Colombia Covid Lockdown: Collapse of Healthcare, Social Crisis, Poverty

As the confirmed Coronavirus cases in Colombia reach more than 880,000, the healthcare infrastructure in Bogota is crumbling and according to the president of the Bogota College of Medicine Herman Bayona, “We are close to collapse.” Bogota’s Intensive Care Units (ICUs) are operating at a 90% capacity, an indication of the city’s over-stretched and strained healthcare system. The Santa Clara Hospital, for example, is assisting 52 patients with only a 44-bed capacity. Ivan Duque Marquez, the president of Colombia, is adamant on re-opening Bogota and considers that “a lockdown is not the solution.”

The present-day shambolic structure of Colombian healthcare is an inevitable consequence of an all-pervasive implementation of neoliberalism. In 1993, Colombia had created the General Social Security System for Health (GSSSH) through the approval of Law 100. Through Law 100 of 1993, the Colombian government “introduced a social security system based on the managed competition model, which has been increasingly exported from the USA to low and middle income countries”. As Luz Stella Alvarez, J. Warren Salmon, and Dan Swartzman have remarked, “international financial institutions and a variety of academics promulgated the U.S. model as desirable for all nations despite the evidence of its failings when confronting impoverishment, rising social epidemics, and a host of “neglected diseases” across the southern hemisphere”.

Colombia was no exception to the devastating influence of American health hegemony and the violent repercussions of the neoliberal health reforms attest to this fact: “Public health programs, including vaccinations, were dramatically reduced or eliminated, and there was a sharp increase in mortality rates nationwide. Preventable deaths in children under five rose dramatically, from four to 15 per 100,000 children. Many consider the health care crisis that began with the reforms and continues to the present to be the worst in Colombian history.” Public hospitals, which have an indispensable role in regulating the Covid-19 pandemic, “were defunded, rented out, transformed into for-profit health care institutions, or closed down” during the neoliberal health reforms.

Ivan Duque Marquez, the current president of Colombia, is deliberately apathetic towards this historically situated health crisis and despite the economic exigencies of the Covid-19 pandemic he is actively facilitating the enrichment of banks. As per “Colombia Reports”, out of the $1.5 billion which Ivan Duque allocated for the health sector, only $110 million has reached the Health Ministry and National Health Institute. This $1.5 billion was part of the $8 billion emergency fund of which $996 million was used. More than $636 million of the entire $996 million has apparently gone to the banks, suggesting that government officials are busy helping the financial sector. In the recent years, one has witnessed the neoliberal integration of Colombia in the global regime of finance with international investments increasing from $1,036 billion in 1994 to $40,549.6 billion in 2013. The embezzlement and the consequent use of health-related money in the financial sector can be considered a decisive step taken to bolster domestic banks and robustly financialize capital accumulation in Colombia.

The ongoing health crisis is only the tip of the neoliberal iceberg and the contagion of capitalism is impacting the entirety of the country. The Institute of Studies for Development and Peace documents how 95 social leaders have been killed during the Covid-19 pandemic (between March 6 and July 15). Moreover, 223 social leaders and 36 former FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas have been assassinated in 2020. Under Duque, the killing of social leaders and ex-FARC guerrillas has accelerated. Since Ivan Duque’s election to power in 2018, 573 social leaders and approximately 85 ex-FARC guerrillas have been killed. Opposition to these systematic and strategized killings has been tenacious and even during the pandemic, Colombians are protesting and some have marched for 600km to vehemently agitate against state-sanctioned violence.

The current acceleration of a bellicose and violent campaign against revolutionary forces has its roots in the signing of the peace agreement in November 2016. One of the main reasons for FARC’s acceptance of peace negotiations was its declining military capacity due to the implementation of Plan Colombia and the growing paramilitarization of FARC-dominated regions. Plan Colombia, a $10 billion aid program funded by USA and primarily managed by State Department’s International Narcotics Control programme, heavily militarized Colombia’s southern regions and pragmatically paralyzed FARC’s organizational structure. This was done through two modalities: the privatization of violence and the re-configuration of operational architectures according to the necessities of asymmetrical warfare….

You know the mass migration crisis out of the USA’s “back yard”?   It’s because of global warming.   So save the earth like the Colombian peasants are and just die.  Or did you think you were essential?   Better muzzle up!

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