San Jose Del Guaviare, Colombia – Violent protests continue around Colombia as unions demand more demands from President Ivan Duque’s right-wing government withdrawal of the tax reform proposal which spread the anger of the people.
The government said the tax reform was aimed at stabilizing the country economically devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, but workers and the middle class said the plan was in favor of the rich while putting more pressure on them.
Reduce and eliminate a number of new or expanded taxes and many tax exemptions for citizens and business owners, such as those related to the sale of products. many were angry.
Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla resigned on Monday afternoon after spending most of the day in meetings with Duke. “Staying in government will make it difficult to build the necessary consensus quickly and effectively,” Carrasquilla said in a ministry document, Reuters news agency reported.
Experts say they hope the demonstrations will continue. Alicia Gomez, a 51-year-old cleaner who supports the protests, told Al Jazeera that Colombians are tired of “putting more taxes” on the population that is already fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have to keep fighting, because if we don’t we will be completely deprived of our rights,” he said.
Duque had previously stressed that the reform would not be pushed back, but protests, deaths and international condemnations were constantly condemned due to human rights violations by police against protesters. supports the President on Sunday.
“This is the first time the government has spread popular opposition,” said Arlene Tickner, a political science professor at Rosario University in Bogotá.
“With tax reforms having little chance of being approved in Congress, along with the unrest of the protests and the widespread and international condemnation of police brutality, it is likely to be included in the president’s decision.”
In an interview with local media last month, Carrasquilla was asked how much a dozen eggs were worth. His unreal response – which he said was four times cheaper than it actually was – sparked outrage in a country that was already struggling. economic crisis associated with coronavirus.
“Minister Carrasquilla should resign because the minister, who doesn’t even know how much a dozen eggs cost, is utterly embarrassed by Colombians,” Gomez, who works in Bogota, said before the minister announced his resignation.
But popular anger goes beyond tax reform; Gimena Sanchez of the Washington office in Latin America told Al Jazeera there is “tremendous grief” on the streets.
“Wild repression [of protests] it has fed and made it worse, ”Sanchez said.
“Duque’s inability and perceived distance from the general population and their interests, along with the economic decline caused by COVID and restrictions, will maintain insecurity and an interest in pursuing peace. [protests] going “.
The country’s largest unions called a national strike last Wednesday and have been holding protests since then in Bogota, Medellin and Calin, among other cities. Calik has witnessed the toughest clashes between protesters and police.
On Monday, the National Strike Commission said protests would continue, and a next national strike was scheduled for Wednesday.
“Protesters are demanding much more than the withdrawal of tax reform,” Francisco Maltes, president of the Central Workers ’Union (CUT), told a news conference.
The unions are proposing a health care reform and a bailout to guarantee a basic income of one million pesos ($ 260) for all Colombians, as well as the demilitarization of cities, the end of ongoing police violence and the unraveling of violent incidents. Police known as ESMAD.
Human rights groups have in recent protests condemned the country’s police for human rights violations. Al Jazeera has been unable to confirm the death toll, as local authorities and NGO data are highly debated.
Local ombudsmen reports that 16 civilians and one policeman have been killed so far, and Temblores, the NGO that controls police violence, said 26 protesters had been killed by police and 1,181 cases of police violence had been registered.
“The current human rights situation in Colombia is critical … there are no guarantees for life and no protection for protesters,” Sebastian Lanz, director of Temblores, told Al Jazeera.
“Internal human rights agencies don’t work,” Lanz said. “We demand that President Ivan Duque and the police stop the massacre.”
On Monday, Colombian national police chief Jorge Luis Vargas said 26 investigations into police misconduct had been opened. The country’s defense minister on Monday blamed the latest group violence on “armed groups”.
“Colombia faces particular threats from the criminal organizations behind these violent acts,” Diego Molano told a news conference, Reuters reported. Molano did not say how many people died in the latest unrest, but said the chief prosecutor’s office will investigate.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of the American division of Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera that as the death toll rises as a result of the protests, “the need for police reform is irreversible.”
“Protesters who commit violence should be investigated, but that is not an excuse to use savage force. Recent experience in Colombia raises questions about police – and riot police, ESMAD – conducting crowdfunding operations that respect appropriate basic rights,” he said.
As the protests are expected to continue, political analysts are questioning whether the Duque government is truly aware of the extent of Colombian unrest.
“It started out as something about tax reform, but now it’s all sorts of other things. The snow has become a much bigger protest, and I think the government has no intention of doing that,” Sergio Juzman, a political analyst who runs Colombia’s Risk Analysis Company, told Al Jazeera. .
Guzman said the government could start a new national dialogue, but it seems fixed for now to decide who will take over as finance minister.
“I think the government will give us a lot of clues as to whether or not to listen to people on the street, because if they choose someone from the current party, they think they can deal with this crisis.”
Political scientist Tickner said Duque’s presidency has combined incompetence, arrogance and unwanted confusion.
“There is little reason to think that things will change significantly now that the one-year deadline for the end of his government is approaching,” he said, as Colombian presidential elections are scheduled for May 29 next year.
He added that he sees no end to the protests at this time. “There is little indication of the real national dialogue that the government is demanding.”