Living with the dead: Anguish in a Bolivia as cemetery system collapses

Cochabamba, Bolivia, July 1 (efe-epa).- Farewelling the dead during the COVID-19 crisis has become full of anguish in a Bolivian region where relatives go days with the corpses of their loved ones in their homes due to the high demand for burials and cremations.

In an ongoing struggle, people make the daily pilgrimage to the doors of the General Cemetery in Cochabamba, one of Bolivia’s main cities, waiting for a response to their requests for burials.

“They don’t want to attend us here to bury my relative. Now there is no place to leave the dead. Unfortunately he’s now in my house, I don’t know what I am going to do… it’s been three days already,” one of the affected who wished to remain anonymous told EFE.

His brother-in-law died last Sunday in a hospital in the city of just over 600,000 inhabitants. The death certificate states that the cause of death is “under study,” which has caused more obstacles to a burial and to have to live with the body in his own home.

This situation is aggravated by neighbors’ fears that the deceased will “contaminate” them and the families’ fears the neighbors will react violently.

“Last night the neighbors came and wanted to take out the coffin and kick it out of my house, because they told me that it was a contamination. They came with sticks, I had to beg them to bury the corpse now, but there is no solution,” he said.

In desperation, the man asked the authorities for an immediate solution for the families in the same situation.

“My fear is getting back home, I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he said.

In a similar case, one woman, who preferred not to be identified, also sought to bury a relative and in the absence of a response, threatened to leave the dead at the door of a councilor’s house or in the square in front of the Town Hall.

“Bringing the body back to the neighborhood is going to be something that will make people come against us — we are even afraid that they will stone us,” the woman told EFE.

Rayi Mitre, one of the representatives of the funeral homes in the city, told EFE that this situation is repeated in at least 40 homes waiting for a space in the cemetery.

“We have lost people since the 25th of June and we have no place to bury them. The cemeteries that have land do not accept us, what are we going to do?” Mitre asked.

Mitre said the authorities need to provide an immediate solution and make more space available for burials or provide a cemetery exclusively for COVID-19 victims.

On Tuesday, the funeral homes went out to protest by driving their hearse to the center of the city, to ask that the Mayor’s Office provide more space for burials and that another crematorium be set up.

This week, workers at the General Cemetery called for immediate testing for the novel coronavirus, in response to the death of one of their colleagues.

Added to this situation, several hospitals have collapsed due to lack of supplies, personnel and equipment, a situation that is being repeated in several regions of the country.

There are currently 1,123 deaths and 33,219 cases of coronavirus in the country, of which Cochabamba is one of the most affected regions. EFE-EPA


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