Colombian cartels and rebel groups are imposing their own bloody coronavirus lockdowns killing those who do not obey, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.
At least eight civilians have been murdered by the armed groups, some of them holdovers from Colombia’s half-century civil war, which are using Whatsapp chats and pamphlets to warn citizens of the lockdowns in the rural areas where they operate.
In Tumaco, an impoverished and violent port city on the Pacific coast, residents are banned by gangs from fishing, limiting their ability to earn money and food. A 5pm curfew – far stricter than the measures imposed by the government – is also forcing street vendors inside.
Across the country, violent gangs are stopping people from leaving their homes at all, even when sick, according to humanitarian workers cited in the report. In two provinces, Cauca and Guaviare, armed groups have torched the motorcycles of those of those who ignored their restrictions.
“They have shut down transport between villages, and when someone is suspected to have Covid-19 they are told to leave the region or they will be killed,”
Like much of South America, Colombia is bracing for the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. Since the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed on 6 March, medical authorities have confirmed 159,898 cases, with 5,625 deaths. Cases regularly climb by over 5,000 a day.
The government has imposed lockdowns, both nationwide and locally, but they have never been as strict as those decreed by armed groups, and the consequences for breaking them nowhere near as grave.