John Otis | KGOU
KGOU

John Otis

Venezuela's worst economic meltdown in history has had a huge impact on neighboring Colombia, where hospitals, schools and welfare agencies are dealing with 2 million Venezuelan refugees. But the crisis has produced at least one silver lining for Colombia: the curtailing of gasoline smuggling.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

It's been a rough two days for former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, one of the country's most influential politicians.

Uribe has gone from kingmaker to detainee after the country's Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered that he be placed under house arrest. Then, on Wednesday, Colombian media reported that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It wasn't long ago that Nicolás Maduro's days as the Venezuelan president appeared to be numbered.

The authoritarian leader had overseen his country's worst economic meltdown in history and was facing crippling U.S. sanctions targeting the vital oil industry. Amid chronic food shortages, millions of Venezuelans fled the country.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Colombia, a spike in coronavirus cases has forced many towns and cities that had been reopening — including Bogotá and Medellín — to issue new lockdown orders. That's making life especially difficult for poor people who need to work in order to eat.

After imposing one of the tightest coronavirus lockdowns in Latin America, Colombia is now searching for ways to jump-start its economy. One experiment is a series of tax-free shopping days, but critics fear they could turn out to be super-spreader events.

At a time when the country is facing a spike in COVID-19 cases, urging Colombians to flock to stores and malls "sends an erroneous message," said Bogotá Mayor Claudia López.

With nearly 40,000 deaths, Brazil has registered the world's third-highest COVID-19 death toll and the second-highest confirmed caseload. Its neighbors fear the disease is spilling across Brazil's borders.

With COVID-19 deaths spiking in many Latin American countries, Colombia — which has confirmed more than 23,000 cases and 776 deaths — is extending its nationwide lockdown until the end of this month. That has meant more hardship for people living hand to mouth.

So some desperate Colombians have been sending out an eye-catching SOS — with encouragement from local politicians.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It didn't take long for Huber, a former Marxist guerrilla, to give up on peace.

A former member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, Huber disarmed under the country's 2016 peace treaty. But he says the government failed to help former fighters transition to civilian life and that many have been killed.

All this prompted Huber, who asked to be identified only by his first name, and other disgruntled ex-rebels to take up arms once again.

Nearly 2 million Venezuelans fled to Colombia in recent years to escape their country's devastating economic crisis and rebuild their lives. But Colombia's coronavirus lockdown has thrown many of these newcomers out of work, and some are now trying to get home — by any means necessary.

Among them is Yordelis García. Unlike some of the returning migrants, she and her family can't afford bus fare. So they've started walking from Bogotá, the Colombian capital, to the Venezuelan border some 450 miles away.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Nearly 2 million Venezuelans fled to Colombia to escape a devastating economic crisis. But Colombia's coronavirus lockdown has thrown many of these migrants out of work, and now some are trying to get back home. Reporter John Otis has more.

Ecuador has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 in all of Latin America – with 10,128 cases and 507 deaths in a country of just 17 million people.

But the situation may be far worse than what the official numbers show. In fact, one Ecuadorian official says it appears that thousands more people may have died of the disease than his government is reporting.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

An acoustic folk music developed by his enslaved ancestors along Colombia's Pacific coast helped to keep John Jairo Cortez on the straight and narrow.

While growing up in the crime-ridden town of Tumaco, cocaine smugglers killed his father and Cortez says he was "tempted" to join a rival gang to avenge the murder. Instead, he was lured into another local industry: currulao.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Before the country of Colombia largely shut down due to the coronavirus, reporter John Otis visited a town there notorious as a shipping point for cocaine. As John discovered, though, it's also home to a hidden treasure.

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Ecuador is one of the smallest countries in South America but it is dealing with one of the region's worst outbreaks of COVID-19, with more than 3,100 identified infections and 120 deaths.

The epicenter of the country's outbreak is the Pacific port city of Guayaquil, where bodies are lying in the streets.

Guayaquil has registered about half of all Ecuador's coronavirus cases and patients have overwhelmed the city's hospitals. In addition, a nationwide curfew and bureaucratic red tape have hindered the work of undertakers.

Álvaro Callama is struggling to survive an economic double whammy.

A Venezuelan electrician, he fled his homeland two years ago amid a devastating economic crisis that left him too poor to buy food. He moved to neighboring Colombia, where Callama — nothing if not resourceful — worked three jobs: picking fruit, laying bricks and guiding tourists on horseback rides.

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