Wednesday, July 15, 2020

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The latest EcoAnalitica-Guarumo scientific survey of 2,122 voters across Colombia gives President Ivan Duque a 60% favorability ranking during the continuing Covid-19 crisis -- a slight decline from 63% favorability in the last survey in April.

The July 8-11 survey of voters in all major and minor Colombia cities has a margin of error of 2.5%, according to the company.

Among Colombian politicians with a national image, Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero has the highest favorability ranking, at 81%, while Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez has fallen to 68% favorability, down sharply from 78% in the April 2020 survey.

Left-wing demagogue Senator Gustavo Petro – who lost in a landslide to President Duque in the 2018 presidential election – now has a 61% unfavorability rating. Only 32% give the bombastic Petro a “favorable” ranking -- worse than his nemesis, former President, now-Senator Alvaro Uribe (37.6% favorable, 53% unfavorable).

Coming in last in unfavorability is former Colombia Vice President German Vargas, a defender of the deeply flawed “peace” treaty between former President Juan Manuel Santos and the narco-communist FARC army, principally responsible for starting and then continuing a war that killed more than 300,000 mostly poor people, kidnapped for ransom thousands of others, converted vast territories into cocaine areas, and forcibly displaced some 6 million during its nearly 60-year reign of terror in the Colombian countryside.

Asked about favorites for the 2022 presidential elections, the biggest single voter category was “none,” at 32%. Former Medellin Mayor and Antioquia Governor Sergio Fajardo got the most votes for any named candidate, at 22.5%, followed by Petro at 17% and former Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez at 12.6%.

As in the April survey, the July survey found that most voters continue to worry more about their jobs than about the Covid-19 threat.

In total, 34.6% of voters said “employment” was their top worry, followed by “corruption” (27.6%), “Coronavirus” (13.6%), “the economy” (9.5%), “security” (4.5%), “education” (3.6%), “health” (3%), “the environment” (1.9%) and, in last place, “peace” (1.7%).

As for what they're mainly doing for Covid-19 protection, 31.7% said they usually wear masks while 22.6% said they use social-distancing. Frequent hand-washing was reported by18.4%, while seeking tele-work (rather than commuting to a physical work-place) accounted for 13.2% of responses.


The Medellin-based “InnspiraMED” consortium producing relatively low-cost ventilators for critical Covid-19 victims got a big boost July 11 when Colombia President Ivan Duque came to Medellin to see for himself these in-development technologies.

According to “InnspiraMed” project coordinator Ruta N, “President Duque received information on the equipment delivery process -- taking place in the coming days -- according to the distribution schedule developed by the InnspiraMED initiative, with the support of the national government.

“The delivery of the first InnspiraMED ventilators began some days ago in different clinics and hospitals in the country, so that the institutions that have received them can use the equipment -- if required -- under the [legal cover] of ‘compassionate use,’” according to Ruta N.

The “compassionate use” exception follows “guidelines of the External Circular 031 of May 27, 2020 issued by the Ministry of Health and Social Protection, which indicates that this type of equipment can be used in particular conditions within the [Covid-19] emergency in the country as long as the patient or their responsible relative gives authorization,” according to Ruta N, Medellin’s high-technology incubator organization.

InnspiraMED is an “interdisciplinary and collaborative exercise” coordinated by Ruta N and funded by Medellin-born, bottled-beverages manufacturing giant Postobón.

The collaboration includes University of Antioquia, Sampedro Medical Industries and EIA University, featuring “engineers, intensive-care specialists and pulmonologists,” as well as manufacturing specialist Haceb (appliance maker) and motorcycle assembler Auteco Mobility, Ruta N added.

President Duque’s July 11 visit to Medellín not only included educational presentations on the InnspiraMED ventilators, but also included delivery of the first 50 of 187 fully commercial, Invima-certified ventilators that the national government procured from international suppliers for Medellin and Antioquia.

Crucial Situation for Banana, Coffee Harvests

During the visit, Antioquia Governor Luis Fernando Suárez urged the President to provide special support “to address the critical situation of the Urabá banana region and the upcoming coffee harvest in the Southwest” of the department.

