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President Duque Addresses the AC on Colombia’s Pandemic Response Amidst Venezuelan Refugee Crisis

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

President Iván Duque, speaking Tuesday at an online event hosted by the Atlantic Council, discussed Colombia’s actions to address Covid-19 and the unique position of confronting the dual challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and the Venezuelan refugee crisis. Watch President Duque’s appearance here.

President Duque was honored to appear as the first guest on Atlantic Council Front Page, a new virtual event series featuring top newsmakers hosted by the leading nonpartisan organization focused on galvanizing U.S. global leadership and engagement in partnership with allies and partners.

Decisive Action to “Flatten the Curve”

In his remarks, President Duque stated Colombia’s top priorities: containing the exponential growth of the virus; preventing the collapse of the healthcare system; and most importantly, saving lives by “flattening the curve.” “So far, I think the policies have been working,” said the President, adding that “this is continuous work that we have to monitor every single day.”

President Duque said that Colombia’s early actions – including stopping international flights, closing schools and universities, and shutting down gathering places and large events – were particularly important for Colombia to take. Despite possessing the most intensive care units (ICU) per capita in Latin America, Colombia lacks the medical resources of wealthier nations, making it even more critical to act quickly to “flatten the curve” in order to avoid overwhelming the country’s healthcare system.

Managing Two Crises

“We have had to manage two crises at the same time,” said President Duque, adding that this was a factor that contributed to his decision to take drastic measures to contain Covid-19 earlier than many of Colombia’s neighbors. “All of the time that we have been able to save by flattening the curve is allowing us to strengthen our capacities and allow us to have more testing capacity,” said the President.

The added strain of the Venezuelan refugee crisis also compelled the President to shut down the border between the two countries in a tough decision for a country that has taken in 1.7 million Venezuelans fleeing the regime of Nicolas Maduro. “Since there is no sound epidemiological system in Venezuela, since there is a lack of information, since the country doesn’t have more than 200 ICUs,” the risk of a rapid increase in cases in that country made the closure necessary in order “to protect lives and to protect Colombia’s healthcare system,” said the President.

President Duque emphasized that the international community must not forget the plight of the Venezuelan people during this global pandemic, noting that support to Venezuelan refugees is approximately 10 percent of what Syrian refugees have received.

U.S. Partnership and Global Response

President Duque said he was instructing domestic manufacturers to produce ventilators and PPE to help meet demand in Colombia as the international community struggles to meet demand across the globe. “I believe the United States can help a lot of Latin America acquire technology,” for products such as rapid tests, ventilators, and PPE, especially once cases reach a peak in the U.S., said the President.


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