“People Are Not Scared Anymore”: Colombians Protest Tax Hike in Ongoing Pandemic

Sign reads: “We owe it to those who can’t return.” Taken during the Paro Nacional Colombia, May 5, 2021. Photo by Oxi Ap on Flickr.

By Dayanara Hernandez, age 16

Already facing post-pandemic unemployment and poverty, Colombians were hit with an announcement on April 28 by their president, Iván Duque, of a tax reform that targeted millions of middle- and working-class people but favored the wealthy. Although the tax reform was intended to stabilize Colombia’s economy after COVID-19’s impact, it caused widespread public outrage, as shown by millions of protesters nationwide demanding for this reform to been withdrawn. It was ultimately withdrawn on May 2. However, protests continued with a new purpose for their movements, denouncing police brutality, poverty, corruption and inequality. The protesters have been met with police violence, deaths and disappearances. 

Before the tax reform sparked dissatisfaction at a national level, protests took place in 2019 and 2020 in Bogotá and Cali, the centers of anti-government demonstrations in recent years. However, the latest protests have proven that the discontent is about more than just taxation. Global Citizen, an advocacy organization, reports that about 2.8 million people fell into severe poverty in 2020, leading to food insecurity for many Colombians. Global Citizen highlights that more than 81.6% of households in the city of Cartagena cannot afford three meals a day.

President Duque retaliated by signing an order on May 1 that enabled military presence to be requested by city mayors alleging that “rebel groups and drug-traffickers have infiltrated the protests to encourage aggression,” as reported by the Associated Press. Moreover, with all of the atrocities that occurred under the Duque administration during these most recent protests, the United Nations reports that throughout a period of 16 days, there were various killings often of young people, more than 1,870 cases of police violence, some 168 disappearances and 26 killings.

As highlighted by Global Citizen, protests have caused food and fuel shortages and hindered vaccine deliveries. Ramiro Velasco, an art teacher, states, “They told us not to go out because we were going to get sick and we were going to die. But these demonstrations are proof that people are not scared anymore.”

With this in hand, protesters are now demanding better human rights protections in their country, speaking out for better education, a decent healthcare system, better income for youths, and demonstrating that leaving a mark of resistance is a chance to change their country for the better.

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