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What is happening in Colombia?

The demonstrations that started on 28th April to protest against a tax reform proposed by the Colombian President Iván Duque which would have squeezed the middle class has resulted in 28 deaths of Colombian civilians. According to some local NGO’s the numbers can be as high as 37.

First triggered by the new tax reform plans, the protests have morphed into a broad cry against inequality, police brutality and economic struggles in a country where poverty and unemployment has risen sharply amid the pandemic lockdowns.

Although the president’s administration withdrew it only 4 days after announcement, the demonstrations has only spread over the country.

In Cali, the barricades set up by demonstrators have cut off access to Colombia’s third largest city, causing food shortages.

Why are Colombians protesting?

On April 15th President Iván Duque proposed a new tax reform intended to help country’s economic recovery amid COVID-19 crisis. But this plan was criticised by the working and middle class as it would harm them in ways.

The proposed tax reform would:

· Introduce new income taxes for anyone making 2.6m pesos ($684) per month.

· Eliminate tax exemptions.

· Increase taxes on Businesses.

· Raise taxes on essential services like water, food, gas and utilities.

Following the aftermath of mass protests President Iván Duque had to withdraw the proposal on 2nd May. Finance Minister of Colombia Alberto Carrasquilla had to resign.

Despite the withdrawal of the bill, protesters called for a new mass rally, adding that they wanted "much more than the withdrawal of the tax reform. Protesters said the tax changes, including an expansion of income tax, would make them poorer amid the pandemic.

The Latin American country has seen its worst recession in half a century, with its GDP dropping 6.8% in 2020 compared to the previous year.

What do the protestors demand?

Economic inequality, unemployment, and poverty have risen amid the pandemic and situation is worsening with every passing day. Initially the protests called for the withdrawal of Duque’s tax reforms but now the protests have taken broader reasons including economic equality.

The protestors are also taking stand of the police brutality and use of force on civilians. The protestors call for pension reform, healthcare reforms, education reform, a guaranteed universal basic income and police reform.

How did protests escalate?

From the start, there was a big police presence at the marches as they were held in defiance of a court order which had ruled that they should be postponed due to the high incidence of Covid-19.

Human rights groups reported that riot police had not only used tear gas to disperse protesters but, in some cases, shot live ammunition.

Footage shared on social media showed violent clashes. So rather than abating after the cancellation of the tax reform, the protests intensified.

In Bogotá, more than a dozen police stations were attacked and police said hundreds of their officers were among the 800 people injured in clashes.

What does the government say?

President Duque has ruled out one of the protesters' main demands - the dismantling of the riot police. Nevertheless, he struck an optimistic note ahead of talks with the National Strike Committee but urged demonstrators to clear the roads they have blocked. "Yes, to conversation ... but no to roadblocks," he said.

"Colombia has to pull together to move forward after all the blows we were dealt during the pandemic," he said.

He also addressed young people in Valle del Cauca, the region where the violence has been at its worst, tweeting that "we know of your demands and proposals and there will be a space to hear you out and talk about the issues worrying you. Let's together reach concrete solutions quickly".


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