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SOS Colombia

Nandy Fajardo and Alejandro Fajardo

May 11, 2021

During a global pandemic, in the face of surging unemployment and increased poverty, Colombia’s ultra-right conservative government decided to launch a tax reform with the goal of reducing the government debt, deepened by the pandemic.

This was not the first time this conservative government has reformed the tax system during its reign. Starting in 2019, it began its first reform of the tax system, that favored the financial sector and ignored the needs of the working class. That led to massive protests before the pandemic.

This most recent tax reform proposed by the government, would have been an attack on the middle class’s pocket. It ignored the opinions of economic experts, that recommended it should instead be focused on taxing multinational industries and the wealthy. It has therefore been incredibly unpopular, with 82% of the population opposing it. Nevertheless, the government persisted with its plan.

Tax reform

While the tax reform was on its way to approval, on April 28, 2021, massive protests started across Colombia, despite the current spike in Covid-19 cases. These protests were not only in opposition to the tax reform, but also against the multiple injustices imposed or allowed by the current government.

Colombia has the second highest income inequality index in the world (Gini index, World Bank), so this tax reform was the last straw for many people, especially the young and those with informal employment, already in dire economic situations, and exacerbated by the pandemic.

In addition, there has been a sustained attack in recent months and years since this government took office on social leaders, with many assassinated or disappeared, without any shred of justice for them or their families.

The peaceful protests were carried out by the working class across the country, represented by all sectors, including indigenous populations, students, and artists, and filled with cultural displays. It has been a rare, united stand against what many see as an unjust government.

Police brutality

Colombia’s constitution grants everyone the freedom to protest, nevertheless, the massively well-organized protests representing all sectors of the country were met by a strong police presence.

In cities such as Bogota, Medellin, and Cali, reports from people’s social media accounts began to show many protesters being injured and some killed. The government quickly blamed the violence on the protestors.

Shortly after the protests began, the ex-president, Alvaro Uribe, who hand-picked the current president, Ivan Duque, and who many think is the real person in charge, tweeted to his followers that “soldiers should use their firearms to defend property from terrorism”. Similar to the tweets that finally got Trump banned from Twitter, Uribe’s tweet was sanctioned and removed, but the damage was done.

With human rights groups observing the situation in different regions, it became evident that many different groups of paramilitary, undercover police, and military were the instigators of the violence. Evidence surfaced of armed undercover police attacking property, infiltrating groups of protesters, and kidnapping people into both official and unmarked vehicles.

In the city of Cali, where the military has taken control since the protests began, human rights observers witnessed a pair of protestors shot by the military forces, one dying shortly after and the other critically injured. They also observed a member of the UN being attacked. They implored with the international community to bring awareness to these attacks against civilians and human rights observers. The number of abuses at the hands of police is alarming, including:

  • 47 people killed – 39 from police violence.

  • 963 arbitrary detentions

  • 12 cases of sexual assault/violence

  • 548 people have disappeared.

  • 28 victims of blinding attacks to the eye (similar to how forces responded to protests in Chile with “non-lethal” weapons)

(Sources: Indepaz ( and Temblores NGO ( on May 9, 2021).

Government Tactics

It has been a tactic of the government and its police and military to instigate violence amongst the people and then label them terrorists, to further attack them.

The “Centro Democatrico” party currently in power, is well known for its need to have an enemy, create fear and perpetuate conflict, so they can sell people the idea of security. This is the same party that was against the historic peace deal with the FARC in 2016 and the same that tried to sell the idea of Castro-Chavismo as a major threat to the country in the 2018 elections. Now the protesters have become the perfect enemy to blame. By unleashing chaos, this unpopular government has aimed to distract people from the bigger issues behind the protests.

Historically the media has demonstrated its bias in protecting the government’s interests as it has never communicated these atrocities and instead has confused the public on the source of the violence. The current situation is no different and the official reports are causing many to think it is the protesters who are to blame. If not for the massive number of people filming and posting to their social media accounts the real actions of police, military, and paramilitary forces, it would have been hard to know the truth.

Protest continues

The confrontations between the unarmed protesters and the police and the subsequent death of innocents only fuelled the anger and discontent of the people who continued the riots even after the tax reform was taken down by the government on May 2, 2021.

The initial round of protests, which were called a “national strike”, were successful in bringing down the unpopular tax reform bill in the congress and brought forth the resignation of the minister of finance and public credit, Alberto Carrasquilla. However, a new round of negotiations for a revamped tax reform is underway.

The president is clearly disinterested in any kind of dialogue with the opposition. He has invited only his current and ex-party affiliates to negotiate new reform processes, all from the political right.

The Colombian left is taking the position of dialogue, demanding the state stop its violence against protestors as they feel they currently need to allow government to complete the vaccination program and get the country out of the public and economic crisis it has been put in, before addressing the issues behind the protests.

Meanwhile, the people of Colombia, however fatigued by the violence and chaos unleashed upon them, years of corrupt governments, vast income inequality, and the dire economic and public health situation brought forth by the pandemic, are continuing to organize to practice their constitutional right to protest and demand justice. We need to listen and work in solidarity with the people of Colombia to raise their voices and help in achieving their goals.

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