The Colombian quarantine has become a legal obstacle course of decree upon decree enacted by the government of President Iván Duque and Bogotá Mayor Claudia López. With decrees that restrict civil liberties during the COVID-19 health emergency to one that separates mobility based on gender, citizens who violate any of the quarantine restrictions face hefty fines or a four to eight-year prison term. With draconian lockdowns in place the world over, Colombia is no exception, and while some of Europe’s hardest-hit nations with coronavirus have begun easing certain restrictions, Colombia with 50 million inhabitants appeared to have a timeline that would allow construction workers and manufacturers resume economic activity on Tuesday, April 28, only if companies can guarantee strict bio-security measures for their employees.
But the announcement by President Duque on Monday that only two key sectors of the economy could begin to reactivate was met with rebuke by Bogotá’s Claudia López who, on Wednesday, de-authorized the President by ruling-out any possibility that manufacturers could head back to factories or workshops.
The over-ruling of an executive decision has exacerbated a political rift between Duque and López who after 100 days in office has emerged as the “nay-sayer” rival to the President.
Under the all-encompassing COVID-19 objective “to save lives,” Mayor López has not set a timeline for re-opening Bogotá, stating on multiple occasions, that if necessary, she would let the capital’s economic engine “extinguish” until the pandemic runs its course.
Timeline, which according to leading medical experts could take 18 months or longer, many now predicting a second wave of coronavirus later this year.
Colombia is not a federalist state and under the Constitution, the lifting of curfew/quarantine depends on the Presidency not local officials. Even though the national government has reiterated that “Bogotá isn’t an island,” for López having an estimated 300,000 manufacturers on the streets next week poses a risk of unraveling efforts to flatten the epi-curve given that 400,000 construction workers will be using public transportation. The President affirmed that public transport will only be able to move up to 35% of the commuter load which for a transit grid such as Bogotá’s TransMilenio translates to 600,000 passengers.
For backers of Mayor López’s decision to have manufacturers remain at home until at least May 11 – the deadline set for the extension of the national quarantine – is based on data that shows Bogotá with 1752 cases of coronavirus infection or 42% of the nation’s 4149 total. Even though the district’s argument is based on the very same data released by the Ministry of Health, Mayor López may not view Bogotá as an “island,” but rather a legislative “exception” to similar predicaments faced by other mayors in charge of easing lockdowns with much smaller populations.
The polarization over the preparedness of the country – and its capital – to relinquish certain basic rights to citizens with the coronavirus pandemic ultimately comes at the expense of the very citizens decrees are meant to protect. By keeping 10 million confined indefinitely is taking a toll on the economic and emotional capacity to respond in the future to other emergencies, health-based or other. For many in Bogotá, coronavirus has already devasted businesses and livelihoods and even though extending the lockdown may be necessary “to save lives,” by threatening to impose more sanctions with heightened policing, our current levels of discipline and tolerance may quickly erode all trust in governance if the security situation begins to deteriorate.