2021 Colombian protests
Top to bottom, clockwise:
Protesters in Cali on 1 May 2021, a group of protesters sitting at the entrance of St. Joseph Church in El Poblado, a protester washing tear gas from his eyes, human rights defenders observing the response of authorities
Date28 April 2021 – ongoing (1 week and 2 days)
Location
Caused by
  • Duque government's tax reform proposal
  • Massacres in Colombia
  • Police brutality
  • Government handling of the COVID-19 pandemic
Goals
MethodsLabor strike, protests, demonstrations, civil disobedience, civil resistance, online activism, riots
StatusOngoing
Parties to the civil conflict

Protesters


  • Central Union of Workers (CUT)
  • Central General de Trabajadores (CGT)
  • Central de Trabajadores de Colombia (CTC)
  • Federación Colombiana de Trabajadores de la Educación (Fecode)
  • Dignidad Agropecuaria
  • Cruzada Camionera
Lead figures
Social Leaders and government oposition President Iván Duque
Alvaro Uribe[1]
Diego Molano Aponte
Number
Tens of thousands
Thousands
Casualties
Death(s)24 confirmed, estimated up to 37, 89 missing [2]
Injuries800+
Arrested500+

A series of ongoing protests began in Colombia on 28 April 2021 against increased taxes and health care reform proposed by the government of President Iván Duque Márquez. The tax initiative was introduced to expand funding to Ingreso Solidario, a universal basic income social program established in April 2020 to provide relief during the COVID-19 pandemic in Colombia, while the legislative Bill 010 proposed the privatization of health care in Colombia.[4][5][6][7][8]

Although the courts had anticipated the protests would be widespread, having had annulled all existing permits out of fear of further spread of COVID-19, the protests began in earnest anyway on 28 April 2021. In large cities such as Bogotá and Cali, thousands to tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets, in some cases clashing with authorities, resulting in at least six deaths. Protests continued to grow over the coming days, and amidst promises by the president to rework his tax plan, they reached a peak on 1 May, International Workers' Day. On 2 May, President Duque declared that he would fully withdraw his new tax plan, though no new concrete plans were announced, and protests continued. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch noted abuses by police against protestors, while former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez called on the people to support police and soldiers acts during the protests.[9]

The protests have also taken place in other countries, such as Chile, Canada, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.[10]

Background

In April 2021, President Iván Duque proposed increased taxes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic in Colombia was beginning to worsen as various healthcare systems were failing throughout the country.[4][11]

Ingreso Solidario, a universal basic income social program introduced by the Duque government during the pandemic,[7] had already provided at the time thirteen monthly payments of around US$43 to low-income populations since April 2020.[7] Three million of about fifty million Colombians were eligible for Ingreso Solidario payments, with the program being at a smaller scale when compared to other Latin American countries.[7] According to Merike Blofield, director of the German Institute for Global and Area Studies' Latin American division, "Compared to other countries in the region, the coverage that Ingreso Solidario offers is extremely weak, ... For the 3 million people that got it, it certainly made a difference. But there were five times as many households that needed it".[7]

The Duque government, seeking to expand the program to include 1.7 million more people and to establish a permanent basic income program, chose to pursue a tax reform for funding.[7] The tax increase on many Colombians was presented as a way to provide US$4.8 billion for Ingreso Solidario.[7] Duque's tax reforms included the expansion of value-added taxes on more products such as food and utilities, the addition of some middle-class earners into a higher tax bracket and the removal of various income tax exemptions.[11][7][12]

A controversial legislative bill, Bill 010, proposed to reform health care in Colombia by making the system more privatized.[8] Plans to drastically change Colombia's health care system amid the pandemic as well as the method the bill was filed – through a special committee in the House of Representatives that did not require congressional debate – also fueled discontent among Colombians.[8]

Colombians – simultaneously experiencing the third-highest number of COVID-19 deaths in Latin America, the worst economic performance in fifty years with a gross domestic product decreasing 6.8 percent in 2020 and an unemployment rate of fourteen percent – were angered by the proposed tax increase and organized a national labor strike similar to the 2019 protests.[4][12][13] In addition to the tax and healthcare reforms, strike organizers demanded a universal basic income at the nation's minimum wage level, additional support for small businesses and the ban on using glyphosate-based herbicides, including other requests.[14]

Timeline

Protesters in Medellín on 28 April 2021

In preparation for protests, Judge Nelly Yolanda Villamizar de Peñaranda of the Administrative Court of Cundinamarca ruled on 27 April that permits to demonstrate in cities across the country be annulled, banning public demonstrations due to health risks related to COVID-19.[15] Disgruntled citizens, however, ignored the public bans on protests.[12]

Tens of thousands of protesters began demonstrating on 28 April 2021, with strong protests occurring in Cali where the statue of Spanish conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar was torn down by Misak protesters.[4][16][17] In Bogotá, tens of thousands protested and clashes with authorities began later in the day, with four thousand protesters maintaining their activities throughout the night.[16] Two were killed on the first day of protests.[4]

