Colombian President Iván Duque’s turn to socialist tax policies following the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a backlash from citizens that has left more than two dozen dead in recent weeks.
Duque was elected in 2018 as somewhat of a right-leaning candidate from the country’s Democratic Centre Party. But following the pandemic and its effects on jobs and the economy, the president turned to outlandish taxes to keep the country’s social programs afloat.
Colombia chose lockdowns to mitigate the spread of the virus and is paying for that through a high unemployment rate and depleted cash reserves.
CNN reported that before COVID rocked the country of roughly 50 million people, the unemployment rated was already at an unhealthy 9 percent. This year, 16 percent of working-age Colombians are out of a job.
Last month, Duque took what many viewed as a socialist turn to the left by way of a series of new taxes. One of those taxes, a value-added tax on the purchase of everyday goods, was too much for cash-strapped Colombians.
ABC News, citing information from The Associated Press, reported Duque “aimed to raise $6.7 billion to pay the country’s debts and maintain a basic income scheme for 3 million low-income people that started during the pandemic.”
The big-government approach did not sit well with working-class citizens who were expected to bail out the government. According to ABC, 43 percent of the country’s citizens are already living in poverty. After thousands of protesters took to the streets, Duque rescinded the tax, but his government’s heavy-handed response to mass protests is now fueling more anti-government sentiment.
Reuters reported that according to one local source, 26 people are believed to have been killed by police during protests, while others contend that as many as 47 people have been killed — with many being gunned down.
Also amid the violent demonstrations, Colombian Interior Minister Daniel Palacios told CNN an estimated 580 police officers have been injured.
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Now, what started as a protest against taxes is now a protest against Duque and his government.
Reuters reported the embattled Colombian president is up against a coalition of protesters that includes labor unions, student groups and elements within the Catholic church.
Protesters now want Duque to answer for the deaths and also for the withdrawal of health sector reforms in the country. His administration has been meeting with protest leaders, but nothing substantive has been achieved over the last few weeks.
Reuters reported that on Monday, an estimated 13,000 people gathered nationwide to protest the government and its handling of previous demonstrations.
Duque, according to CNN, is blaming the violence in his country on “drug-trafficking mafias,” which he has said have embedded themselves with protests to capitalize on the unrest.
“The vandal threat we are facing consists of a criminal organization that is hiding behind legitimate social aspirations to destabilize the society, generate terror and distract the actions of the public force,” he said last week.
But with impoverished neighboring Venezuela’s citizens paying for their country’s embrace of socialist policies in recent decades, it is apparent that Duque’s turn to high taxes might have led many to resist what they saw as government run amok.
South America has seen the rise and fall of socialist governments since the last century, and people on the continent are still suffering from the adoption of such policies.
Venezuela, which not long ago touted wealth redistribution, no longer has much wealth to redistribute, despite its vast natural resources and a population that was once among the wealthiest in the world and a crown jewel in Latin America.
Reuters reported on May 3 that Venezuela’s economy is experiencing a fourth consecutive year of hyperinflation while finding itself in the depths of a seven-year recession. The minimum wage in the natural resource-rich country is the equivalent of $2.40 U.S. dollars after government officials raised it this month.
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