Things That Matter

As Colombians Continue To March In The Streets, Here’s Why The Protests Haven’t Stopped

Nationwide protests have convulsed Colombia for more than a month. A tax reform bill proposed by right-wing President Ivan Duque sparked protests in late April, with thousands responding to a call from national labor unions to push against the measure.

A few weeks after the protests began, Duque withdrew the controversial bill from consideration but by then the protest movement had morphed into something different, with various groups demanding specific changes from the government. So what’s next for the ongoing movement and why haven’t they stopped?

Colombian’s started national protests in the wake of a planned taxed reform bill.

National protests started at the end of April and were initially in opposition to a proposed tax reform bill that would of likely raised taxes on those already suffering in the wake of the pandemic. The government argued that the reform was key to mitigating Colombia’s economic crisis.

The first rallies, organized by the country’s biggest trade unions, were also joined by many middle-class people who feared the changes could see them slip into poverty. Tens of thousands of people marched in the capital Bogotá, while demonstrations were also held in other major cities and smaller towns. Just days later President Duque withdrew the proposed bill following the protester’s demands.

But despite the initial win, the protests continued and were met with violent clashes with police. Human rights groups reported that riot police had not only used tear gas to disperse protesters but in some cases shot live ammunition. The heavy handed approach by police was seen as a direct attack on citizens. Two months later, the official figure of those who have died in the protests stood at 59 people. More than 2,300 civilians and members of the security forces have been injured.

But even after the controversial tax bill was withdrawn, the protesters have united around other issues.

Although the protests were originally called by trade unions to fight back against the tax bill, other groups with other grievances have joined the movement. Indigenous Afro-Colombian groups from rural areas have joined the demonstrations to vent their anger that the government isn’t doing enough to protect them from rebel groups and former rebels who have turned to organized crime and have killed scores of community leaders and civilians. Middle class citizens have joined to protest higher taxes and police brutality.

As participation in the demonstrations has broadened, so have the demands. Duque’s government now faces calls for universal basic income, free university tuition, and the dismantling of the riot police force. Demands that the government can hardly afford to meet.

So, what happens next with the ongoing protest movement?

Colombia’s protests, in some ways, fit into the larger global movement against police brutality and injustice that has arisen over the last year in countries from the United States to Nigeria. In other ways, they are specific to Colombia’s current status as a country still trying to overcome a decades-long conflict, with a population trying to push a more democratic and equal vision.

There’s another challenge blocking any sort of real breakthrough: the electoral calendar. Scheduled for May 2022, Colombia’s presidential election is less than a year away. All of this adds a large dose of uncertainty to the future.

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