Police presence increased on 29 April, when General Eliecer Camacho of the Metropolitan Police of Bogotá announced that 5,800 police would be deployed during the demonstrations.[16] Some TransMilenio stations were also closed prior to further protests, with the government stating the closures were due to damage.[16] The leader of the Central Union of Workers (CUT) described the 28 April demonstrations as a "majestic strike" and called for further protests throughout Colombia.[11] Protests overall were in smaller numbers across the nation.[11]

Protests would continue throughout Colombia on 30 April – especially in Cali, Bogotá, Pereira, Ibagué and Medellín – with some demonstrations occurring in other smaller cities as well.[18][19][20]

Although the majority of protests have been peaceful, several acts of vandalism have occurred, mainly in Cali and Bogotá. In Cali, several buses and stations of the mass transit system MIO were vandalized and burned.[21][22] The MIO network has been destroyed by 60%.[23] In Bogotá, some people tried to enter the headquarters of RCN Televisión.[24]

President Duque first announced that he would not remove the tax reform, although he later stated that his government would consider removing some of the more controversial proposals from the tax reform plans.[13] The Mayor of Cali, Jorge Iván Ospina, responded to President Duque, stating "Mr. President, the tax reform is dead. We don't want it to cause more deaths. Please, withdraw it, I am asking you for this on behalf of the people of Cali".[25] In preparation for Workers' Day protests, the government deployed 4,000 troops and police officers to Cali.[25]

On 1 May, International Workers' Day, tens of thousands of people protested in one of the largest demonstrations during the wave of protests, with cacerolazos heard in various cities.[13][26] Minister of National Defense Diego Molano, a business administrator, said in Cali "according to intelligence information, criminal and terrorist acts in Cali correspond to criminal organizations and terrorists", relating the protesters to splinter groups of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).[25][27] During the evening, President Duque said during a speech that he would increase the deployment of troops to cities experiencing violence.[28]

President Duque announced on 2 May that he was withdrawing the tax reform, although he stated that reform was still necessary.[29][30] Duque said that the tax reform "is not a whim, it is a necessity."[31] Despite the elimination of the tax reform, more days of protests have been called.[32]

The National Strike Committee announced on 3 May that another day of protests would be held on 5 May, criticizing the Duque government for not convening with groups to make negotiations.[14]

Internet is reported to have been cut off in Cali as of May 4, 16:30 local time. [33][34]

Protest violence

A protester speaking with members of the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron
Colombia students protest. Tyumen, Russia. May 5, 2021.
Colombia students protest. Tyumen, Russia. May 5, 2021.

On 1 May, Ombudsman of Colombia Carlos Camargo said that six had died during protests during the week, including five civilians and one police officer, and that 179 civilians and 216 police officers were injured.[25] Human rights groups at the time provided different numbers, saying that at least fourteen were killed during the protests.[28] By 3 May, the ombudsman reported nineteen deaths related to the protests,[35] while the non-governmental organization Temblores reported twenty-one dead and the Colombian Federation of Education Workers (Fecode), which helped lead protests, reported twenty-seven deaths.[36]

Groups have said that multiple human rights violations occurred during the protests, though the Duque government denies that any occurred.[27] Human Rights Watch said that it received reports of abuse by police officers in Cali.[28] On 3 May 2021, Fecode reported 1,089 instances of police violence, 726 arbitrary detentions, 27 killed and 6 acts of sexual violence.[36] The same day, Temblores reported 672 arbitrary detains and 92 cases of police violence.[36]

During the night and early morning of May 3, in the city of Cali, 5 people died and 33 were injured due to clashes between protesters and the police and ESMAD.[37] In the Siloe neighborhood, a peaceful demonstration was violently broken up by members of the public force.[38] Numerous videos denouncing acts of brutality by the public force were uploaded on social networks and in the media.[38][39] The Siloe neighborhood was the most affected during an unexpected internet crash, which occurred twice in the middle of May 4 and May 5.[40] After the reports and complaints, Emcali explained that "Our fixed internet access service has been working in optimal conditions for our internet clients, Emcali is not a mobile internet operator and guarantees internet service as an essential service in Cali and the area of ​​influence", in addition to indicating that they do not carry out "massive intentional interruptions in the provision of services, public services or telecommunications".[40] NetBlocks confirmed the unexpected internet outages.[41] Anonymous (who have massively supported the protests and declared war on the government of Iván Duque[42]) also denounced the situation.[40] Several users on social networks have rejected this situation and have considered it censorship.[38]

In the La Luna neighborhood, also in Cali, that same night, a Hotel was burned. While some versions suggest that a group of people incinerated it, others point out that the fire is the product of the ammunition explosion that ESMAD had.[39][43]

On the night of May 5, in Pereira, a firearm attack against a peaceful protest, injured three people.[44][45][46][47] As of now, the perpetrator of the attack is unknown.

