Protests over President Iván Duque Márquez’s proposed tax reforms erupted in Colombia Wednesday. Thousands of protesters lined the streets of Bogotá, Medellin, and Cali answering the call from the county’s largest unions in protest against the controversial tax reform.
The proposed reformation by the Colombian government would introduce a suite of taxes on individuals and businesses, as well as reducing some tax exemptions. The reform was originally estimated to raise approximately USD $6 billion, equivalent to 2 percent of Colombia’s GDP. However, finance official Juan Alberto Londono said Wednesday morning that the government has lowered the expected target to USD $4.8 billion in an attempt to gain lawmaker approval. The Duque government has also suggested expanding the number of items subject to value-added tax.
Protesters fear that the tax reform will target working people and the middle-class too hard and that this is a further attempt to siphon money towards the rich. An uproar had previously occurred when Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla, who is in charge of the tax reforms, publicly undervalued the price of a dozen eggs.
The National Strike follows a Bogotá court-ordered suspension of anti-government protests. The request came from the Colombian president on Tuesday, citing concerns over the spread of COVID-19 and an overstretched healthcare system. Article 37 of Colombia’s Constitution allows for the suspension of the right to demonstrate publicly and peacefully through the operation of law in certain situations.
Groups have called for peaceful demonstrations, and there have been attempts to de-escalate tensions between protesters and authorities. Cali saw some violent clashes with police after a group of Indigenous Misak people tore down a statue of a Spanish colonizer. Police have used tear gas and flash-bang grenades to dispel the protesters in Cali, Bogotá, and other areas.
Opposition parties have explicitly supported the demand to withdraw the tax reform, but hesitate to support the public protests. Senator Gustavo Petro, a leading opposition candidate for Colombia’s election next year, warned that the government’s attempt to ban protests would create confrontations between the public and police. House Representative Juanita Goebertus of the Green Alliance party urged people not to take part in the public protests, but instead to participate in planned sound protests that would occur late in the evening.