Colombia’s Health Ministry reported 586 deaths attributed to Chinese coronavirus on Sunday, a national record since the pandemic began, and 28,519 new cases of infection.
The number of cases and deaths appears to be accelerating most in Bogotá and the Valle del Cauca region, where hospital intensive care units (ICUs) reached 100 percent capacity this weekend. Valle del Cauca has experienced some of the worst violence linked to a “national strike” organized by a coalition of radical leftist groups that preceded deaths peaking in the country. The “strike” began in late April as a response to conservative President Iván Duque proposing a widely-panned progressive tax increase. While Duque backed away from the proposal less than a week later, leftist groups persisted in organizing riots to destroy historical sites, burn down police stations (and burn police officers alive), and target medical supply convoys as a form of protest.
“National strike” organizers have rejected Duque’s attempts to enter negotiations and have expanded their initial opposition to a tax increase into a convoluted set of demands that includes the end of all gender inequality and the hollowing out of national police power to fight crime.
In early May, the Colombian government announced it had compiled evidence linking “national strike” rioters to Marxist terrorist groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).
As of Monday, Colombia has the tenth-highest all-time number of documented coronavirus cases at 3.75 million and third-highest in Latin America, after Brazil and Argentina. These numbers reflect government-compiled data, not including modifications by outside observers to suspiciously low rates of infection in rogue states like China, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela. Venezuela’s socialist regime, in particular, has faced intensifying condemnation from its own medical community over the publication of national coronavirus case and vaccination rates that do not align with local and regional statistics — and over failure to address discrepancies in the number of reported vaccine doses the regime possesses versus the alleged number of people fully vaccinated.
Local Colombian news outlets reported that the Health Ministry is currently monitoring 168,222 active coronavirus cases as of Sunday, most of them in Bogotá. The death count currently stands at 95,778 people since the pandemic began in China in late 2019.
Hospitals in Valle del Cauca, the epicenter of much of the violence against police and others in the “national strike,” are struggling to handle the sudden surge in severe coronavirus cases, Colombia’s El Tiempo reported Saturday. Local health officials warned this weekend that ICUs in the region have reached 100 percent capacity and Valle del Cauca is now relying on transporting patients to other departments (the formal name for states or provinces in the country) for care.
“We are trying to substitute some [drugs] for others, and with oxygen, we are at our limit,” Valle del Cauca Health Secretary María Cristina Lesmes said Thursday. “There is not a clear shortage but we are enduring some difficulties.”
Speaking to El País, based in Cali, the regional Valle capital, intensive care specialist Elías Vieda warned last week that doctors were being forced to make drug substitutions that require patients to spend longer times in ICUs, as the drugs improve coronavirus symptoms while causing new side effects that require additional care.
“All the clinics have an important deficit of frontline medications, sedatives like midazolam and propofol, they are very low, as are frontline relaxers,” Vieda said.
Vieda noted that shortages had been ongoing for months but intensified in the past few weeks in part due to “the social crisis and the same lack of awareness people have with protective measures,” apparently referring to the lack of social distancing and other measures at left-wing “national strike” riots.
Throughout much of early May, leftists focused attacks in Cali and Bogotá on local police response stations, burning them down using Molotov cocktails. Some police officers who survived the attacks later told local media that the firebombs appeared to be used not just to burn down the buildings, but to force police officers out in the open, where they received gang beatings. The violent incidents also targeted hotels and other tourist spots in Cali as well as historic sites, statues, and monuments.
Authorities also documented individual attacks on medical supply convoys carrying oxygen, vaccines, and other critical supplies; police have yet to clarify in many of these cases if the assailants were part of the “national strike” or simply exploiting roadblocks built by leftist strikers to target vulnerable transport vehicles forced to make dangerous detours.
The events have prompted numerous incidents of vigilante justice, as rioters have intentionally incapacitated police stations and vehicles. Civilians in Cali have repeatedly taken the streets carrying firearms and machetes to challenge rioters, prompting complaints of brutality on the part of the rioters. Conservative lawmakers have attempted to revive attempts to modify national laws to ease the ability of law-abiding civilians to legally obtain a gun; Colombia’s constitution does not protect the right to bear arms.
In late May, thousands of Colombians organized peaceful protests in the nation’s major cities against the “national strike,” rallying to support law enforcement and urge greater action against the rioters. Duque responded by offering talks to strike organizers and announcing a full overhaul of police force in response to leftist claims of police brutality.
The most recent such incident occurred on Saturday, according to El Tiempo, in Norte de Santander, in which unknown armed men in motorcycles opened fire on a group of protesters who had established themselves for over a month on a highly trafficked byway.
According to the National Association of Entrepreneurs of Colombia (ANDI), the “national strike” has cost business owners between 13 and 14 billion pesos ($3.5 million) since it began, as many have had to shut down businesses or face mob attacks. The head of the Agricultural Society of Colombia (SAC) told the BBC last week that the pandemic had caused some complications to the growing and harvesting of crops, but “the strike affected us more because the roadblocks cut the systems of distribution and put in check the food security not only of Valle, but the whole country.”