John Otis

It wasn't long ago that Nicolás Maduro's days as the Venezuelan president appeared to be numbered.

The authoritarian leader had overseen his country's worst economic meltdown in history and was facing crippling U.S. sanctions targeting the vital oil industry. Amid chronic food shortages, millions of Venezuelans fled the country.

In Colombia, a spike in coronavirus cases has forced many towns and cities that had been reopening — including Bogotá and Medellín — to issue new lockdown orders. That's making life especially difficult for poor people who need to work in order to eat.

After imposing one of the tightest coronavirus lockdowns in Latin America, Colombia is now searching for ways to jump-start its economy. One experiment is a series of tax-free shopping days, but critics fear they could turn out to be super-spreader events.

At a time when the country is facing a spike in COVID-19 cases, urging Colombians to flock to stores and malls "sends an erroneous message," said Bogotá Mayor Claudia López.

With nearly 40,000 deaths, Brazil has registered the world's third-highest COVID-19 death toll and the second-highest confirmed caseload. Its neighbors fear the disease is spilling across Brazil's borders.

With COVID-19 deaths spiking in many Latin American countries, Colombia — which has confirmed more than 23,000 cases and 776 deaths — is extending its nationwide lockdown until the end of this month. That has meant more hardship for people living hand to mouth.

So some desperate Colombians have been sending out an eye-catching SOS — with encouragement from local politicians.

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