Colombia quarantine brings evictions for Bogota's poorest

By Nelson Bocanegra

BOGOTA, April 2 (Reuters) - Jose Ramirez - whose total belongings fit into a scratched black suitcase and a backpack - is resigned to spending the night in a scruffy park in the depressed center of Colombia's capital, Bogota.

Ramirez lost his job as a driver because of a 19-day nationwide quarantine the government hopes will stem the spread of coronavirus and now cannot pay the $6 a day he needs to live in the modest room he called home for five months.

"They told me I couldn't stay because they need to pay public services, they have other obligations," Ramirez said. "They said they aren't a charity and they kicked me out."

Hundreds like Ramirez have been thrown out of housing because the lockdown has cut off income streams like street-selling, despite government bans on evictions.

Some five million families in the Andean country are renters, with some people paying as little as $1.20 a night for a bed.

President Ivan Duque said this week he will ban evictions and rent rises during the lockdown and a similar measure is in force in Bogota. But many landlords are not listening.

Some people - including Venezuelan migrants - have been able to return to their housing after interventions by the police, but others remain on the streets.

"The people who work there are administrators, they aren't the owners of the properties and they haven't wanted to speak to us," said Horacio Guerrero, head of ethnic issues for Bogota's mayor's office.

Guerrero was organizing temporary housing for a group of 60 people from the Embera Katio indigenous community, including Tintiliano Vitucay and 25 members of his family.

"At 9 a.m., the owner of the house threw us onto the street," said the 39-year-old Vitucay, who was forced to flee western Choco province three months ago by armed groups which threatened to kill him.

"Our things were left behind because we didn't have a way to get them out."

Despite increased welfare payments and other government efforts, help is not reaching everyone.

Juan Jose Higuera has slept on the street since Sunday, after he lost his job selling flowers at the city's central cemetery and was kicked out of his housing.

Mayor's office officials said it was unclear where he could be housed.

"I don't have help from anyone, I don't have relatives, I don't have anywhere to stay tonight, I haven't eaten anything," said a tearful Higuera, 49. "I want God to take my life."

(Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Nick Macfie)

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