Over a week ago, protests erupted in Colombia that have left hundreds of people injured and over 30 dead at the time of this article’s publication. The protests began on the 28th of April, initiated in opposition to a controversial fiscal reform introduced by President Iván Duque Márquez. The president claimed it to be a necessity to keep the social programmes alive, but people were dissatisfied with it as it would lead to tax hikes during an ongoing pandemic.
A CNN article had argued that Colombia needs to increase revenues through taxes in order to be able to spend on and maintain their vital social programs, but critics countered that these tax hikes would not be implemented equally and that they would disproportionately impact the middle and working classes and escalate the pre-existing income inequality in the country's pandemic hit economy. Prior to the pandemic, Colombia had a 9% unemployment rate, which has increased to 16% over the past year.
The protests began with crowds of several hundred gathering in the historic Plaza Bolivar in front of the Capitol, and the protest remained a peaceful demonstration with the exception of a few stone throwing agitators. The National Army of Colombia and ESMAD dispatched riot police arrived on scene and deployed tear gas canisters, and started clashing with the protestors, leading to deaths and injuries on both sides. On 1st May, the International Workers’ Day, tens of thousands of people protested in one of the largest demonstrations, spanning multiple cities and more troops were subsequently deployed.
The reform proposal has since been withdrawn by the President and the finance minister Alberto Carrasquilla has since resigned, but people are not yet satisfied partly due to the government’s brutal response to the protests and partly due to the inefficiency displayed in handling the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic has claimed over 75,000 lives in the country so far, the record high of daily deaths occurring last week.
According to Al Jazeera, unions are calling for a withdrawal of a proposed health reform and a guaranteed basic income of one million pesos for all Colombians, as well as the demilitarisation of cities, an end to the ongoing police violence and the dismantling of heavy-handed riot police.
The United Nations has condemned the violent repression of protests in Colombia, with a spokesperson stating “We are deeply alarmed at developments in Cali overnight, where police opened fire on demonstrators, and a number of people were killed and injured”. Colombia’s defence minister Diego Molano has rejected this accusation and the growing calls for his resignation, stating that the polices' conduct so far has been well within the law. “Our duty is to protect those who protest, and those who do not, from those who disguise themselves and take advantage of these crowds to terrorize Colombians,” he said.
Coming up to a little over a week since the start of the protests, Colombian industry groups have warned the nation of gasoline shortages across the country, following which major roadblocks have been set up in places to disperse protestors. Recent protests seem to be milder in nature with the groups becoming smaller over time. “Despite a decline in tension, the longevity of the protests has disrupted supplies of gasoline across the country,” the National Federation of Fuel and Energy Distributors said in a statement.