jueves, 16 de julio de 2020

Coronavirus as a wicked problem in Colombia

Columnist Alejandro Díaz Castro.
Profesional en Relaciones Internacionales y Ciencia Política
Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano, Bogotá D.C.

(Ver otras publicaciones del autor)

Abstract: This essay will discuss how Coronavirus has become a wicked problem in Colombia analyzing why is it a government issue? How has it been managed and communicated by the Colombian president this issue? And how can be rated these solutions? This essay will be written in chronological order; firstly, an introduction about the topic will be done contextualizing the situation and some of the terms that will be used in this essay; furthermore, the importance of studying this topic will be written to continue with a timeline which explains the management that Colombian government has developed during the situation to rate them. Finally, the essay will provide recommendations about the decision that were taken and will generate a conclusion. | Key Words: Coronavirus, Colombia, wicked problem, communication, safety, security.


By understanding better why the measurements that Ivan Duque has taken are an important case of study. First of all, it is crucial to understand What is Coronavirus? and how the pandemic started?

The Coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19) first appeared in the Wuhan city of Hubei province in China and was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 30th January 2020. As of 4th June 2020, the WHO database confirms 6,416,828 cases around the world, and 382,867 reported deaths; nevertheless, this number is subjected to change constantly. The most affected countries so far are the first one, the United States of America with 1,906,201 cases confirmed, and 109,499 people death. The second one, Brazil with 595,110 cases confirmed and 33,038 people death. The third one, Russia with 441,108 cases confirmed. Follow by the United Kingdom with 281,661, and lastly Spain with 240,660.

Colombia which is the aim of this essay has 33,354 cases confirmed and 1,045 people death. The number of people that have died due to COVID-19, and the number of people infected became to Colombia and to his current president a topic to deal with as a wicked problem, but many people can ask why is it a government responsibility, and why the measurements should be assessed?

To answer those questions, it is necessary to understand two crucial terms: safety and security which have always been fundamental drivers for human beings and all other living beings; they are vital in ensuring survival (Slovic 1987) and, remarkably, that safety and security are only achieved when both components exist (Schäfer 2013: 5).

What are Safety and Security?

Security can be defined as the condition of being protected from harm (or other non-desirable outcomes) caused by intentional human action or behaviors.

Safety can be defined as the condition of being protected from harm (or other non-desirable outcomes) caused by a non-intentional failure of technical human or organizational factors. (Maurice et al. 2001:238)

As it can be read the Coronavirus or COVID 19 can be classified as a safety problem and its consequences as a security one that “at the final level, the state has responsibilities for keeping us safe and secure. When people think about safety and security the state is usually the dominant player they think about.” (Berg & Pauline Hutten 2018: 9).

The previous assert has its based in the SOCIAL CONTRACT refers to a theory that explains the origins of the state. It argues that individuals at some point in time realized they needed to leave behind the so-called ‘STATE OF NATURE’, in which all humans had the “right to all things” and, therefore, were in a state of perpetual “war of all against all” (Hobbes 1651: 80).

Safety and security were the key elements of the barter that was made there: individuals agreed to give up some of their rights and freedoms in return for protection from the state. This makes security and safety “a [if not the] primary obligation of the state since that is what individuals have contracted for in submitting to state authority.” (Chandler 2009: 126).

Now that, it is clear that safety and security are government responsibilities since the monopoly on violence was given to them, and that COVID-19 is threatening both of them. It is indispensable to study what is a wicked problem and how it can be assessed.

What is a wicked problem?

Before talking about the management that the Colombian government has implemented in this situation, it is important to clarify what is a wicked problem? And how can it be rated? To analyze academically this issue.

Wicked problems are “well known in public policy and are generally problems with no correct solution. Wicked problems reveal additional complexity with each attempt at resolution and have infinite potential outcomes and no stopping rule -that is, the process ends when you run out of sources not when you reach the correct solution [...] Wicked problems occur in a social context and the wickedness of the problem reflects the diversity of interests among the stakeholders. Resolving wicked problems is requires an informed debate in which the nature of the problem is understood in the context of those interests, the technologies at hand for resolution, and the existing resource constraints ( Taipale 2004: 127-128).

