of the White House.

The Colombian government forecasts that beginning in July they will open up economic activities that will cause an aggressive increase in the curves of infections and deaths.  Everything is prepared for restaurants, churches, and sports stadiums to resume normal activities shortly.

With these measures, Ivan Duque hopes to minimize the scandals of corruption and narco-trafficking that have tarnished his administration in the past month and he hopes these will also serve to distract attention from the growing violations of human rights of community leaders and Indigenous peoples in the country.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano, translation North America bureau