The Governor added that his government -- together with the mayors of the banana-growing municipalities of Chigorodó, Carepa, Apartadó and Turbo -- filed a letter with the Ministry of the Interior asking for a special quarantine.

“We do not want to get to the stage where we have to stop, for example, the banana industry, due to the effects of the pandemic,” Governor Suárez said.

In addition, “we are going to have between 40,000 and 50,000 people who are going to arrive [in Antioquia] in the next 15 or 20 days” to work in the semi-annual coffee harvest. “If at the time of the coffee harvest Antioquia faces a collapse [in capacity] in ICUs, we do not want to look at that scenario,” he added.

“That is why it is very important at this time that [the national government] help us with the necessary ventilators to install in the next few days in Antioquia. We have the goal of having, in August,  909 ICU beds, to avoid having people die waiting for an ICU bed,” he said.

As of July 11, Colombia’s Health Ministry had recorded a cumulative national  total of 145,362 Covid-19 cases since monitoring began five months ago. Over that period, Colombia has recorded 5,119 deaths and 61,186 recoveries.

Bogota leads with 47,524 cases, followed by Atlantico (32,635); Cali/Valle del Cauca (14,207); Bolivar (11,913); Antioquia (8,744); Nariño (4,457); Cundinamarca (4,052); Sucre (2,419); Amazonas (2,411); Magdalena (2,785); Choco (2,177); Meta (1,548); Tolima (1,435); and Santander (1,261), according to the Ministry.


Because of rising cases of Covid-19 in the Medellin metro area, Area Metropolitana de Valle de Aburra (AMVA, the regional government coordinating agency) announced July 11 that “pico y cedula” shopping liberties effectively will be slashed by 80% weekly.

Rather than allowing odd-and-even-numbered cedula rotations every-other-day (as announced only a week ago), now only two cedula numbers will be allocated each day -- rather than five – effectively slashing personal weekly shopping-and-errands excursions by 80%.

As a result, only people with cedulas ending in 0 and 1 can venture out on Monday, July 13, while people with cedulas ending on 2 or 3 can venture out on Tuesday, July 14 (see chart, above).

The AMVA regulation applies to Barbosa, Girardota, Copacabana, Bello, Medellín, Envigado, Itagüí, Sabaneta, La Estrella and Caldas.

The drastic reduction comes in response to “increases in Covid-19 cases and the accelerated occupation of intensive care units (ICUs) in the Aburrá Valley,” according to AMVA.

The decision came after a July 11 meeting “held by the leaders of Medellín and Antioquia and with President Iván Duque, based on avoiding crowds, saturation in the health system and promoting self-care. Which means that the ‘pico-y-cedula’ that was originally designed to run through August 2 is modified by this new decision.

“For the weekend corresponding to July 18, 19 and 20, which coincides with a public holiday and the special shopping day without VAT [value-added tax], guidelines that the national government will take next week are awaited,” according to AMVA.

Meanwhile, Antioquia Acting Governor Luis Fernando Suárez and Medellín Mayor Daniel Quintero issued a joint statement declaring that “mayors are in favor of enacting more restrictive measures for that [July 18-20] weekend and the following weekend, throughout the metropolitan territory.”

The joint meeting of Medellin metro-area mayors also decided that “mayors will define in which sectors or communes biosecurity measures will be used to contain the contagion figures that have increased exponentially in recent days. And, according to data from experts, these next three weeks will be very critical for the region, the department of Antioquia and in general for the country.”

The Antioquia departmental government also might take more-restrictive measures “depending on the behavior of the occupation of ICU [capacity] and the increase in [Covid-19 case] numbers,” according to the AMVA press bulletin.

AMVA also urged that “the entire population of the Aburrá Valley and all Antioquia [take] extreme self-care measures” including work-from-home, rather than commuting.

In a separate announcement via his Twitter account, Medellin Mayor Quintero revealed that the Avenue 80 Clinic -- exclusively dedicated to Covid-19 patients -- will now open starting Monday, July 13.

In addition, the downtown area (Candelaria neighborhood) now will be banned for circulation by anyone except those shopping for groceries, medicines and basic necessities, until at least July 27. Candelaria pedestrian traffic typically exceeds 1 million people on a normal shopping day.


