The Coronavirus Crisis in Colombia

Coronvirus in Colombia

The following is a short article written for my Citadel classmates at the suggestion of Robert C. (Chris) Hoffman, representative among alumni for the class of 1968. I’ve elected to share it broadly given the importance of the topic.
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Chris Hoffman, our classmate and in many respects, the glue that has kept us 68 graduates together for more than half a century, asked that I share an introspective of how the coronavirus is being dealt with in the Republic of Colombia where I now reside. As we did back in the fall of 1964, “I hear and obey”.

Like much of the world, Colombia is in lockdown. To date (March 19, 2020), 108 cases of the coronavirus have been identified nationally, one in Manizales, the city in which I live, although as everywhere, given non-universal testing, the total must be much larger. No public functions are being permitted. Travel, internally, is drastically curtailed (although until next week, incoherently, international travel is being permitted). Curfews are in place although they are confusing as a battle between central authorities (Colombia is a unitary rather than federal government) and local mayors and departmental governors makes their terms confusing. On a national level a curfew is in place from 7:00 pm through 5 am but 24/7 for children and adolescents. On a local level, in beautiful Manizales, capital of the Department of Caldas (where one of my former students is the mayor), the curfew is from 6:00 pm through 5:00 am with a 24/7 curfew not only for those younger than 18 but also for everyone over 70 (e.g., me). All major commercial areas (large stores and shopping centers) as well as restaurants (except for takeout) are closed by government decree and religious services are restricted to not more than 30 people at a time. Local traffic has not been curtailed (whether private or public) during non-curfew hours although intercity and inter-departmental traffic is pretty much prohibited. All schools and universities are closed but in most cases, classes are being held online. As might be expected, some students are agitating for termination of the semester but most, cognizant of how that would delay their graduation and increase costs, are opposed. People with symptoms are being tested and if ill, quarantined and treated, but in Manizales, in one case I know of, the police line responsible for reacting (123 rather than 911) may be doing a poor job, refusing to respond unless the callers have detailed information as to symptoms, including exact temperature. In the case I know of, exposure was likely as a relative just arrived from Finland, via Europe and the United States but treatment was declined because the family, in lockdown, did not own a thermometer. People are people I guess, some ignorant and/or inept while others are noble. Everyone is being asked to wash their hands regularly and to keep hydrated and, if possible, to wear protective face masks (they, along with alcohol have been in short supply).

What is not being done at all, at least so far (unlike the case in the United States), is the taking of related economic measures to provide the citizenry, especially the most vulnerable, with financial relief and subsidies. In my opinion, in the long run, that may prove more destructive than will the coronavirus itself. Some of us are taking up donations in goods and cash to help the poorest (e.g., the homeless, street vendors, etc.), but that will barely make a dent in the problem. Restarting the economy, both here and abroad, poses an awesome challenge, one which many of us here feel will not be met, resulting in a probable depression. Political polarization continues unabated with most of the public deeply suspicious of the national government’s motives, given the never ending evidence of corruption and of complicity with revived right wing paramilitary murderers who seem to be assassinating civic leaders, especially among the indigenous and labor unions, with impunity.

On the other hand, this crisis may have positive social and ecological consequences. Despite its relatively short period to date, the waters in Venice are healing, global warming is being reduced, carbon emissions are being curtailed and the planet is healing. Socially, people are realizing that at least with respect to susceptibility, most of us are all too equal and that we need to care for our neighbors as well as ourselves if we are to dodge this virus. If these two factors, the social and the environmental, lead to positive changes, then in the end we may be better off. Here’s hoping.

I trust that as Citadel men and women we are not only taking care of ourselves and our families but providing leadership and examples for everyone else. You, as a group, are the best people I have ever had the privilege to meet and the honor to be a part of.

Bill Calvo, Hotel Company, 1968
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© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2020; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen). Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.

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