Things That Matter

Christmas Brought A Pair Of Strong Earthquakes To Colombia And Left Residents Fleeing Their Homes

Colombia is no stranger of earthquakes. The country is located in a highly seismically active area – along the world’s ‘Ring of Fire.’ So the news of an earthquake on Christmas Day wasn’t a huge surprise given the country’s seismic activity, however, it still left many Colombians in shock as cities and towns shook from Bogota to Medellin.

Although the earthquake was strong, so far there are no reports of severe damage or deaths.

Central Colombia was shaken by two major earthquakes on Christmas Day.

Credit: The Weather Channel

Two strong quakes, of magnitude 6.0 and magnitude 5.8, struck central Colombia, according to the US Geological Survey. The quakes were strong enough that buildings shook.

The epicentres were very close to each other, about 93 miles south of the capital Bogota, and were very shallow, which amplified their effects and caused the shaking to be more widespread across the country.

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake is considered strong and is capable of causing severe damage, however, the area is not densely populated.

The quakes struck in the Caribbean Sea near the island of Providencia and about 19.9 miles from Lejanías, Colombia, according to the survey.

Shaking was felt across the nation’s capital city, Bogota.

Sirens howled across the Colombian capital of Bogota. According to many on Twitter, the sirens started in the middle of the shaking caused by the first earthquake and then gave several minutes warning before the second quake struck.

Like many countries along the Pacific Ring Of Fire, Colombia is home to a large earthquake monitoring system that allows officials to warn residents of impending earthquakes. Though the alarms often only give warnings of less than 90 seconds, this is often enough time to get outdoors or seek shelter in the most secure parts of one’s home.

Although shaking was felt across several major cities, the quake was centered in largely uninhabited areas.

The region of the epicenters is home to agriculture and oil activities, but the country’s disaster management agency said on its Twitter account it had not yet received any reports of damage.

A spokesperson for state-run oil company Ecopetrol, which has much of its infrastructure in the country’s eastern plains, said all installations were operating normally.

Earthquakes are relatively frequent in Colombia.

The Colombian region (in fact, the entire Pacific Coast of South America) has a well known high seismic risk, due to the triple junction that occurs at the northwest corner of the South American Plate where the Nazca, Cocos, and Pacific plates converge.

In fact, just 20 years ago Colombia was struck with a major 6.2 magnitude earthquake that left nearly 2,000 people dead. The earthquake hit Colombia’s coffee-growing region, and toppled tower blocks, hotels, and historic churches in Armenia. Most of the buildings that collapsed were old and poorly constructed, or were built on poor soil such as old landfill sites or steep slopes.The newer structures, for the most part, survived intact due to safety measures being established in 1984. The worst hit part of the country were regional capitals of Armenia and Pereira.

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#BlackLivesMatter Is Trending In Colombia After Five Black Teens Were Killed While Playing On Their Street

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#BlackLivesMatter Is Trending In Colombia After Five Black Teens Were Killed While Playing On Their Street

Luis Robayo / Getty Images

Despite countrywide stay-at-home orders that are among the world’s most strict, and even cartel-enforced lockdowns, crime is on the rise across Colombia. The increase has been driven by massacre-style attacks on the country’s most vulnerable communities: Afro-Colombians and Indigenous groups.

The recent torture and murder of five black teens who had stepped outside to fly kites, has reignited the conversation on race and how the government can step up to make sure minority groups across the country can be better protected.

A group of Afro-Latino teens were found tortured and murdered in Cali, Colombia.

Five Black teenagers left their homes in a neighborhood in Cali, Colombia, to fly their kites and play on a recent August morning. The young friends, aged between 14 and 18, didn’t show up at home for lunch. By midday, their mothers were looking for them.

“The boys were found tortured, burned, with machete and bullet wounds,” said Erlendy Cuero, a social leader from Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city. “Right now, the people who live here are sad but also very scared.”

Community members recently led a protest denouncing racism and violence inflicted by the Colombian state, and demanding justice for the murdered teens and other Afro-Colombian people who’ve been killed.

The mother of one of the Cali victims said: “Because we’re vulnerable and black, lots of people think they can walk all over us and forget about what happened to our children. Don’t let it be forgotten.”

The brutal killings are a reminder to Colombians that ethnic minorities are the most affected by violence.

Credit: Luis Robayo / Getty Images

Colombia is a country that has grown accustom to violence, but the massacre of these Black teens has shocked the country as a whole. And it’s brought to light a very real issue of racism in the country and shown exactly which communities suffer the most: ethnic minorities.

The recent masacre has also illuminated cracks in the still fragile peace deal between the government and former-FARC rebels. Just days after the boys were found murdered, a grenade was thrown at the police station in Llano Verde. The attack injured 15 people and left one man dead.

“We can’t assure they’re related, but neither can we rule out that hypothesis,” said Jorge Iván Ospina, Cali’s mayor.

The communities that suffer the most from widespread violence, are the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities. They have little protection from the central government in Bogota. However, it appears that finally, Colombians are starting to realize that peace will never be possible without listening to those communities who are most affected by violence.

Massacres are on the rise across the country, despite countrywide stay-at-home orders.