Medellin-based multinational utilities giant EPM announced July 10 that it supports Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero’s new decision to postpone debate on a proposal that would vastly expand EPM’s areas of business.

The proposal (see Medellin Herald July 3, 2020) would have EPM launch into whole new areas nationally and internationally, including highway and mass-transit infrastructure projects, manufacture and supply of renewable-energy systems and services, and a vast array of commercial services for consumers and businesses.

However, Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero announced late last night (July 9) via his Twitter account that “social sectors and some businesses have asked us to withdraw the [proposed] project so that it can be discussed inside and outside the [City] Council in working groups. I always like to buy time and move fast but in this they are right. The project will be presented in October. In the meantime, we will create working groups with unions, citizens and social leaders to build together the future of our EPM."

Then today (July 10), EPM announced via its official Twitter account that “we want to lead technological innovation processes, taking care of the environment, guaranteeing well-being and quality in services. That is why we support the decision of our Mayor Quintero and we continue with the purpose of working on this initiative.”

Prior to the new EPM and Mayoral decisions to postpone debate on the proposal, Medellin City Council President Luis Bernardo Vélez announced July 8 that “changing the corporate purpose of [EPM] requires in-depth study, and that task must be addressed before making any decision that affects the interests of citizens.”

In the proposal, EPM and the Mayor prudently warn that while public utilities need to expand and evolve in order to survive in an ever-more-competitive business world, EPM must be careful to avoid undercutting its exceptionally good bond ratings with both Colombian and foreign investors. The issue: Big expansions into new business areas potentially could violate existing bond covenants -- possibly triggering massive, expensive prepayments -- and potentially could harm loan terms and interest-rates on any future bond floats, the proposal adds.

Meanwhile, on the bond front, EPM general manager Álvaro Rendón López on July 8 hailed a just-completed peso/dollar bond-float totaling US$751 million.

The float included COP$635 billion in peso-denominated debt (equivalent to US$176 million) plus another US$575 million in dollar-denominated debt, with investors in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, Chile, Peru and Colombia eagerly gobbling-up the offer -- actually demanding 3.4 times the total amount offered by EPM, Rendón noted.

“With this operation, EPM becomes the largest issuer of bonds denominated in Colombian pesos in this [international] market, this being its fifth operation which includes this [combined peso-and-dollar] financing method,” according to EPM.

“The placement results are a reflection of the credibility of local and international investors in EPM’s financial strength, even amid the current circumstances of uncertainty in the economy worldwide due to the effects caused by the Coronavirus pandemic,” Rendón said.

“The international bond issue received an investment grade rating, equal to that of EPM, by the firms Fitch Ratings and Moody’s,” EPM added. “For Fitch Ratings, EPM’s ratings are the result of the company's low commercial risk, thanks to its diversification and characteristics as a provider of public services.

“For its part, Moody’s affirms that ‘EPM's ratings reflect its consolidated and diversified income base by sector, with the electricity distribution business having the largest contribution to EBITDA.’”


Acting Antioquia Governor Luis Fernando Suárez Vélez on July 9 issued an “orange alert” as growing Covid-19 cases have now grabbed 50% of intensive care unit (ICU) capacity in Antioquia.

Following the alert, Antioquia Health Secretary Lina María Bustamante Sánchez ordered a department-wide restriction on non-emergency surgeries or dental work in order to ensure more spare ICU capacity.

“Non-urgent surgeries and outpatient procedures will be canceled in order to free more beds of intensive care units,” Bustamante said.

“Obviously, there will be [ICU bed] occupation due to trauma or due to the complication of other pathologies. For this reason, we want to reduce surgeries that are not necessary. We need to free health services, avoid cross-contamination and start to free-up human resources to attend patients diagnosed with Covid-19,” she added.

As a result, as of July 9, new restrictions on health services include “services related to oral health care; outpatient surgeries and non-urgent procedures; [and] external consultations in promotion and prevention procedures and other outpatient services,” according to the order.

“To reduce the risk of contagion in the Department, these measures must be accompanied by actions of individual social responsibility such as reducing levels of mobility, avoiding family gatherings, promoting telework, permanent use of masks, frequent hand washing and social distancing,” the order adds.

