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From Mexico To Manaus, The Week's COVID News Shakes Latin America

Jose Luis Magana
Colombian Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, who died of complications from COVID-19 Tuesday morning.

The death of Colombia's defense minister, plus a presidential infection in Mexico and a ministerial investigation in Brazil deepen the region's gloom.

The only region in the world that rivals the U.S. for dismal COVID-19 news is right next door — Latin America — and the coronavirus headlines from south of our border are especially gloomy this week.

Tuesday morning, Colombian Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo died of complications from COVID-19 at a military hospital in Bogotá. He was 69.

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Before serving as defense chief, Trujillo was foreign minister and oversaw Colombia’s widely praised absorption of more than a million Venezuelan refugees. That effort made him especially popular among Latin American expats in South Florida. Trujillo had also been mayor of Cali, Colombia.

Trujillo’s death is a reminder the COVID-19 pandemic has begun to overwhelm Colombia. In the past six months its number of reported cases has grown sevenfold and its number of recorded deaths fivefold, to more than 50,000. Colombia has not yet begun a vaccination program.

Mexico did recently start vaccinations. But last Sunday President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced he is infected and is under medical treatment. His pandemic management has been widely criticized as lax, if not irresponsible.

So has COVID control in Latin America’s largest country, Brazil — where Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello is now under federal investigation for COVID negligence.

Pazuello allegedly ignored a shortage of oxygen tanks in the Amazon city of Manaus, one of the worst-hit by COVID in Brazil, which is also struggling with vaccination. The country has registered the world's second-highest number of COVID deaths, behind the U.S., and the third-highest death toll.

Latin America and the Caribbean account for only one-twelfth of the world's population but have tallied almost a third of the world's COVID-19 infections and fatalities.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.