After more than a month of hiatus, thousands of people took to the streets in Colombia on Tuesday 20, the country’s independence day, to protest against a revised version of tax reform that sparked a population uprising last April.
Protesters took to the streets waving the Colombian flag upside down and shouting at President Iván Duque, who presented the new plan to Congress. They are calling for police reform and a more united state in the face of the devastation caused by the pandemic, which has brought poverty to 42% in the country of 50 million inhabitants.
The government registered 195 protests in 95 municipalities. Clashes between riot police and protesters armed with shields and machetes left a dozen civilians injured in Medellín and Cali. Police said 21 men in uniform were injured.
At the end of the afternoon, the Minister of the Interior Daniel Palacios told the press that “the peaceful demonstration prevailed over the acts of violence”.
More than 60 people have died and thousands have been injured since the protests began on April 28, according to prosecutors and civil authorities.
The mobilization for this holiday was called by the National Strike Committee, which is the largest group of demonstrators, even if it does not represent all the discontented sectors. Made up of students, indigenous people and social organizations, the group wants to take its demands to Congress “because the government did not want to negotiate,” Fabio Arias, leader of the Workers’ Unity Center, told W Radio. .
This time, the executive waived the more controversial aspects of tax reform and offered to raise US $ 3.9 billion, a substantial reduction from the US $ 6.3 billion initiative that triggered the popular revolt and cost to the Minister of the Farm of the time.
In Bogotá, around 5,000 people gathered and marched towards the central Bolivar square. The police, however, blocked access to Congress and the presidential seat.
The government complained about the alleged infiltration of armed groups into the demonstrations, including guerrillas from the ELN (National Liberation Army) and dissidents from the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). Officials also said the marches could increase Covid-19 contagion as the country leaves the worst wave of the pandemic behind.
According to the Defense Ministry, more than 53,000 police and 36,000 soldiers watched the protests across the country.
One year before leaving power and with an unpopularity rate of 76%, Duque is facing an unprecedented protest movement since 2019.
This year, what started as a protest against a failed government plan to raise taxes for the middle class has been revived by police crackdown, criticized by the international community.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which visited the country amid the protests, denounced the security forces’ response as “disproportionate” and “deadly.”
The NGO Human Rights Watch accuses the security forces of being involved in at least 20 killings during the protests and claims that 16 of the victims were shot dead by state agents with intent to kill.
Although it has admitted cases of police violence, the government disputes the figures.
On the 28th of last month, protesters destroyed a statue of Christopher Columbus located in the northern city of Barranquilla.
Duque inaugurated this Tuesday morning the work of the new legislature, which will have the heavy task of discussing the new tax reform.
“We hear the voices in the streets and they should fuel the debate, but history calls on you to be the spokespersons for a country in the midst of transformation,” Duque told Congress at the dedication ceremony.
At the end of the day, Duque presided over a military parade without an audience due to the pandemic in commemoration of the national holiday.