Colombia has been under one of the world’s longest running lockdown orders thanks to the Coronavirus. However, the number of massacres carried out this year is record breaking. In 2020, there have been at least 43 massacres leaving at least 181 dead.

The majority of them are taking place in the country’s south-west, home to larger populations of Afro-Colombians and Indigenous communities. Although responsibility for the massacres remains unclear, the government is pointing fingers at drug cartels. Families of victims though disagree, saying that their loved ones had no involvement with the drug trade.

A frequent complaint in these areas is that there is no government presence, allowing elements of armed groups that did not accept the peace agreements made in 2016 by the previous government of Juan Manuel Santos to fight for control of territory. 

The massacres are at least bringing forth a conversation on race and vulnerable communities in the country.

From police brutality to government indifference, Black and Indigenous Colombians live very different lives from the rest of the country. They’re more often targeted for abuse by police, they’re more likely to fall victim to massacres, and the government affords them little in the way of official protections from discrimination.

The recent murder of the teens from Cali, is finally bringing the #BlackLivesMatter conversation to a country that has long denied the existence of racism within its borders.

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Colombia Has Been Under The World’s Longest Lockdown But Has It Helped Contain The Virus?

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Colombia Has Been Under The World’s Longest Lockdown But Has It Helped Contain The Virus?

Luisa Gonzalez / Getty Images

Colombians have been under strict lockdown orders for more than 150 days – since March 6 to be exact. What many thought would last a couple of weeks or months at most has now become one of the world’s longest running Coronavirus lockdown orders.

The strict quarantine has started to take its toll on Colombians’ mental well-being as reports of depression and loneliness skyrocket. And, according to many health experts, the intended effects of the lockdown – keeping Coronavirus at bay – have been questionable as Colombia has experienced one of the worst outbreaks of the virus in Latin America.

Colombia has been under one of the world’s longest running lockdown orders to combat the pandemic.

Colombia is on course to have one of the world’s longest Coronavirus lockdown orders after President Iván Duque decreed an eighth extension of Obligatory Preventive Isolation to August 30.

“Obligatory preventative isolation, as the general concept, will continue until August 30,” Duque said in his nightly broadcast.

The issue of Decree 749 came hours after he addressed the nation highlighting the country’s positive epidemiological data of COVID-19 in comparison with countries in the hemisphere and around the world.

Having initiated strict quarantine on March 25, Colombians braced themselves for the possibility a two-month lockdown when on April 13 an additional two weeks were decreed, then on April 27, another extension to May 11. A week before that deadline, President Duque extended yet again, to May 25, and date many citizens considered as a final decision before easing the country back into economic productivity for all. But that easing back to a new normal never came as Coronavirus cases began to spiral out of control across the country.

Bogotá has been hit particularly hard and will likely extend the lockdown even further.

Credit: Luisa Gonzalez / Getty Images

Bogota, the Colombian capital, will hold a strict two-week quarantine in seven neighborhoods beginning Sunday, as it tries once again to curb coronavirus infections amid still-high intensive care unit occupation rates.

Occupation in the city’s ICUs has fallen gently from more than 90% to around 87%, the mayor said. Bogota has continued to add ventilators to its hospital system throughout the pandemic.

“The (health) system never collapsed, even though it had high occupation, thanks to the care we took, thanks to face masks, thanks to distancing, thanks to hand-washing and thanks to the focused quarantines,” Lopez said. “The efforts of the last six weeks were not in vain.”

The neighborhoods of Usaquen, Chapinero, Santa Fe, Candelaria, Puente Aranda and Antonio Narino, which are highly vulnerable to more infections and rapid spread, will be under the renewed lockdown from Sunday to Aug. 30 – which is also when the national lockdown order is finally expected to end.

However, the country was one of the first in the region to initiate a plan to combat the virus’ spread, so what happened?

Colombia instituted a strict country-wide lockdown order starting on March 6, the day that the country saw it’s first confirmed case of Coronavirus. The lockdown order was so strict that Colombia effectively sealed itself off from the rest of the world – closing its airports and land borders to everyone, including Colombian citizens who were hoping to return home.

In cities, only one person from each household was allowed to leave the home to do essential shopping, visit pharmacies, seek medical care, or go to an ATM or bank.

At first, the policy seemed to be working. Countries from Brazil to Mexico saw case numbers spike as Colombia’s stayed relatively flat. But that all started to change in June. Now, Colombia has seen almost 500,000 confirmed cases and 15,372 people have died.

Things have become so volatile that local cartels have implemented their own lockdown orders – and killed those who don’t obey.

Credit: Luis Robayo / Getty Images

Across Colombia, heavily armed cartels have introduced their own Coronavirus lockdown measures and “justice” system for those who break quarantine orders. To date, a least nine people have been killed for either refusing to adhere to the hardline restrictions or for daring to speak out against them.

The worrying news was revealed by experts from the campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW). José Miguel Vivanco, HRW’s Americas director, said the shocking developments are down to the failure to keep control over swathes of Colombia after decades of in-fighting.

“In communities across Colombia, armed groups have violently enforced their own measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” he said. “This abusive social control reflects the government’s long-standing failure to establish a meaningful state presence in remote areas of the country, including to protect at-risk populations.”

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