Victory to the Colombian Working Class!
At the highest peak of the Covid 19 pandemic, Ivan Duque’s government introduced a tax overhaul bill that would raise the value added tax (IVA) on basic goods and public utilities, including eggs, coffee, and milk, while maintaining the country’s bloated military budget and reducing the corporate income tax. This deeply regressive legislation adds to a long list of grievances that include four million unemployed (nearly 10 percent of the population), 42% of the population in poverty, more than half of the labor force in the informal sector, over 72,000 official covid deaths, a lack of vaccines, slow and incompetent management of the pandemic, and a wave of paramilitary violence that has killed hundreds of social movement leaders.
In response to the tax overhaul bill, labor federations called for a day of protest on April 28, which turned out hundreds of thousands of people to the streets and quickly became an indefinite and militant mass mobilization of workers, students, the unemployed, peasants, and large layers of the Colombian middle class. The Duque government responded with an all-out campaign of state terror and repression that, as of May 6, has resulted in 37 deaths, 234 injured, 934 arbitrary detentions, 341 violent attacks on peaceful protests, 26 victims of intentional eye injuries, and at least 11 victims of sexual violence. After Duque ordered the militarization of Cali, Bogotá, and other cities, members of the Colombian army and the Mobile Anti Riot Squad of the national police (ESMAD) have been documented entering working class neighborhoods to persecute, torture, and shoot live ammunition at unarmed civilians.
Contrary to Duque’s claims that the regressive tax overhaul is necessary to fix the country’s fiscal crisis, 22% of the national budget goes toward the country’s staggering debt, a third of which is illegitimate foreign debt owed to multilateral institutions controlled by rich countries, like the World Bank and the IMF. Roughly 11% of the 2021 national budget is earmarked to pay only interests on public debt. Moreover, while the Duque regime tries to further immiserate the working people of Colombia, the military budget continues to grow and multinational mining corporations, large national companies, and large landowners pay marginal tax rates—a structural problem that was aggravated by Duque’s regressive tax reforms of 2018 and 2019.
The imperialist government of the United States and US capital in general are directly implicated in the suffering of the Colombian people through the criminal war on drugs; US influence over multilateral institutions that are choking the country with debt while promoting neoliberal austerity; the “dumping” of heavily-subsidized agricultural and industrial goods that displace local farmers and jobs through the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement; the extortive contracts of corporations like Pfizer that hold patents for desperately needed vaccines; and the funding and training of Colombian military and police forces, which have historically been involved in major human rights abuses and are brutally repressing protesters today. In fact, for its 2021 budget, the US has appropriated $461.4 million for aid to Colombia, primarily for “counter-narcotics” and “counter-terrorism” efforts.
Despite the extreme level of state repression and the temporary withdrawal of the tax reform bill (protestors know that the government is simply repackaging and rebranding the tax overhaul), the Colombian working class remains in the streets. In a massive, dignified display of militancy, the people of Colombia are challenging the neoliberal order and showing workers around the world that our power to change society lies in our self-organization and mobilization. Workers’ Voice/La Voz de los Trabajadores and Socialist Resurgence stand in solidarity with the struggle of the Colombian people and demand the following:
- An immediate end to the Duque government’s criminal campaign of state terror and repression
- Immediate dismantling of the Mobile Anti Riot Squad (ESMAD) of the national police
- Immediate termination of all military and security aid from the United States to the government of Colombia and the closure of all US military bases
- Cancelation of Colombia’s foreign debt with the United States and multilateral institutions
- The immediate waiving of all patents on Covid 19 vaccines and medications to relieve the vaccine and medical supply shortages in Colombia and across the Global South.
- Permanent withdrawal of the reactionary tax overhaul and all other measures (pension reform, healthcare reform, etc.) that seek to put the weight of the economic crisis on Colombian workers. Make corporations and the rich pay for the crisis!
Workers’ Voice / La Voz de los Trabajadores