By Rodrigo Uprimny*, EL ESPECTADOR, August 16, 2020


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Colombia today is pessimistic: the number of cases and deaths from coronavirus, the acute social and economic crises, the Peace Agreement in danger, the murders of social leaders, the attacks on judicial independence, etc. And without signs that the situation is going to improve. But even at this uncertain and painful moment, optimism is possible. It’s a question of knowing where to look and whom to learn from.

In this spirit, I express my double admiration and see double lessons. A little country is giving lessons on the pandemic: Uruguay. And a person whose life is an example of dignity: Ángela Salazar, the member of Colombia’s Commission for Finding the Truth (CEV in Spanish), died painfully last week.

Uruguay has less than 1,500 cases and less than 40 deaths from coronavirus. Their rates of infection and death per million inhabitants are extremely low: 405 and 11, while in Colombia there are 8,600 infections and 280 deaths. And Uruguay achieved that without long mandatory quarantines like ours, and therefore their economic situation is better.

Even though it’s hard to know what explains Uruguay’s success in something so complicated and recent as the pandemic, several analysts have stressed at least seven factors: i) Listen to the science; the government immediately created a top level interdisciplinary advisory committee, and listened to it at all times. ii) Massive and rapid testing to find the infections in a timely manner. iii) A search for unity; the pandemic was met by a center right government, one that replaced a center left coalition, but the fight against the pandemic has been a common objective. iv) This has generated great confidence in the authorities; the physical distancing measures have been complied with, even though they were not mandatory. v) One of the best systems of social protection and health services in the region. vi) Substantial economic support for the most vulnerable. vii)  Levels of inequality and poverty that are lower than the rest of Latin America.

I got to know Ángela Salazar long before she became a member of the Truth Commission, in a course on transitional justice for social leaders, and I was impressed by her charisma and wisdom. I knew about the violence and the difficulties that she had experienced, because she had been displaced. I knew about her valiant struggles for the rights of women in Urabá, as part of the Women’s Initiative for Peace (IMP in Spanish). I knew that because of her difficult social situation as an Afro-Colombian woman, she had not had an extensive formal education and had had to face discrimination. And yet, in spite of all the horrors she had experienced and confronted, Ángela always had a serene attitude in class and a beautiful smile when someone made a point. When she spoke, all of us were silent so we could hear her wise observations on the best way to defend the victims, forcefully but without hatred, and without ever losing the hope for a country in peace and with more democracy.

Because of that, like so many others, I was delighted when she was elected as a member of the Truth Commission, because I knew that her experience and wisdom would greatly benefit the Commission’s work. And that’s why her early death from the pandemic that we have not been able to control hurts so much. The women, the victims, and the Afro-Colombians have lost a firm and peaceful voice.

Uruguay shows us the importance of science, of social rights, of equality and democratic agreement, that in spite of differences, we can confront enormous challenges like this pandemic. Ángela leaves us her legacy: it’s possible to fight for the truth and against terror with hope and good cheer. We should not squander these hopeful lessons in these uncertain and painful moments.

* Researcher at DeJusticia and Professor of Law at National University

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