“We are going to have more cases -- and the system may collapse, so we are taking action today,” Bustamante said. While spare ICU bed capacity still exists here, “occupancy is going to double,” she warned.

“We are having a high number of infections. With the pilot program [of independent workers traveling on the Medellin Metro system now getting Covid-19 tests] we have realized that there is free circulation in the Department and we cannot lose control if health services were to collapse,” Bustamente concluded.

To date, Antioquia accounts for 11% of the total tests for Covid-19 infections in Colombia, according to the national Health Ministry.

On July 9, the Ministry reported 578 new cases of Covid-19 in Antioquia. Since tracking began five months ago, Antioquia cumulatively accounts for 7,825 cases, of which 4,802 are active and 2,954 recovered.


The long-awaited development of the “Puerto Antioquia” ocean-freight port near Turbo, Antioquia, just got a US$110 million term-loan investment from New York-based Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP).

According to the GIP announcement – which project developer Andres Felipe Bustos of Medellin-based Puertos Inversiones y Obras (PioSAS) confirmed to Medellin Herald as factually accurate – “Puerto Antioquia” development is led by a consortium consisting of France-based CMA Terminal Holdings S.A.S, shipping line Eiffage S.A, a "top-tier construction company," and a "private consortium of banana producers and exporters," along with PioSAS.

“The GIP holding company investment -- together with senior debt provided by a group of multilateral banks and equity capital from the [project] sponsors -- will be utilized to fund construction of an approximately US$725 million port facilities project,” according to GIP.

“The project is underpinned by long-term volume commitments with the consortium and will be strategically located as Colombia’s closest port to the Atlantic Coast. It is geographically positioned to capture a large share of dry-containers traffic originated from important economic regions of Colombia, including Medellin, Bogota, the coffee axis and other hinterland regions,” GIP added..

“Puerto Antioquia is a landmark project for Colombia and is expected to change the dynamics of trade in the country given its strategic location,” according to Jennifer Powers, GIP partner and Chair of GIP Credit. “It is expected to capture immediate cargo and create a significant positive impact in the Uraba region [of Antioquia]. The port will provide significant socio-economic impact to the region, as evidenced by multilateral financing support from its senior lender, one of the most important banks in Latin America.”

CMA Terminal chief Laurent Martens added: “We are very happy with this continuing partnership with GIP. They have been a resourceful and proactive partner throughout development. We very much appreciate GIP’s unabated support in spite of current market conditions to close the financing of this ambitious project.”

Financing Follows 30-Year Concession Deal

Colombia Vice President Marta Lucia Ramírez announced last year (March 20, 2019) that the new port would link to the under-construction “Mar 1” and “Mar 2” highways connecting Medellin westward to new and existing freight ports on the Caribbean.

Project developers foresee the mobilization of up-to-6.6-million tons of cargo per year, Vice President Ramírez said. Once completed, Puerto Antioquia “will become the closest Colombian Caribbean terminal to Cundinamarca and the coffee region,” she added.

At the time, Colombia’s Transport Ministry had estimated that construction costs on the project would total around US$300 million, covering dock works with five ship-berthing positions, plus a double-lane carriageway viaduct for the transit of tractor-trailers between the berthing platform and land-side terminal facilities.

“The port terminal will be designed to serve container ships of up to 366 meters in length and 14,000 TEUs [standard 20-feet-long shipping containers],” according to the press bulletin accompanying Vice President Ramírez’s remarks.

“The port, which [would be] located in the sector known as Bahía Colombia, near the township of Nueva Colonia and on the banks of the León River, will be connected to the Autopista Mar 1 and Autopista Mar 2 highway projects, and will specialize in general cargo, vehicles and containerized products such as cereals, plantains and bananas, among others,” according to the bulletin.

Civil works for the project would be carried out by a consortium made up of Eiffage Infraestructuras of France and Termotécnica Coindustrial of Colombia, according to that bulletin.


Medellin-based electric power giant EPM revealed July 8 that it has now spent 95% of its COP$1.2 trillion (US$330 million) budget for social and environmental projects in 13 municipalities around its 2.4-gigawatt “Hidroituango” hydroelectric project in Antioquia.

