Shots fired on students and workers, roads burned, police charges on civilians: for ten consecutive days Colombia is shaken by large protests against the government of President Iván Duque and his handling of the pandemic. To fuel the protests there is also the harsh repression that the police have put in place from the outset, with a budget still to be verified more than 30 dead and more than 800 arrested, to which are added At least 89 Desaparecidos and 10 cases of sexual violence by the police.
Riots involve many cities, but the hottest areas remain Cali and Bogota. The capital is a city in full chaos: militarized, with the subway blocked, gas stations on strike, and ambulances going back and forth to give relief to both Covid-19 sufferers and injured protesters.
The reasons for the protest
But what is behind this social chaos? Everything broke out from the bill that President Duque, of the right-wing party Centro Democrático, paradoxically appointed to “sustainable solidarity” A project – which Duque himself asked Congress to withdraw after the first days of protests – that aimed to face the crisis due to the pandemic with resources coming largely from the already battered middle class. In addition to the increase in direct and indirect taxes, in particular, on consumer goods, the tax reform planned to significantly decrease the No Tax area threshold, thus including in the taxation of population groups at the limits of the poverty threshold. Right now, because of the pandemic, 42.5 percent fall into this category: about 21 million out of 51 inhabitants, of whom as many as seven million are in extreme poverty.
After the escalation of violence, the project was shelved, but protests continued. Also because the president himself reiterated the desire to draw up “urgently” a new initiative, “fruit of consensus” And on parallel tracks also proceeds another reform, that of the health system, currently in Parliament. Reform increases privatization and, according to hospital staff, it worsens working conditions in Colombian hospitals. That is why in solidarity with the protesters there are even health workers, in a country that has almost three million infected and more than 72 thousand deaths due to Covid-19.
The problems of the country
The situation in Colombia was already tense for a long time. The protests of 2019 against economic inequality had led to some social security measures, but with the pandemic, the situation has precipitated. An estimated 2.8 million people have plunged into extreme poverty in the past year. The Colombian lockdown was and one of the longest in the world, reintroduced several times. And this resulted in the closure of more than 500 thousand activities. In all this, the financial Of The Duque government would have added additional burden on the shoulders of the lower middle classes, with an increase in the tax on trade (or VAT) on basic necessities such as eggs, rice, and flour and with the lowering of the threshold to pay income tax. All with very little tax burden on companies and the wealthiest classes.
The economic crisis is the main reason for discontent, but there is another important background to understand the protests: exasperation with the violence of law enforcement. Already last September there had been demonstrations against police brutality after the release of a video showing the attack on lawyer Javier Ordóñez, arrested for violating social distancing and died a few hours later.
The army also intervenes
Currently, the repression in the street has degenerated because the army has also been employed to block the demonstrations. In-office for 3 years, Duque should have represented a more moderate change of course compared to the right-wingers who have ruled Colombia in recent decades, in fact, his government has immediately placed itself in continuity with the work of former President Álvaro Uribe, his political mentor, who in fact on Twitter (in a tweet removed for the apology of violence) urged the police and the army to ” assert their right to use weapons”.
To scare the population is above all Thamesmead, the mobile Riot Squad (mobile anti-riot squad), which is what remains of the death squadrons that raged between 2000 and 2016 against the guerrillas of the FARC-EP, but also against the civilians considered the social base of the guerrilla.
During the weekend of May 1 many videos showed the security forces they were shooting at the protesters, rammed the crowd with motorcycles, and hit the protesters with shields. One, in particular, has shaken public opinion. It was filmed in Ibagué and shows the moment when a woman discovers that her 19-year-old son was killed by agents. Unprecedented violence has also been condemned by the United Nations and the European Union.