Duque withdraws controversial tax proposal as deadly riots erupt in major Colombian cities

May 3, 2021 | 3 comments

Protesters face off with police Friday night in Bogota.

Colombian President Ivan Duque said on Sunday he would withdraw a proposed tax reform after deadly protests and widespread lawmaker opposition, though he insisted a reform is still necessary to ensure fiscal stability.

A police officer confronts a protester in Medellin.

Protests that began Wednesday have led to at least seven deaths continued on Sunday in Bogota, Medellin and Cali, despite the announcement.

Duque said on Friday the law would be revised to remove some of its most controversial points – including the leveling of sales tax on utilities and some food – but the government had previously insisted it could not be withdrawn.

“I am asking Congress to withdraw the law proposed by the finance ministry and urgently process a new law that is the fruit of consensus, in order to avoid financial uncertainty,” Duque said in a video. The reform, which the government has insisted is vital to stabilizing Colombia’s finances, maintaining its credit rating and funding social programs, remains necessary, Duque said.

Political parties, local officials, business leaders and civil society have contributed valuable ideas over the last several days, he said.

There is consensus on the need for temporary taxes on businesses and dividends, an increase in income tax for the wealthiest and deepened state austerity measures, Duque said. “It is a moment for all of us to work together without malice,” he said.

Local officials in Cali, the country’s third-largest city and where demonstrations have been the most violent, have confirmed three. One death each occurred in the city of Neiva and the municipality of Madrid and a police officer was killed in Soacha.

The procurator’s office said in an afternoon statement it was investigating 14 deaths nationally, while human rights groups have alleged police abuses – especially in Cali – and said deaths number more than 20.

The national police director said the force would contribute all necessary information to the procurator’s investigations. Duque said late on Saturday cities at high risk for disturbances would get military assistance, an offer rejected by Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez.

Credit: Reuters