The massive spending is benefitting both people and the environment in-and-around the towns of Briceño, Ituango, San Andrés de Cuerquia, Toledo, Valdivia, Yarumal, Buriticá, Liborina, Olaya, Peque, Sabanalarga and Santa Fe de Antioquia, according to the company.

Among the latest beneficiaries are several more families getting brand-new apartments in the municipality of Ituango, where EPM also built an adjacent sports hall for recreation.

“In the seven years of execution of the social investment plan, numerous actions have been carried out to contribute to the improvement of [highway and bridge] connectivity, infrastructure in education and housing, health conditions and food security of the communities,” according to the company.

“To facilitate the connectivity of the region’s inhabitants, the Hidroituango project has contributed to the recovery of 1,218 kilometers of secondary and tertiary roads [as well as] bridleways [for horse- and foot-traffic],” according to EPM.

As for nutritional food security, EPM identified 3,785 families for “training, technical assistance, tools, supplies, and fertilizers to create and maintain their own crops. In total 3,065 hectares were intervened in 378 outlying neighborhoods to make these productive projects a reality,” according to the company.

“In addition, 2,300 families benefited from the ‘Maná Project’ via the creation of vegetable gardens and the establishment of productive ventures,” according to EPM.

In housing, EPM has delivered to date new residential units for 52 families and "contributed to improving the conditions of 659 other homes," according to the company.

As for education, EPM “contributed to the improvement of 71 educational establishments, which consisted of adapting classrooms, libraries, dining rooms, recreational spaces, among others, and built seven new training centers,” according to the company.

As for health, EPM “invested resources in facilitating access to formal health care networks, with improvements and equipment provided to a health center, provision of two ambulances and health care services for 12,463 people. The ‘healthy schools’ program also was implemented in 10 educational institutions,” according to the company.

As for public utilities, 5,489 more families were connected to natural-gas service, while eight aqueduct and sewer master plans were developed.

As for reforestation, EPM is restoring 24,530 hectares of vegetation in the Cauca River canyon to compensate for inundated lands behind the dam.

“The actions carried out include planting 70 native species typical of the dry tropical, humid tropical and premontane forests,” according to the company.

“In the 12 years that the project has been under development, EPM has acquired 24,530 hectares, mainly in areas surrounding the reservoir and areas degraded by the gradual actions of different economic activities in the municipalities of Buriticá, Liborina, Sabanalarga, Peque, Ituango, Toledo and Briceño,” according to EPM.

The land acquisitions “offset the impacts caused during the construction of the dam reservoir, main works, access roads and future operation of the hydroelectric project,” according to the company.

The 20-year reforestation and conservation plan includes “4,137 hectares of tropical rain forest, 13,860 hectares of tropical dry forest and 6,532 hectares of damp, premontane forest,” according to EPM.

“Ecological restoration actions not only include the planting of native species, but also involve the analysis of coverage, connectivity, landscape, flora and fauna [in order to] set feasible restoration goals to achieve recovery of soils, water resources and biodiversity.

“In the project’s area of influence, studies and monitoring carried out by biologists, agronomists, zoologists and experts in other disciplines have so far registered nearly 16 species of amphibians, 36 reptile species, 300 bird species and about 36 mammal species,” the company added.


Medellin-based PharmaCielo Colombia and its Toronto-based parent company announced July 8 that it won Colombian government authorization to cultivate 10 tonnes of marijuana with high content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive component of pot) and export of medicinal extracts.

The authorization “enables PharmaCielo to produce and deliver psychoactive extracts as part of the three-year extracts agreement the company announced in January [2020], intended for the German market,” according to the company.

“The government’s approval for PharmaCielo to grow, extract and export high-THC medicinal products is a significant milestone that significantly expands our product portfolio and complements our medicinal offerings of CBD oil and isolate,” added company CEO David Attard.

Henning von Koss, president of parent company PharmaCielo Ltd., added that “the truly successful medicinal use of cannabis depends to a great extent on managing its psychoactive and non-psychoactive properties. As we broaden our portfolio through 2020, we will be working concurrently with our customer base and the medicinal community to identify the appropriate formulations and concentrations of cannabinoids and terpenes to meet a variety of market-specific medicinal regulatory needs, and which are sourced from our proprietary strains that provide unique profiles.”

