Colombians set to defy May Day protest ban

Morning Star | April 30, 2021

Protesters hold signs that read in Spanish “No to tax reform” during a national strike against a government-proposed tax reform, in Bogota, Colombia

TRADE unions, student organisations and civil society groups in Colombia are set to defy a government ban on May Day demonstrations by taking to the streets in protest at unpopular tax changes.

This follows days of strike action “for life, peace, democracy” and against an economic reform package being pushed by President Ivan Duque, which unions warn will have a devastating impact on the country’s poor.

A Bogota court suspended the right to public protest earlier this week after Mr Duque called for a ban on demonstrations on Wednesday and International Workers’ Day celebrations on May 1.

Judge Valentina Arboleda caused mirth by accidentally announcing a ban on “pubic” protests, although he clarified later in the ruling that the right to peaceful demonstration had been suspended.

Health Minister Fernando Ruiz called for the strike action to be postponed amid a spike in coronavirus cases that has pushed the Colombian health system to breaking point.

But teaching union Fecode rejected the plea, insisting that the government’s refusal to take measures against deepening poverty left its members with with no choice.

“The government has not approved a basic income for us. We have to go out. We teachers shouldn’t go out, but we have to,” said spokesman Omar Arango.

Thousands took part in the action, which continued on Thursday, blocking major highways in Colombian towns and cities.

A heavy clampdown saw at least 10 reporters arrested, according to the Colombian Federation of Journalists.

Video footage circulating on social media showed a police officer getting off his motorcycle and shooting dead a young man in Cali.

In Bogota, student Leidy Cadena suffered a serious eye injury when a protest was fired upon by the Esmad riot squad.

Mr Duque said that he recognised the strikers’ anger but is prepared for dialogue and to make some concessions on taxes relating to public services and fuel.

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