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Thousands of people march in Colombia to protest tax reform amid a serious spike in coronavirus cases

Thousands of people came out to protest this Wednesday in several cities of Colombia.

The demonstrations were called in rejection of a project of tax reform of the government of President Iván Duque.

The protests come amid a serious spike in cases of coronavirus in several cities, which threatens to collapse the country’s health system.

The day began peacefully, with music, dancing and harangues.

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However, in the city of Cali, in the southwest of the country, the authorities confirmed the death of a person.

The mayor of that city, Jorge Iván Ospina, said that the death occurred in “unclear facts related to the demonstration,” according to the EFE agency.

In Cali there have also been fires of public transport buses and looting, as well as destruction of banks, offices and commercial premises.

Also, a group of indigenous people from the region demolished the statue the founder of the city, the Spaniard Sebastián de Belalcázar.

The authorities ordered the deployment of the police and the army, and decreed curfew from 1 pm local time until next Sunday at five in the morning.

In cities like Bogotá and Medellín there have also been unrest.

On Tuesday afternoon, a court had issued a controversial ruling ordering postpone the protest to avoid the massive spread of coronavirus.

The mayor of Bogotá, Claudia López, had also asked to postpone the day.

As of April 28, Colombia registered 2.8 million positive cases and more than 72,000 people died from covid-19.

Trade unions and social organizations, however, they insisted on the strike.

“This protest is legitimate insofar as it interprets the national clamor for a rejection of the economic and social policies of this Government, which in the midst of these difficult circumstances seeks a tax reform to plunder the pockets of Colombians, while the mega-people do not you only touch a hair, “said Francisco Maltés, president of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), quoted by Reuters.

Controversial reform

The government of President Duque presented a tax reform bill to Congress last week that originally sought to raise 23.4 trillion pesos (USD $ 6,294 million), equivalent to 2% of GDP.

The initiative proposes to tax basic products of the family basket and public services.

The reform seeks to mitigate the country’s fiscal gaps, and address doubts in the markets for its payment capacity of debt.

The project caused discontent in various sectors of society, including sectors close to the government.

Analysis by Daniel Pardo, BBC Mundo correspondent in Colombia

Since the pandemic began, the calls for the National Strike movement had not received the same reception as at the end of 2019, when this protest movement was inaugurated.

But this Wednesday the photo was different: not only did thousands arrive at the march in Bogotá, but there was also a protest in several other large and medium-sized cities in the country.

The riots and destruction will likely dominate the political debate for days, but the massive protests showed that the 2019 discontent is in effect.

What’s more: the fact that thousands of Colombians have taken to the streets despite the fact that the country is experiencing the worst spike in infections and deaths since the pandemic began, and that they also flout a resolution that prohibited the protest on Tuesday, suggests that discontent now may be greater than a year and a half ago.

With the protests and the rejection of several parties close to the government, it is expected that the tax reform will be modified or even collapse, which would be a huge disaster for a country in need of resources to meet its debt commitments.

All of the above are the ingredients that begin to shape the May 2022 presidential campaign in which a new president will be elected.

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