Colombia protests proceed after authorities withdraws tax reform

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San Jose Del Guaviare, Colombia – Violent protests proceed round Colombia as unions make extra calls for of the right-wing authorities of President Ivan Duque following his withdrawal of a proposed tax reform that sparked widespread public anger.

The authorities mentioned the tax reform aimed to stabilise a rustic economically ravished by the coronavirus pandemic, however the working and center lessons mentioned the plan favoured the wealthy whereas putting extra stress on them.

An array of recent or expanded taxes on residents and enterprise house owners and a discount and elimination on many tax exemptions, resembling these on product gross sales, angered many.

Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla submitted his resignation on Monday night, after spending many of the day in conferences with Duque. “My continuance in the government will complicate the quick and effective construction of the necessary consensus,” Carrasquilla mentioned in a ministry assertion, as reported by the Reuters information company.

But consultants say demonstrations are anticipated to go on. Alicia Gomez, a 51-year-old cleaner who helps the protests, instructed Al Jazeera that Colombians are uninterested in the federal government “putting more taxes” on the inhabitants, which is already struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have to keep fighting because if we don’t they’re going to take our rights away completely,” she mentioned.

Duque beforehand insisted that the reform wouldn’t be withdrawn, however persevering with protests, deaths and worldwide condemnation of alleged human rights abuses towards protesters by police noticed the president concede on Sunday.

“This is the first time that the government has budged when faced by widespread popular opposition,” mentioned Arlene Tickner, a political science professor at Bogota’s Rosario University.

“The fact that the tax reform stood little chance of being approved in the Congress, combined with the growing unruliness of the protests and domestic and international condemnation of widespread police brutality, likely factored into the president’s decision.”

In a neighborhood media interview final month, Carrasquilla was requested how a lot a dozen eggs value. His unrealistic reply – he mentioned they had been greater than 4 instances cheaper than they really are – sparked outrage in a rustic already fighting a coronavirus-related financial disaster.

“Minister Carrasquilla should resign because a minister that doesn’t even know how much a dozen eggs costs is a complete embarrassment for us Colombians,” Gomez, who works in Bogota, mentioned earlier than the minister introduced his resignation.

AP 21123693467422Police block a highway as truckers and their automobiles participate in a nationwide strike towards the tax reform in Bogota, Colombia, on May 3 [Fernando Vergara/AP Photo]

‘Tremendous discontent’

But fashionable anger goes past the tax reform alone; Gimena Sanchez of the Washington Office on Latin America think-tank instructed Al Jazeera there may be “tremendous discontent” within the streets.

“The brutal repression [of protests] has fuelled it and made it worse,” Sanchez mentioned.

“Duque’s unpopularity and perceived distance from the general populace and their interests combined with the economic downturn due to COVID and restrictions, increased insecurity and disinterest in advancing peace will keep these [protests] going.”

A nationwide strike was known as final Wednesday by the nation’s largest unions and protests have been ongoing since then in Bogota, Medellin and Cali, amongst different cities. Cali has seen essentially the most intense clashes between protesters and police.

On Monday, the National Strike Committee mentioned the protests would proceed, with the subsequent nationwide strike scheduled for Wednesday.

“Protesters are demanding much more than the withdrawal of the tax reform,” mentioned Francisco Maltes, president of the Central Union of Workers (CUT), in a information convention.

Unions are calling for a withdrawal of a proposed well being reform and a assured fundamental earnings of 1 million pesos ($260) for all Colombians, in addition to the demilitarisation of cities, an finish to the continued police violence and the dismantling of heavy-handed riot police often known as ESMAD.

Police violence

Human rights teams even have condemned the nation’s police drive for human rights abuses throughout the current protests. Al Jazeera was unable to verify the variety of deaths, as native authorities and NGO figures are broadly disputed.

Local ombudsman studies have mentioned 16 civilians and one police officer have died thus far, whereas Temblores, an NGO that displays police violence nationwide, mentioned 26 protesters have been killed by police and 1,181 instances of police violence have been registered.

“The current human rights situation in Colombia is critical … there are no guarantees for life nor for the protection of protesters,” Sebastian Lanz, co-director of Temblores, instructed Al Jazeera.

“The internal human rights verification agencies are not working,” Lanz mentioned. “We demand that President Ivan Duque and the police stop this massacre now.”

On Monday, the pinnacle of Colombia’s nationwide police drive, General Jorge Luis Vargas, mentioned 26 investigations into police misconduct have been opened. The nation’s defence minister on Monday blamed the current violence on “armed groups”.

2021 05 03T173655Z 889203746 RC2H8N9291MQ RTRMADP 3 COLOMBIA PROTESTSA protester stokes a hearth throughout a protest towards the tax reform in Bogota on May 1 [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

“Colombia faces particular threats from criminal organisations that are behind these violent acts,” Diego Molano mentioned throughout a information convention, as reported by the Reuters information company. Molano didn’t say how many individuals had died within the current unrest, however mentioned the workplace of the legal professional basic would examine.

The head of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, Jose Miguel Vivanco, instructed Al Jazeera that because the dying toll from the protests will increase, “the need for a police reform appears unpostponable”.

“Protesters who engage in violence should be investigated, but that is no excuse for using brutal force. Recent experience in Colombia raises questions on whether the police – and its anti-riot police force, ESMAD – are fit to carry out crowd control operations that respect basic rights,” he mentioned.

Government angle

But because the protests are anticipated to proceed, political analysts query whether or not Duque’s authorities really grasps the breadth of Colombians’ discontent.

“This started as something about tax reform, but now it’s about all other sorts of things. It’s snowballed into a much larger protest that I think the government doesn’t really have a grasp of,” Sergio Guzman, a political analyst who runs the Colombia Risk Analysis agency, instructed Al Jazeera.

Guzman mentioned the federal government might begin a brand new nationwide dialogue, however it seems targeted in the intervening time on deciding who will take over as finance minister.

“I think that’s going to give us a lot of indications of whether or not the government is listening to the people out on the street, because if it chooses somebody from inside the current party, it’s suggesting that they think they can handle this crisis on their own.”

AP 21123769949676University college students march in Bogota throughout a nationwide strike towards the tax reform on May 3 [Fernando Vergara/AP Photo]

Tickner, the political scientist, mentioned Duque’s presidency has been characterised by a mixture of incompetence, conceitedness and unwillingness to acknowledge authentic sources of disgruntlement.

“There is little reason to think that things will change significantly now that he is nearing the one-year mark for the end of his government,” she mentioned, as Colombian presidential elections are scheduled for May 29 subsequent yr.

She added that she sees no finish to the protests for now. “There is little indication that the government will engage in the type of genuine national dialogue that is being called for.”

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