Now that it is clear the definition of a wicked problem, it is important to analyze how the wicked problems are evaluated owing to it can not be ranked as a normal problem since the wicked problems are different from the problems that scientist and some kind of engineers, for example, deal with. It has to be ranked differently, and Melvin Webber with Horst W.J created a method to talk about them.

However, before explaining how a wicked problem should be asses, it is crucial to take into account that a weak problem cannot be solved as in math or chemistry problem where you have an initial problem and through a process, people will get a correct answer that in most cases is unique.

How can be rated these solutions?

A wicked problem at best is only resolved over and over again. Nevertheless, “Their assessments of proposed solutions are expressed as “good” or “bad” or, more likely as “better or worse” or “satisfying” or good enough” (Rittel and Webber 1984: 139).

On the one hand, the assessment is due to the fact that it is not immediate and there is no ultimate test of a solution of a wicked problem. On the other hand, any solution after being implemented will generate waves of consequences and there is when the previous actions that were taken to mitigate the problem can be classified as satisfying, good enough, or better or worse. This last item is used when the waves that generated the first respond created positive and negative aspects, some of them can be the creation of a new wicked problem, for instance.

Now, after defining and contextualizing all the key words that are necessary to understand this topic. It is appropriate to start analyzing the decisions that the Colombian president had taken to face the Coronavirus.

Timeline of measurements:

On March 6, 2020 the first Coronavirus case in Colombia was confirmed, and since the first case the government started working in the actions that would be taken to face the global pandemic, some of them good enough, satisfying, better, and others worst.

Twenty days later, on March 25, 2020, the quarantine began and lasted 19 days or it was the original plan. Colombian’s president said during a televised address “It is time to understand that our behavior saves lives and that the measure seeks to protect us as a society, guaranteeing the supply of food, access to medicines, and essential public services” (Gamba, 2020).

This measure has some positive aspects that are going to be evaluated next: first and foremost, the president created a space to communicate with Colombians through the massive media channels, a half an hour space where he started to transmit and informed what was being done to face the pandemic.

The second one, the quarantine was a popular measure which was taken by several Latin American Countries and Colombia was one of the first ones to join this action. Nevertheless, some people have claimed that quarantine has three aims; avoid the pandemic’s expansion, avoid health care centers collapse, and obtaining some time meanwhile, the scientists find a vaccination or cure. In other words it is a short term solution.

The third one, some parts of the society have criticized that the international airport called “El Dorado” was open during almost one month after the first case confirmed, allowing the entrance to nationals and foreignness without any control. Permitting to infected people to get into the territory without having a minimal test to check their health and allowing that the virus spreads for all the territory. For that reason, the previous actions would be rated as good enough due to the fact the Colombian president allowed the entrance of national and foreigners appealing that there were many Colombian trying to return to the country; however, the control in the airport should have been more efficient.

Another measure that was taken was to declare the state of emergency which allowed the president to issue decrees without prior authorization from the country’s congress during times of crisis or a threat to Colombia’s security, including decrees about the national budget, and that was positive, and a Constitution aspect; however, president Iván Duque signed a $844,000 public relations contract using money from the president’s Peace Fund, according to a report by Semana News. The Peace Fund was established in 1997 to “finance peace programs aimed at the reincorporation into civilian life of groups raised in arms.”(Latin American News).

Furthermore, the senator Wilson Arias from Polo Democrático Party said and showed some documents where proves that the government is planning to invest $2.3 millions in non-lethal weapons to reinforce the Anti-Riot Squadron (see image one).

Image 1
And if that is not enough, one of the 32 Departments that makes up Colombia called Amazonian, it is currently one of the most affected for the Coronavirus due to the proximity with Brazilian Country which has one of the biggest numbers of deaths around the world, and one of the decisions that took the Colombian president was to send military personnel with biological safety suits (see image 2) meanwhile Amazon doctors were asking for this kind of protection to continue working and facing the critical situation in the Department.

