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Finance Minister resigns after protests killed 19 in Colombia

Colombian Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla resigned Monday (3) after presenting a frustrated tax reform bill that sparked six days of violent protests across the country, leaving 19 dead and more than 800 injured.

He will be replaced by economist José Manuel Restrepo, the current Minister of Commerce, as announced by President Iván Duque on his social networks. Pressed by the protests, Sunday (2) Duque asked Congress to remove the draft from the agenda, although he reiterated that he will present a new proposal excluding the more controversial measures from the previous version.

Protesters are against tax increases and call for more social protection measures for workers affected by the coronavirus. Since 2019, the center-right Duque government has been trying to implement tax reform in the country – at that time there were intense conflicts.

The unrest this time left 19 dead and 846 wounded, among civilians and the police, according to the results of the Ombudsman’s Office and the Ministry of Defense respectively. Some NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch, accuse the police of firing on the population. The government ordered the deployment of military personnel to the worst affected towns and 431 people were arrested.

Earlier Monday, Defense Minister Diego Molano said the acts of violence were “premeditated, organized and financed” by splinter groups of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army) , the last recognized guerrilla in the country. , without giving more details.

The president had already announced last Friday (30) that he would reformulate the previous project, but gave no details. The statement, however, was not enough to calm protests against the proposal, and thousands took to the streets over the weekend against the reform, accusing the plan of sacrificing the middle class during the Covid pandemic. 19.

Thus, Duque detailed on Sunday how the new version of the proposal will be, which will exclude both the increase in the tax on goods and services and the broadening of the taxpayer base, the most controversial points of the law. The reform is necessary to “give fiscal stability to the country, protect the social programs of the most vulnerable and generate the conditions for growth after the effects caused by the pandemic”, defended the president, who has a low popularity, around 33% .

The new version of the reform proposal, made in collaboration with political parties, the private sector and civil society, will focus on the temporary taxation of the wealthiest businesses and classes.

Among other things, the reform will have a temporary tariff on corporate income, a tax on assets and dividends and for those with higher incomes, in addition to deepening the state’s austerity programs, added. President.

In 2020, the GDP of Latin America’s fourth-largest economy fell 6.8%, the worst performance in half a century. Unemployment soared to 16.8% in March and 3.5 million people fell into poverty amid the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

Since the start of the health crisis, nearly 2.9 million people have contracted the coronavirus in the country, and more than 74,000 have died. In recent weeks, Colombia has entered what local epidemiologists see as a third wave, with an increase in new cases and deaths from the disease.

In an attempt to stop the spread of the virus, the national government and the city of Bogotá have imposed new lockdowns in several regions. The Colombian capital is in partial lockdown until at least May 9 and it is not possible to leave the house on weekends. During the week, there is a curfew between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m.

Although outnumbered, protesters took to the streets again on Monday in the capital Bogotá and in other cities such as Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla.

In November 2019, Colombians took to the streets for several days in protests that ended at least four dead and 500 injured and resulted in the arrest of 172 people and the deportation of 61 foreigners, accused of vandalism.

The acts of this time added to different requirements. Trade union centers have rejected possible unofficial government initiatives aimed at reducing workers’ rights and pensions; students asked for more resources for education; and the natives, more protection, since dozens of them have been murdered since Duke’s tenure began in 2018.

Protesters also questioned the president’s intention to review the peace deal with the FARC, which disarmed the guerrillas and turned the group into a political party.

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