The COVID-AM blog is a partnership between the UMI 3157 iGLOBES and the Institut des Amériques, coordinated by François-Michel Le Tourneau, Deputy Director and Marion Magnan, researcher at the Institute. About the blog.

the virus is not the only killer: first days of confinement in colOmbia

April 14, 2020


by Laetitia Braconnier Moreno, doctoral student at the University Paris Nanterre and the National University of Colombia, coordinator of the Andean center (Bogota) of the Institut des Amériques.


In Bogotá, the confinement started on Friday March 20 even though the country had few known coronavirus cases and zero deaths.


First announced as a 3 day "mock trial" (a sort of test) by the new mayor of the Columbian capital, the measure was promptly followed by mayors and governors in numerous regions. That same day, the President of the Republic, angered at having been preempted by local elected officials, declared that he was the one who could make these kinds of decisions. His decree then sowed confusion: was he therefore canceling the measures taken at the local level? Reticent to put in place confinement measures - in fact accused of hesitating under economic lobbyist pressure -, the President was forced to confirm the local decisions and announce that the "preventative isolation" would be compulsory on all of the national territory, and that he would follow suit with the 3 days of mock trial in place at the local level.


Not having had the time to choose their place of confinement, people having taken advantage of the March 25th long weekend to vacation at their farms or country homes (fincas), found themselves stuck there. Worse yet, lots of students in the big cities, some of which had lousy living conditions, did not have time to reach their families in their hometowns while the National University, like all other educational institutions and universities in the country, closed its doors and started functionning virtually. This increased disparities when it comes to the educational system and the difficulties of many students living with insecurity. As such, 20 million Columbians don't have internet access at their house, and only 37% of public school students have internet and a computer at home.


During the power struggle between the president Ivan Duque and the mayor Claudia Lopez, panic reactions erupted especially in several of the country's detention centers. On the night of March 21 to 22, in one of the most populated prisons in Bogotá, the Modelo, a rebellion requesting garantees and information on the situation resulted in an unprecedented slaughter led by the security forces. Their intervention ended with a heavy count of at least 23 dead among the prisoners, more than 80 wounded, of which 5 guards, and a grave concern about the urgent penitentiary situation [1].

(Photo @Luis Carlos Ayala)
(Photo @Luis Carlos Ayala)

With the fear of being locked up under unsanitary conditions, the dread of being without employment or housing can be seen in a large section of the population, especially since close to half of the country's jobs are not permanent. A number of provisional contracts were suspended, leaving households without resources. In the center of Bogotá, 500 Embera native families whose livelihood was the production and sale of arts and crafts, were thrown out of their housing which they paid for day to day. On the Simon Bolivar place, several spontaneous protests gathered street vendors, Venezuelan caminantes [2], precarious workers, expressing their urgent need for the announced federal aid (see photo @Luis Carlos Ayala).


And indeed, the "safety plan" for which the mayor requested donations from citizens does not seem to cover the needs of the most underprivileged people of the town, and even less the middle class who is also impacted. In some neiborhoods, some residents are regularly manifesting out their window their opposition to the generalized confinement in the absence of help for vulnerable households and a real plan for financing the healthcare system. 


These cacerolazos bring to mind the huge mobilizations that took place between November 23, 2019 and the end of January 2020, for which the demands were for, on top of the order given to the authorities to respect the peace agreement, the reinforcement of public policy on health and access to education.  Clanging on pots at the windows was therefore one of the means of expression during the curfew that followed the first days of the rally.


In Bogotá, as in the rest of the country, only outings for groceries are allowed, as well as dog walks. While other cities have adopted the pico y cédula, a measure that regulates the days for outings according to your ID's number, the mayor of Bogotá put in place the pico y género (like Perou) starting on April 13 which allows women to go out on even days and men on uneven; transgenders and intersexes to choose the day according the gender they identify with.

Poster of number of deaths due to violence, including during the pandemic.
Poster of number of deaths due to violence, including during the pandemic.

Considering these drastic measures, you would have thought that the decrease in traffic and industrial production would have a positive impact on air pollution, a bane that is hitting all of the country's large cities. Not so. Forest fires, started by land owners and farmers to  increase their pastures and monopolize land, have increased because of lack of inspections, and are considerably impacting air quality in several regions [3]. 


As for the spread of the virus, it is running its course. On April 9, the country had over 2 000 confirmed cases and 69 deaths. But on this days of remembrance for the victims of the armed conflict, some are reminding us that the conflict is still killing lots of people. In several regions of the country, armed groups are profiting from the quarantine to continue to discourage and eliminate the defenders of human rights and community leaders. Since the beginning of the conflict, six of them have been assassinated, of which a woman fighting for women's rights, and 71 since the start of 2020, including many native leaders. Assassinations of past guerilla fighters having dropped their arms is also still going on, now at 190 since the signing of the peace agreement in December 2016 [4]. So for now, the pandemic is not reducing violence.

[1] On-line workshop, “Carcel, sociedad y terrorismo de Estado”, organized by several research groups and entities from April 1-2, 2020.

[2] These Venezuelen migrants, who are just passing through or temporarily settled in the cities, are particularly impacted. On-line conversation of Dejusticia, “Coronavirus y desigualdad, del miedo a la acción”, Webinar 6, April 1st, 2020 : “Covid-19 y migración forzada: Cierre de fronteras, xenofobia y tratos discriminatorios”. 

[3] Air pollution causes 16 000 death annually in Columbia. Op. Cit. Dejusticia, Webinar 7, April 7, 2020 : “Coronavirus y contaminación del aire”.

[4] Uprimny Yepes, Rodrigo, “Lideres sociales en tiempos de coronavirus”, April 5, 2020. 


Laetitia Braconnier Moreno, coordinator of the Andean center of Bogota at the Institut des Amériques, is a doctoral student at the University Paris Nanterre (CREDOF) and at the National University of Columbia (EILUSOS). She is also a member of the "transitional justice" of the Association of French-Columbian jurists (AJFC). Her thesis is on the mobilization of native normativity within the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) put in place after the 2016 peace agreement between the FARC-EP guerrilla group and the Columbian government.