Colombia’s poor being evicted despite lockdowns

Authorities are forcing people from homes they say were unlawfully built during a nationwide quarantine

Hundreds of Bogotá’s poorest residents are caught between two brutal forces: a nationwide quarantine that makes working impossible and authorities forcing people from homes they say were unlawfully built.

“In the middle of a pandemic the authorities are breaking all protocols without a care for how it affects us,” Don Pacho said to The Guardian, as a pack of his 15 dogs barked around his partially destroyed home overlooking Colombia’s capital. “They’ve got us stigmatized, segregated and forgotten.”

Ciudad Bolívar, a sprawling hilltop shantytown on the southern flank of Bogotá, has been Don Pacho’s home for 23 years. Many of the neighbourhood’s million residents have also been displaced by Colombia’s civil war, which killed over 260,000 and forced 7 million from their homes over five decades of bitter fighting. Others have fled economic collapse in neighbouring Venezuela.

Today, with the coronavirus raging and strict lockdowns difficult to enforce in poor neighbourhoods, residents of Ciudad Bolívar are struggling to make ends meet, keep roofs overhead and feed their children.

When the lockdown started in late March, Colombia had reported a few dozen cases of Covid-19. Today it has over 24,000, including 800 deaths, with 470 cases confirmed in Ciudad Bolívar. Locals say the numbers must be higher, and accuse the authorities of ignoring the plight of poorer victims.

The pandemic is also hitting the pockets of the country’s most vulnerable. Nearly 60% of Colombia’s economy is informal, with workers paid cash in hand and usually living day to day.