As a result, more than 30 health professionals quit to its position in the Department’s public hospital on April 20. In an interview made for “El Tiempo” newspaper Jaider Saurith, an internist from the public hospital asserted that “the personal protection items are not enough to all the professionals. Besides, he said that they are afraid to be infected with COVID-19 owing to if someone dies due to the virus their families will be helpless” (El Tiempo, 2020).

Image 2
The previous measures can be rated as the worst decisions that the Colombian president could have taken since it is as we mentioned before investments, so it cannot be said that it is a corruption act; nevertheless, it is a waste of money that could have been invested in a better way to overcome the situation, and to protect who are facing directly the COVID 19.


The Colombian government should have evaluated in a better way the measures that took before taking them because some of them are going to create new wicked problems than can aggravate the internal situation in the country.

Furthermore, there is never late to correct what had been done in previous days to get a better route on the way to find a resolution in this issue. Currently, Colombia is not taking the best decisions to face a long crisis.

It is necessary to mitigate the social unrest to avoid a social internal crisis as in many Latin American countries. One of the strategies was to improve the president's image; nevertheless, it will not be enough, and this measure should be accompanied by better decisions in crisis time.

The quarantine in a developed country seems no to be sustainable, for that reason the government should create a strategy to alternate it with economical solutions to people who do not work in a formal company.


On the one hand, Colombian president has shown that for him and his government healthy it is not a priority because of its actions in which he preferred to reinforce the military system than provides equipment to doctors around the country.

On the other hand, even though Duque acted quickly, the quarantine seems not to be effective in a developed economy in which many people live from informal sales, working on the streets and day by day, without having health care insurance or a contract to sustain financially. These are the reasons why any of the measures that were evaluated here were rated as satisfactory, the best one was good enough following by a series of worst decisions that can generate social unrest in a near future.

Colombia should be prepared to face one of the most difficult crises that it has ever faced in its recent history that can be a deal better if the government takes efficient decisions, instead of populist measures.

To sum up, I think that Colombia will have one of the most difficult crises in his history with one of the president with less experience in the history, a combination that cannot bring a good result without a government compromise with the society, and not with banks or multinationals companies.


Bibi van den Berg & Pauline Hutten. (June 2018). Security and safety: An introduction. Security and safety (2-18). Netherlands: Leiden University.

Chandler, Jennifer. 2009. ‘Privacy versus National Security: Clarifying the Trade-Off’. In Lessons from the Identity Trail: Anonymity, Privacy and Identity in a Networked Society, edited by Ian R Kerr, C Lucock, and V Steeves, 121–38. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Horst W. J Rittel and Melvin M. Webber. (1984). Developments in Design Methodology. New York: Nigel Cross The Open University.

Hobbes, Thomas. 1651. Leviathan, or the Matter, Forme, and Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil. London: the Green Dragon.

Latin America News Dispatch . (MAY 5, 2020). Report: Colombia’s President Iván Duque Spends Peace Fund On PR Campaign. June 8, 2020, de LATIN AMERICA NEWS DISPATCH web: https://www.latinousa.org/2020/05/05/duquespends/

Laura Gamba. (2020). Colombia announces lockdown as coronavirus cases surge. Anadolu Agency, 1-3.

Maurice, Pierre, Michel Lavoie, Lucie Laflamme, Leif Svanström, Claude Romer, and Ragnar Anderson. 2001. ‘Safety and Safety Promotion: Definitions for Operational Developments’. Injury Control and Safety Promotion 8 (4): 237–40. doi:10.1076/icsp.

Schäfer, Philip Jan. 2013. ‘The Concept of Security’. In Human and Water Security in Israel and Jordan, 3:5–19. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-29299-6.

Slovic, Paul. 1987. ‘Perception of Risk’. Science 236 (4799): 280–85. doi:10.1126/science.3563507.

Taipale, K A. 2004. ‘Technology, Security and Privacy: The Fear of Frankenstein, the Mythology of Privacy and the Lessons of King Ludd’. JOUR. Yale Journal of Law & Technology 7 (1): 125– 221.

Unidad de Salud. (April 20, 2020). Renuncia masiva de médicos en el único hospital público de Amazonas. El Tiempo, 12.

No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
De Colombia para el mundo