Colombia upheaval risks populist contagion from outside

24 May 2021 03:04 PM


Social protest is a new, and potentially positive, phenomenon for a still-repressive country, but stokes fear in its conservative political establishment.

Although unprecedented for Colombia, the prolonged social protests currently sweeping the country and paralyzing the government are not a surprise.

In 2020, COVID-19 put on hold a wave of protests which had started in late 2019 led by labour unions and indigenous and Afro-descendent community groups over low wages and the slow pace of social programs promised in the 2016 peace agreement.

But when the government recently proposed a new tax hike, even the threat of COVID-19 was not enough to keep Colombian citizens from the streets as national protests erupted.

The proposed tax reform is relatively small in reality, focusing mostly on the rich but also extending taxes to lower and middle income workers and expanding value-added taxes.

And it is long overdue, because Colombia’s taxes are the equivalent of only 19.7 per cent of the country’s GDP compared to an average of 33.8 per cent among OECD developed economies, which Colombia is aiming to join.

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