Fernando Vergara / AP
Bogotá, Colombia – While demonstrating across the country this week, Pablo Mora wore a mask to protect himself from the coronavirus. But often, retired security guards take them off and whistles to express their disdain for the Colombian government.
COVID-19 deaths are rising rapidly, vaccine launches are slow, and although Colombia continues to climb from the worst economic downturn, President Iván Duque has tried to raise taxes. All of this sparked massive protests in Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and other cities by shop owners, union leaders, professors, university students and retirees.
As he took a break from the whistle, Mora, who is 72 but was not vaccinated, said. “We feel that the government is completely abandoned.”
Colombian officials have tried to block the demonstrations, which began on Wednesday and are not dead, saying they could become the spread of the coronavirus in time of crisis. Across Colombia, hospital intensive care units are almost full, and on Thursday health officials reported 505 deaths in one day from COVID-19, a new record. At the same time, very few Colombians are vaccinated.
A Bogota judge declared the marches illegal due to health risks, while the capital’s mayor, Claudia Lopez, urged organizers to postpone the march, saying that “This is a life and death situation.”
But in the face of new curfews and other epidemic restrictions, as well as the possibility of raising taxes on food, utilities and other necessities, many Colombians ignore these warnings. Most of the marches were peaceful. But anti-riot police used tear gas to disperse protesters, some burning buses, destroying buildings and looting.
Joaquin Sarmiento / AFP via Getty Images
An evil had formed before the plague. Protests erupted in the country in 2019 thanks to government economic policies, a perception that there was no support for a peace treaty that ended long guerrilla wars and the failure to stop the killing of hundreds of social leaders.
“Outbreaks and disruptions have stopped protests. But social dissatisfaction doesn’t stop, ”said Katherin Galindo of consultant Bogotá Colombia Risk Analysis.“ In fact, it keeps getting higher. The tax bill is the last straw that sends people back onto the streets. ”
She added, “When people go to protest, it is because they feel that the government is not. [listening] For them, and they feel the government is even worse than the virus. ”
President Duque is pushing for an estimated $ 6 billion in tax increases to balance the budget and partially to pay for handouts on emergency food and other social programs since the outbreak. In doing so, he wants to expand his information provider base, reduce exemptions, and expand VAT to certain utilities and basic food such as eggs.
But Colombia’s economy is still recovering from a 6.8 percent contraction last year and continues to grapple with higher than 14 percent of official unemployment, as a result of the proposed tax hikes combined with the coronavirus-related blockade. It has recently forced many people to quit their jobs, leaving many Colombians feeling hopeless.
“People are in poverty, there is a lot of unemployment,” said Rosalva Peña, 61, who was forced to close her garment shop during the epidemic. As she helped other protesters block the main streets in Bogotá with trash and other obstructions, she said “this is not the time to raise taxes”.
Adding to their displeasure is a common occurrence in the vaccination program.
Initially, the government was unable to purchase adequate amounts while confusing setting up an appointment for the imaging, Galindo of Colombia Risk Analysis said.Less than 3% of Colombians were fully vaccinated according to the Our World In Data program at the university. Oxford That’s slightly higher than rates in Venezuela, Peru and neighboring Ecuador. But it ranks lower than Uruguay and Chile.
In a speech on Wednesday night, President Duque, whose job approval rate was 33% in the April poll, told the Colombians he understood their disappointment. But calls for patience
“I know you are worried, frustrated and angry,” he said, “but as your president, my message to everyone is that we have to come together to find solutions.”