One of the wounded, Lucas Villa, was considered "a peaceful activist and was seen in all the demonstrations singing, dancing," according to his aunt.[44] Although there is no official medical part of the clinic, in social networks close to Lucas they indicated that the opinion was brain dead.[45][48] Several people rejected the attack, including President Iván Duque.[49] The Secretary of Government of Pereira, Álvaro Arias Vélez, offered a reward of up to 50 million pesos for those who give information to the authorities that allow them to find the responsibles for the attack.[50]

Media coverage and use of social media

Several Colombian media and news outlets have reported on the demonstrations.

Despite being among the largest channels in the country, Caracol and RCN have been criticized for instilling fear against protests and mainly showing and reporting vandalism.[51] Protesters tried to enter RCN facilities on 28 April due to negativity towards the channel.[24]

On 30 April, the day President Duque announced changes to the tax reform, in its last broadcast of the evening news, Noticias RCN showed some videos of protesters in the streets of Cali, while a journalist said: "With harangues and singing the anthem of Colombia and the city at different points, [the Caleños] celebrated [Duque's] announcement". Because of this, RCN was criticized for "misinforming" and "lying" about the event.[52][53] Some media, such as Colombia Check and La Silla Vacía, verified that the information was incorrect: the newscast had taken the images out of context and adapted them to a headline that did not correspond to what happened in the place.[53][54]

Several people have used social media to invite people to protest, as well as to denounce acts of repression and attacks by some protesters and members of the public force.[55]

On Twitter, #LaVozDeUribeSomosTodos, which began as a trend used by Uribe followers, due to the removal of a controversial tweet by former president Álvaro Uribe, which Twitter removed for "glorifying violence",[9] ended up being used by some followers of K-pop in Colombia to publish content related to this type of musical genre.[56] Other Uribism trends on Twitter have been overshadowed by K-pop posts.[56]

Since May 5th., Instagram users who are sharing content from the protests in their stories (Mainly in Colombia) are reporting the application has been erasing this content.[57]

Reactions

National

Various characters were in favor, such as the senator and former presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, who invited to participate in the strike,[58] as well as the senator Gustavo Bolívar. In addition, the actresses Lina Tejeiro and Esperanza Gómez, the comedian Alejandro Riaño, the actor Julián Román, the singers Adriana Lucía, Mario Muñoz, Karol G and influencers.[59][60][61] In the same way, Colombian artists such as Shakira, Juanes, J Balvin, Maluma as well as the athletes Egan Bernal, Radamel Falcao, Juan Fernando Quintero, as well as the former soccer player René Higuita, among others, have demonstrated in solidarity with the victims, and they have called for an end to the violence, as well as asked the government to listen to the Colombian people.[62]

Former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez, a right-wing politician, tweeted "Let's support the right of soldiers and police to use their firearms to defend their integrity and to defend people and property from criminal acts of terrorist vandalism".[9] Twitter removed the tweet, saying that it was an act of "glorifying violence".[9][63] Journalist Vicky Davila, former Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa and former Colombian soccer player Faustino Asprilla rejected the protests.[64][65][66]

International

Governments

  •  Chile: The Minister Spokesman for the Government of Chile, Jaime Bellolio, declared that "the violation of human rights must be prosecuted without nuances", when referring to the situation in Colombia.[67]
  •  Ecuador: The President of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno urged the government of Nicolás Maduro to end "interference" in Colombia and thus allow stability in the country led by Iván Duque. "The request is for Maduro to remove his bloody and corrupt hands from democracy and the stability of the Colombian people," said the president after participating as keynote speaker at the "Defense of Democracy in the Americas" forum organized by the Inter-American Press Association (SIP), in Miami.[citation needed]
  •  Peru: The Foreign Ministry of Peru reported that: "it deeply regrets the acts of violence and the victims that occurred in Colombia," and stressed that both countries are united by good relations and cooperation.[68]
  •  United States: The United States Department of State asked the Colombian government for "maximum restraint" on the part of the public forces to avoid further loss of life.[69] In the same way, Democratic House Representative Gregory Meeks asked to reduce violence.[70] Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern, for his part, expressed excessive use of force.[69]
  •  
    •  United Nations: The Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, expressed his concern about the police repression against the protests in Colombia. He invited the Colombian authorities to exercise restraint during the protests.[72]
      • Regarding the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, Commissioner Juliette de Rivero reported that members of the High Commission were threatened and attacked in Cali while investigating the violation of human rights against the protesters.[73]
    •  European Union: The spokesman for the European Union, Peter Stano, said that "we are closely monitoring the situation, and we condemn acts of violence" and reported that "it is really a priority to contain the escalation of violence and avoid the disproportionate use of force".[74]
    • Numerous celebrities including Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian, Demi Lovato, Nicky Jam, Residente, Ibai Llanos, AuronPlay, Luisito Comunica, among others, have expressed their sympathy with the Colombian people and, especially, with the victims of the violence from the police.[62]

      The Progressive International released a statement condemning the policy brutality and Duque's regime, while also calling "the world's progressive forces to answer its call, and hold the Duque government to account in every community, every courthouse, and in every parliament where we work".[76]

See also