Right to protest and police brutality in anti-fiscal reform mobilisations
It’s raining cats and dogs outside, but I can hear the crowds shouting from Carrera 7. They must be soaked in rain, feeling exhausted and terrified – and yet, powerfully enjoying their right to protests against Colombian fiscal reform.
Mobilisations have been incessantly going on for the last 4 days all over the country. Here, people have been taking the streets to protest against the proposed tax reform.
Fiscal reforms have been a leitmotiv of Colombian recent history – and, its elephant in the room.
Since 2000, the Congress approved 12 fiscal reforms . The 13th one, officially known as the “Ley de Solidaridad Sostenible” (Reform of the sustainable solidarity) was on the Congress table for approval. The thing is, there is very little solidarity about it – sustainability, even less.
The reform seeks to raise $ 23.4 billion. The main goal is contributing to the expansion of the “Ingreso Solidario” program to reach roughly 4.7 million households. Working as a sort of Universal Basic Income regime, the “Ingreso Solidario” would financially support citizens in lower strata.
The ambitious amount would have financially encouraged companies to hire under-28 workers. It would have served to pay for underrepresented students’ university fees and to support small and medium-sized enterprises.
But how would the 2021 Colombian fiscal reform practically raise $ 23.4 billions?
The core part of the reform consists in lowering the threshold of salaries’ tax, affecting anyone with a monthly income of $656 and above. In this way, the number of citizens fully under the tax scheme would exponentially increase.
The reform would also erase many of the current exemptions enjoyed by individuals, besides boosting taxes imposed on businesses. The number of items subject to VAT would also increase, with more than 98 goods passing from 15% to 19% VAT taxis.
These include basic food products such dairies, oil, and canned vegetables. Citizens would pay 5% VAT also for sugar, chocolate, flour, pasta, salt, cereals, meats and sausages, among the others.
It is undeniable: the intentions of Colombia’s 2021 fiscal reform are rather noble. Also, its overall profile might look quite in line with a fashionable neo-liberal and centre-leftist social democratic party in central Europe.
But Colombia is not Europe.
The proposed reform comes about in an especially precarious period. As a matter of fact, Colombian economy is heavily struggling with the consequences of the covid19 containment measures. The unemployment rate has increased by 10% over the last year, reaching 17,2% in January 2021.
427848 micro-business, primarily managed by the country’s lower middle class, closed for good during the pandemic. Yet, the reform would address especially the lower-middle class.
Besides, why pay taxes if corruption is rampant in the country?
According to the Bogota Post, there’s a widespread public mistrust that the resources will end up in the right places. Also, income tax evasion rate is 31.6% in the country. If many Colombians don’t pay taxes as they are supposed to, that is mainly due to an generalised institutional distrust.
That is part of the reasons why criticism over the reform has flown from all political sides – including leftists such as Polo and the Alianza Verde. And, from the people.
People have been tirelessly taking the streets across the country, somewhere more peacefully, elsewhere more violently. The latter is the case of Cali, a city of 2.2 million people located in the Valle del Cauca region. Here only yesterday, 10 were the victims of police brutality. 179 civilians and 216 police officers were injured. A woman was raped by the ESMAD (Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadrons).
Police brutality is nothing new in Colombia. In September 2020, for example, the police stopped a 46-year-old engineer in Bogotá for consuming alcohol in public. They shocked the man with a Taser multiple times over several minutes. He was beaten down and later died in police custody.
In the same year, 10 people have been left dead in cities across Colombia during a protest against police brutality.
Police brutality has become co-protagonist of the current mobilisations against the Colombian fiscal reform, in some cases jeopardising the people’s civil right to protest.
But in most cases, the protests continued. After 4 gory days – we see a feeble light at the end of the tunnel.
Today at 1PM, President Duque declared he will withdraw the proposal of Colombian fiscal reform from the congress. Allegedly, he will open up a dialogue for new negotiations.
Today it was a gory, victorious day for the citizens, for the streets.
But at what prize.
Bogota, Colombia May 2, 2021