To date, PharmaCielo has developed and registered “30 proprietary strains in the national cultivar, including unique high-THC strains, enabling future production of a variety of psychoactive dominant extracts for medicinal purposes,” according to the company.

So far, PharmaCielo has developed 139 hectares of cultivation capacity in Colombia -- part of which is located in Rionegro, Antioquia, east of Medellin.

According to the company, its strategy is “focused on becoming a large-scale value-added supplier to large consumer packaged goods companies, pharmaceutical/wellness companies and other limited partnerships.

Its “phase one” processing and extraction center here can produce 24 metric tonnes/year of refined cannabis oil at a cultivation cost of Cdn$0.04 cents [US$0.03] per gram, thanks to a “natural and consistent 12-hour light cycle and temperate climate” as well as a “highly educated and skilled agricultural workforce” with “generations of experience working in the cut-flower industry,” a major employer in the “Oriente” region east of Medellin.

“Phase two” production facilities would enable extraction capacity to expand to 80-to-100 metric tonnes/year of refined cannabis oil, according to the company.

In its latest financial report, PharmaCielo posted a Cdn$6.8 million (US$5 million) net loss for first quarter (1Q) 2020, an improvement over the Cdn$7.7 million (US$5.7 million) net loss in 1Q 2019. The improvement came from a Cdn$494,000 (US$366,000) boost in gross revenues from sale of cannabis-derived products in early 2020, according to the company.


ANDI -- Colombia’s biggest industrial-commercial trade association -- announced July 8 that its most recent survey of 200 major companies shows that business liquidity is starting to improve thanks to the gradual reopening of various economic sectors during the current Covid-19 crisis.

During the height of the national quarantine and business shutdowns in April, surveyed companies had (on average) only 11 days of cash-on-hand to cover salaries, benefits, suppliers, taxes, overhead and outstanding loans, ANDI noted.

But thanks to subsequent, government-authorized exemptions to quarantines – paired with strict biosafety protocols – cash-on-hand doubled to 23 days in May and tripled to 35 days in June, the survey found.

“Government measures and the resumption of activities and operations have given companies oxygen,” said ANDI president Bruce MacMaster. “However, this liquidity survey shows that companies face a difficult situation. There are companies in big problems that require great support and even rescue plans,” he added.

The big improvements in liquidity seen in the latest survey “can be explained by several factors: a greater number of productive activities in operation, the reactivation of production chains and not only in isolated sectors, the rationalization of costs within companies, aid provided by the financial sector (grace periods, extensions, among others), national government measures such as the day without VAT [sales tax] and aid such as the payroll and ‘prima’ [mid-year worker bonus] subsidy, among others,” according to ANDI.

“As we have noted in previous versions of the survey, the situation in the business sector is not homogeneous. On the one hand, we find companies with a situation of marked illiquidity. This is the case of 20.6% of the companies surveyed, where cash-on-hand only covers between one and eight days to operate.

“Then there are another 10.8% of companies with between nine and 15 days [liquidity] and 26.3% between 16 and 30 days. Thus, 57.7% have cash to operate for a month or less.”

The survey also found that operating income declined for 72.8% of companies in May 2020 versus May 2019, while 20.4% of companies saw a year-on-year increase and 6.8% reported no change, according to ANDI.


The Medellin Mayor’s Office revealed July 6 that forest rangers in one of the city’s protected reserves confirmed the presence of Black Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus tyrannus) -- the largest eagle in the city proper and second-largest in Valle de Aburrá.


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About Medellin Herald

Medellin Herald is a locally produced, English-language news and advisory service uniquely focused upon a more-mature audience of visitors, investors, conference and trade-show attendees, property buyers, expats, retirees, volunteers and nature lovers.

U.S. native Roberto Peckham, who founded Medellin Herald in 2015, has been residing in metro Medellin since 2005 and has traveled regularly and extensively throughout Colombia since 1981.

Medellin Herald welcomes your editorial contributions, comments and story-idea suggestions. Send us a message using the "contact" section.

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