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Nationwide protests against tax reform turn deadly in Colombia

Nationwide protests against tax reform turn deadly in Colombia
Nationwide protests against tax reform turn deadly in Colombia

BOGOTA, Colombia – Protesters have marched against tax reform for eight days in Colombia’s biggest cities. The demonstrations turned deadly even as the president said he was getting rid of the proposed bill.

Trade unions started a national strike on April 28 after learning that if the bill was passed a rise in income tax was going to hurt workers with a monthly income as low as $684. The minimum wage is about $260.

Sandra Borda, a political scientist with the University of The Andes in Bogotá, said people are airing their frustrations during the coronavirus pandemic’s lockdowns and economic crisis.

“We are experiencing a very acute social crisis,” Borda said. “Our poverty levels increased substantially and we have a lot of young people outside of the job market ... all this social discontent is erupting now in the form of a social mobilization.”

Police officers launch tear gas at protesters on Monday in Cali, Colombia. (AP foto/Andres Gonzalez) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

There have been clashes with authorities in Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali. Colombian officials estimate 24 deaths, including that of a police officer, are related to the protests. Hundreds have been injured.

Mariana Romula, a college student in Bogotá, said the incidents of police brutality that have been on display during the protests are a sign that there is a desperate need for “police reform” in Colombia.

“They need to learn how to treat people without using violence,” Romula said.

Bogotá Mayor Claudia López said there was arson and vandalism at several of the small police stations in the city.

Protesters gather on Sunday in Bogota, Colombia. (AP Foto/Fernando Vergara) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Amid the chaos, Cali Mayor Jorge Iván Ospina pled with Colombian President Iván Duque on Friday to kill his tax reform bill.

Diego Molano, Colombia’s defense minister, traveled to Cali and on Saturday attributed the violence during protests to organized crime at the hands of leftist groups.

The Colombian military parked tanks to protect toll booths from protesters on Tuesday in Bogota, Colombia. (Foto AP/Fernando Vergara) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

On Sunday, Duque agreed to make changes to the bill. He promised to get rid of the income tax and a sales tax on fuel, food, and utilities. On Monday, Alberto Carrasquilla, Colombia’s finance minister, resigned.

Maria Gutierrez, an English teacher in Bogotá, said she and others continue to protest peacefully because they don’t believe Duque is truly abandoning tax reform.

“They are just trying to stop the people, the protests,” Gutierrez said.

The United Nations announced on Tuesday that the human rights office was alarmed by the ongoing violence.

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Torres contributed to this report from Miami.

About the Authors:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.