Colombia entered its ninth day of countrywide protests on Friday, 7 May, which had started against a tax reform proposal, that has now been shelved. However, the protests have grown into a rebellion against the conservative President Ivan Duque’s government and its policies on health, education and inequality.
In clashes between the protestors and the police, at least 24 people have died and over 846 injured. The violence has drawn international condemnation from the United Nations, the United States and the European Union.
Colombia’s human rights ombudsman, an independent state body has marked 89 people as having “disappeared”, Indian Express reported.
What Happened in Colombia?
The demonstrations began on 28 April, against a proposal that sought to increase taxes on businesses, remove some exemptions enjoyed by individuals and decrease the threshold of salaries that would be taxed.
The move came as a measure to the pull Colombia out of the worst health and economic crisis the country had seen in recent decades. Colombia’s economy shrunk by 6.8 percent last year and unemployment rose to 16.8 percent in March of this year.
As per official figures, half the country is living under poverty.
The protests led the Finance Minister to resign and the proposal be shelved. However, that did not pacify the growing unrest across the country.
Activists Want Dissolution of Riot Police, Basic Income Guarantee
On 4 May, roads were blocked in many cities as fresh disturbances erupted in the capital city of Bogota. The government also ordered soldiers to patrol the streets of Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city.
As per Reuters, protests will continue and a national strike has been planned on Wednesday, with activists demanding a basic income guarantee, the withdrawal of a government health reform proposal and the dissolution of the riot police.
As per reports, road blockades have also led to delayed shipments out of the Pacific Ocean port of Buenaventura. The South American Football Confederation was also forced to move two Copa Libertadores football games to Paraguay, The Indian Express reported.
Around 47,500 uniformed personnel have been deployed throughout the country by the Ministry of Defence, according to an AFP report.
In Cali, 700 soldiers, 500 riot police officers, 1,800 other police personnel and two helicopters have been deployed. At least 11 of the 19 deaths in the country took place in Cali.
Protest Leaders Invited for Dialogue
Colombia's government on Thursday, 6 May, invited protest leaders for a dialogue in an attempt to calm tensions.
Presidential advisor Miguel Ceballos was quoted by AFP as saying, “We have to listen to all sectors of the country, but it also has to listen to the government. That includes those marching and also those not marching."
He added that the government will meet protest leaders, including the National Strike Committee, on Monday. Protest leaders have stressed meeting Duque directly. However, it’s not clear whether Duque would be present for the talks on Monday.
International Community’s Reaction
UN spokesperson Marta Hurtado was quoted as saying, “What we can say clearly is that we have received reports and we have witnesses (of) excessive use of force by security officers, shooting, live ammunition being used, beatings of demonstrators and as well detentions.”
The European Union also condemned the deaths of 19 people, out of which 18 were civilians and one police officer.
Amnesty International, too, asked for an “end to repression of protests and the militarisation of cities”.
(With inputs from AFP, Indian Express and Reuters)