Colombia
Image of Iván Duke collapses after protests left 19 dead
Iván Duque had to back down with tax reform after massive protests forced the resignation of the Minister of Economy.

A failed attempt at tax reform detonated violent protests in Colombia, which left at least 19 dead and ended up forcing the resignation of the Minister of Economy as well as affecting strongly the image of President Ivan Duque.

The initiative had been launched on April 15 to be debated in Congress with the aim of raising approximately $6.3 billion, equivalent to 2% of the GDP and tackling doubt commitments in a context of credit growth.

The Colombian economy depends on market access and, according to official data, the country's External debt reached $156.8 billion or more than half of Colombia's GDP is reverted to the debt.

The resistance of trade unions and civil society was felt by a work strike that unfolded on Thursday and Friday this week and protests that continued throughout the weekend and were violently suppressed. Social anger forced Duke to reverse and withdraw the project and initiated dialogues with opposition groups and civil society to design another.

The initiative had been launched on April 15 to be debated in Congress with the aim of raising approximately $6.3 billion, equivalent to 2% of the GDP and tackling doubt commitments in a context of credit growth.

However, the streets did not calm down, since demands exceed the reform in question. On November 21, 2019, Colombia wanted to emulate the wave of protests seen in Chile and Ecuador and formed its own social group that mobilized to channel anger with government and politics.

At this time, the rejection to "Duke's package" envisaged adjustments to the pension system, in which more than 8.5 million people are listed monthly, but only 3 million manage to get a retirement. In addition, Duque sought to privatize 16 public companies to favor Odebretch, Reficar and Ais, among other holding companies that the leader intended to sell to get out of the crisis.

The pandemic in 2020 put these outstanding issues on pause, but the reform debate ended up stirring up that asset that was once again mobilized in defense of education, health and compliance with peace agreements, among other issues.

Barricades on the a road in Cali.


LPO spoke with BBC Correspondent in Colombia, Daniel Pardo, who explained that "The most conflicted point was the increase in VAT rate on commodities but I think reading has to go further and focus on the political gesture that meant presenting it in the midst of a pandemic and with a deep social crisis. The conflict was that it was now presented by a government that generates mistrust in the majority of the population, especially economically speaking," the Colombian journalist added.

The political crisis affected the government and forced the resignation of the Minister of Finance, Alberto Carrasquilla, architect of the reform and, as Pardo defined, "an representative of the private sector, a member of the board of several companies and a loyal follower of the Orthodox neo-liberalism of the United States".

On the other hand, LPO spoke with the president of the Workers Central Union of Colombia (CUT), Diogenes Orejuela, which argued that "the conflict with tax reform is that 70/80 per cent of collection is based on an increase and extension of VAT to 19 per cent for the basic necessities consumed by the most vulnerable group and the another serious component is the modification for more Colombians to pay income tax that will affect those who earn $650 in 2022 and $450 per month in 2023. This is a blow to the middle class, to the vulnerable sectors and to domestic producers by favoring importers."

Regarding the reaction of an outraged society from 2019, the union leader said that "since 2019 there have been indications that after 30 years of neoliberal governments, the middle class and the poor are being increasingly affected, the health system is very complex and all this was aggravated by the arrival of the pandemic, in which more than 5 million people were left without employment, 500 small businesses disappeared, micro and medium-sized enterprises collapsed and suffering increased in the LGBT population, as well as for women and other groups." "What does the government do? It proposes labor reform to help fatten the coffers of large bankers and large multinationals that bring nothing to the state. That is outraging for the Colombian people," he emphasized.

Since 2019 there have been indications that after 30 years of neoliberal governments, the middle class and the poor are being increasingly affected


Duque's project was the tip of the iceberg that gave wings to unemployment but there are many other pillars linked to the peace process, the reform of a police system that is considered repressive, violent and not unaccountable, which is still under the sphere of the Ministry of Defense and supports actions under the idea of a war against extremist groups that have prevailed in the South American country for 50 years.


Pardo said that the "reform was an excuse but with a number of outstanding issues such as the education system for many is unpayable or the health system that showed its fallacy during the pandemic. These are very profound issues that are part of people's concerns." "The Reform materialized the situation of the old powerful groups, the old elites, wanting to sell a model that does not work for many people. The reform, however progressive, it seeks to maintain the status quo and continue to pay the debt," he emphasized.

Former presidential candidate Gustavo Petro.


The National Committee containing the various social, student and trade union organizations ratified the continuity of the strike as concern from human rights agencies grow due to the 19 deaths, arbitrary arrests, more than 800 persons injured and more than 80 disappearances from the Mobile Riot Squad that was in the eye of the storm in September last year when 18-year-old student Dilan Cruz was murdered.

Uribism appeals to strengthen militarization to contain its hard core but government management does not enjoy good levels of approval. Invamer polls indicate that 63.2 percent disapprove of Duke's presidential government, while 33.1 percent support it. The highest disapproval rate against the ruler is concentrated in Bogotá, where 81.9% disapprove his management.

Regarding Duke's management, Diogenes Orejuela considers it "an absolute failure. It is a deaf, mute and blind government in the face of all our demands, they are unaware of the trade union movement and opposition forces in Congress. It is a government that increased debt to 65% of GDP, has a fiscal deficit of 9 points, caused poverty to rise from 35% to 42%, while unemployment stands at 16% and rises to 20 for women and young people, and 3 million Colombians have fallen into poverty with one million having only one meal a day."

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Like in Chile, opposition forces have the opportunity to channel this social discontent with the government through a competitive proposal for next year's presidential election. Uribism has come from an electoral blow in the 2019 municipal elections when it lost historic sites such as Cali, Bucaramanga, Medellin, Santa Marta, Bogotá, Cúcuta, Montería, Boayacá, Manizales and Caquetá.

It is a government that increased debt to 65% of GDP, has a fiscal deficit of 9 points, caused poverty to rise from 35% to 42%, while unemployment stands at 16% and rises to 20 for women and young people, and 3 million Colombians have fallen into poverty with one million having only one meal a day.

A survey conducted by Invamer between 13 and 19 of April 2021 hired by the Colombian media indicates that the senator and former presidential candidate, Gustavo Petro, leads voting intentions with 38.3 percent.

Petro, who lost to Duque in the second round of 2018, beats former center-left presidential candidate Sergio Fajardo, who has 15.9 percent, and current Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez, with 11.8.

The two major opposition fronts are the Historical Pact led by Petro and Coalition of Hope that has references such as the former presidential candidates, Humberto de la Calle, and Sergio Fajardo.

The situation is tense, protests will continue and Duque will have to balance the economic consequences of the pandemic that force him to manage macroeconomics and street demands, which start play out the scenario for 2022. 

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