BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombian Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, one of the country’s most recognized conservative politicians, has died as a result of Covid-19. He was 69 years old.
President Ivan Duque said in a televised address that Trujillo died early Tuesday, adding that he “cannot express the pain” he felt on the news. He offered condolences to Trujillo’s wife, children, and other family members.
“His life was a reflection of a civil service calling,” said Duque.
Trujillo became Secretary of Defense in November 2019 after serving as Secretary of State. He was also Mayor of Cali from 1988 to 1990 and has held several ministerial and diplomatic positions during his decades-long political career.
Trujillo ran unsuccessfully for president in 2018 when he was defeated by Duque, who was then a rookie senator, in an internal party competition.
As foreign minister, Trujillo supported the US efforts to force Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro out of office by supporting his rival Juan Guaidó. The campaign to remove Maduro through political and diplomatic pressure failed, but resulted in tougher US sanctions against the socialist government of Venezuela.
Trujillo also oversaw Colombia’s response to a massive influx of refugees from neighboring Venezuela and developed programs that allowed hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans to stay temporarily.
As Minister of Defense, Trujillo led the country’s efforts to combat cocaine production, which had grown rapidly since 2013 but had stabilized over the past two years. Trujillo campaigned for Colombia to restart coca fumigation, which was discontinued in 2015 for environmental and health reasons. He argued that the Colombian government had found cleaner ways to fumigate the crops and that manual extermination put military personnel and contractors at risk.
In a statement, the Colombian government said Trujillo fell ill while visiting the coastal town of Barranquilla, where he was rushed to hospital on Jan. 11. The Secretary of Defense was rushed to and placed in an intensive care unit at a military hospital in Bogota two days later and spent several days in an induced coma before he died.
In Colombia with around 50 million inhabitants and the largest country in Latin America to date without any life-saving measures, vaccination has not yet started.
Duque said his government bought 20 million doses of vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca and signed an agreement with the World Health Organization’s Covax platform for an additional 20 million shots. Government officials have said they hope to start vaccinations in February.