Colombian defense minister dies of Covid-19 complications

Bogota (AFP) –


Colombian Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, who had overseen the government's fight against drug gangs and guerrillas, died Tuesday of coronavirus complications. He was 69.

Trujillo is the highest-ranking Colombian official and one of nearly a dozen sitting cabinet ministers worldwide to have succumbed to the virus that has killed at least 2.1 million people since the outbreak began in China in December 2019.

Trujillo's death prompted messages of grief and sympathy from near and far, even the government of the United States and the UN.

He was hospitalized in Bogota on January 11 and admitted to intensive care four days later after suffering "acute lung function deterioration," according to the defense ministry.

Colombian President Ivan Duque decreed three days of national mourning in the memory of the minister and other coronavirus victims.

"Thank you, friend; thank you, partner; thank you, minister, thank you @CarlosHolmesTru. Your life was the purest reflection of vocation and public service," Duque wrote on Twitter.

Born in Cali in Colombia's southwest, Trujillo has served in government under six presidents since 1990 -- as interior and education minister, and several times as an ambassador.

After a frustrated bid for the presidency, he was appointed foreign minister in Duque's government in 2018.

He took over the defense portfolio after the resignation in 2019 of Guillermo Botero, accused of having tried to cover up the deaths of children in a military air strike on a drug gang.

- 'Defender of democracy' -

In his last role, Trujillo was faced with the worst attacks committed in Colombia since the signing of a peace agreement with the armed guerrilla group FARC in 2016.

According to the Indepaz independent observatory, Colombia in 2020 witnessed 91 massacres -- described as attacks resulting in three or more deaths.

As foreign minister, Trujillo was involved in attempts to diplomatically isolate Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in favor of Western-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Guaido used Twitter to send his condolences to the family of the minister he described as a "loyal defender of democracy".

The US embassy in Bogota expressed sorrow over the loss of a "patriot" and the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs said Trujillo had been "a strong ally and excellent partner in the mission to strengthen US-Colombia ties and make both our countries safer."

The UN said in a statement Trujillo's career had been devoted to public service and his "great leadership and vocation to serve the country will always be remembered."

Colombia has reported more than two million Covid-19 cases, according to official figures, and almost 52,000 deaths.

Several top politicians around the world have survived coronavirus infection, including former US president Donald Trump, Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro, Emmanuel Macron of France and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

In December, Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini of Eswatini -- formerly Swaziland -- became the first sitting leader to die.

Among serving cabinet ministers, the epidemic has reportedly claimed four in Zimbabwe, two in Malawi, and one each in South Africa, Eswatini and Bangladesh.