On Wednesday, April 28th, 2021, mass protests erupted in Colombia, opposing a series of proposed tax reforms that would impact the working class, already struggling amid unemployment and the consequences of the pandemic. Large strikes have been organized by Colombia’s largest unions and protests have been met with extreme repression from the government. There have been killings, kidnappings, torture, and sexual abuse committed by various Colombian security forces. Cali, a key center of the protests, has become a war zone with police reportedly open firing on protests. As of May 4, NGOs in the country have confirmed at least 31 deaths and 10 instances of sexual violence by security forces, and at least 89 people have disappeared. These are likely underestimates.
The new reform, proposed by right-wing president Ivan Duque plans to impose an income tax on a lower-income section of the population who didn’t previously pay income tax. This would be done by shifting income tax brackets so that higher brackets begin at far lower income levels than previously. The bill would also impose a VAT (value-added tax) on everyday goods, which would disproportionately affect millions of poor and working-class people.
The government says the bill is being proposed to cover expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic and to pay off the national debt. But Colombians are sick and tired of having their livelihoods and standard of living attacked by the government. Under the Duque presidency, poor and working Colombians have repeatedly engaged in mobilizations against his government’s consistently pro-business policies which are designed to benefit foreign investment and big corporations at the expense of the working and middle-class people.
In the face of this resistance, Duque’s finance minister resigned and Duque announced on May 2nd that he planned to withdraw the proposal and revise it, but the protests have not stopped. What began as a movement against the proposed tax reform has turned into a more generalized anti-government protest against poverty and inequality, and against the current political, economic, and social system that favors only an elite minority, the ruling class.
The Colombian government and President Duque are close allies of the U.S., which is why there has been little coverage about the protests and Colombian state repression in the mainstream news. Colombian protestors are desperately reaching out through social media and asking to share their stories so the world knows what’s happening in Colombia.
As coronavirus ravages the world, leaving economic devastation in its wake, governments of the world will impose similar policies to make poor and working people pay for the crises their system creates, no matter which country they live in. And they will also use their police to violently intimidate their populations into submission if they try to fight back.
However, the courage of Colombians fighting back against this tax reform bill can be example to us all. We will need to build on their struggle and organize a global fight to end this unjust system of capitalism.