Armed Colombian cartels have been taking the law into their own hands and threatening or even killing people who don’t comply with their strict coronavirus lockdown rules.
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, The Guardian reports.
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.
José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for Human Rights Watch, said: “Draconian punishments imposed by armed groups to prevent the spread of Covid-19 mean that people in remote and impoverished communities across Colombia risk being attacked and even killed if they leave their homes.”
Vivanco said that the groups include a number of different rebels, including dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, as well as the National Liberation Army. Many are also involved in drug trafficking.
He explained that they are using the pandemic both as a way to show their power, to gain credibility in the public’s minds and also through a real panic about the virus itself.