In Colombia, the number of people infected with the coronavirus rose sharply on Wednesday (local time). According to the Ministry of Health, there were 470 cases, 92 more than the day before. Evidence shows that four people have died of Covid-19. To counter the spread of the virus, a nationwide curfew has been in place since Wednesday, which is scheduled to last until April 13. The capital city of Bogotá had already rehearsed the forced quarantine last weekend.
Even before the measure came into effect, the announcement caused panic and led to protests by particularly disadvantaged sections of the population. On Tuesday, hundreds of people gathered in central places in Bogotá to draw attention to their precarious situation – among them informal workers, homeless people, sex workers and street artists. Due to the curfew and the ban on contact, they lose all earning opportunities.
Another group at the lower end of society had already drawn attention to their own catastrophic situation at the weekend. For the night from Saturday to Sunday, the inmates of a total of at least 13 male and female prisons organized protests in order to demand more effective measures to prevent Coronovirus infections from the Colombian prison authority “Inpec”. The prisoners had planned to carry out a “cacerolazo” in which pots were punched loudly.
As reported, among other things, by the organization “Equipo Jurídico Pueblos” in a report published on Sunday, military and police units had already gone to several of the prisons before the protests began. Together with prison guards, these later used violence against the inmates, used tear gas in closed rooms and firearms. According to Justice Minister Margarita Cabello, 25 prisoners were killed and 83 others injured in La Modelo prison in Bogotá alone. An uprising broke out in a prison in Cúcuta near the Venezuelan border on Tuesday, and three people were injured in the crackdown. In the wake of the protests, political prisoners in particular were also transferred to other detention centers, which solidarity groups described as “arbitrary, unjustified and contradicting any protocol”.
Since mid-March, inmates of several detention centers in the country had criticized the measures to prevent Covid-19 announced by head of state Iván Duque as deficient and discriminatory. On March 12, Duque announced that visits and cleaning of cells and courtyards were temporarily prohibited. As a result, on March 16, the prisoner organization “Movimiento Nacional Carcelario” (“National Prison Movement”, MNC) denounced in a communiqué that the visit ban did not apply to some financially privileged inmates. In addition, there is not even the necessary equipment and cleaning agents for occupants and staff, such as mouth guards, soap and chlorine.
In view of this situation, MNC and lawyers and human rights organizations have long been calling for a “state of emergency” to be declared for the prison system. On Monday, the government and Inpec finally responded to the request. Justice Minister Cabello said the measure is about protecting both the detainees and the guards and all family members. The decree provides for the possibility of temporarily releasing prisoners over the age of 60, pregnant women, mothers of children under the age of three, chronically ill persons and those convicted of minor offenses or of house arrest. The scheme could, according to the weekly magazine Semana at least 10,000 of the 124,188 detainees benefit. As Cabello emphasized, however, each individual case must be examined separately by a court.