Colombia: massive protests against tax reform, despite COVID

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Bogota | Tens of thousands of demonstrators protested in Colombia on Wednesday against a tax reform project by right-wing President Ivan Duque, in the midst of the third wave of the COVID-19 epidemic which is seriously affecting Latin America’s fourth economy.

“We do not accept the tax reform, we think about our children, about ourselves (…) We are dying of the virus or we are starving,” Victor Cordoba, a 33-year-old shoemaker told AFP. , wearing a T-shirt with the colors yellow, blue, red of the Colombian flag.

Several unions of workers, teachers, as well as indigenous associations and other sectors reject this project, which is currently being examined in parliament, believing that it is detrimental to the middle class and that it is inappropriate in the midst of the crisis. sanitary.

In Bogota, thousands of demonstrators gathered in Bolivar Square, in the historic heart of the capital where the seat of the presidency and parliament are located.

To the sound of drums and bearing slogans such as “No more taxes, no more VAT”, some processions, mostly peaceful, had previously blocked avenues, including dozens of parading taxis, trucks and motorcycles. honking.

The mobilization was also important in other cities, in particular in Medellin (north-west) and Cali (south-west).

“Compromises and solutions”

During his daily televised intervention, Ivan Duque, who ends his five-year term in August 2022, pledged at the end of the day to seek “compromises and solutions” so that the reform is approved.

But the president, whose popularity is at its lowest at only 33%, deplored “the violence” of the demonstrations and that they took place “in the middle of the third peak of the pandemic”.

Colombia recorded a new daily death record on Wednesday with 490 dead, as hospital intensive care units come under pressure.

With more than 2.8 million cases of COVID-19, it is the third most affected country in Latin America after Brazil and Argentina. It is behind the Brazilian giant and Mexico in the number of deaths, more than 72,200.

The tax reform plans in particular to tax people earning the equivalent of more than 656 dollars per month, in a country where the minimum wage is only 248 dollars and whose GDP fell by 6.8% in 2020, with unemployment at 18.1% in February.

This day of mobilization was organized at the call of the National Strike Committee, initiator since 2019 of multiple demonstrations to demand a change of policy from the conservative head of state.

The demonstrators took to the streets despite the order of an administrative court to postpone the protest, and the recommendations of the People’s Defender, a public body for the protection of human rights, who had underlined “the inconvenience of calling mobilizations social in this time so risky for health and life ”.

“We are tired of the abuses towards the population (…) that our president does nothing against that. The government scares us more than the virus, ”said Felipe Zapata, 24, who was demonstrating in Bogota.

New call to protest

According to the Defense Ministry, which had deployed 47,500 law enforcement officers across the country, the day ended with 26 arrests and 44 injured police officers, as well as public transport buses, banks and supermarkets “ransacked”.

Most of the unrest occurred in Cali, where natives of the Misak ethnic group further overthrew the statue of the Spanish conquistador Sebastian de Belalcazar, and where the curfew, imposed due to the epidemic, was brought forward to mid-day until late Sunday afternoon.

The mobilization continued during the evening in the main cities of Colombia, with concerts of casseroles, while the leaders called for demonstrations again Thursday.

While protesting in Bogota, Felipe Ospina, a 23-year-old filmmaker, assured that he would continue “until they dismantle this tax reform”.

Although the president has presented his project as a tool to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic, with the collection of some 6.3 billion additional dollars between 2022 and 2031, he faces obstacles in parliament for lack of a majority.

According to Yann Basset, professor of political science at the University of Rosario, “each sector sees this as a reason for discontent at a time when the economic situation is obviously very difficult for everyone”.