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As the Country Burns, Colombia Faces Its Moment of Truth

Mientras el país arde los colombianos enfrentan el reto de sus vidas

[Leer en español]

The disproportionate shutdown of the Colombian economy due to COVID forced the unpopular President Iván Duque to propose a very far-reaching tax reform. Although ill-advised, and rejected by his mentor, former President Álvaro Uribe, Duque decided to stick with the project.

The pandemic plunged Colombia into an unprecedented economic crisis. One of the longest lockdowns in the world resulted in the bankruptcy of more than 500,000 businesses and 2.8 million people falling into poverty. For this reason, the government proposed collecting millions of pesos from Colombians’ pockets without even considering the reduction of state spending. A lethal mistake.

The project was the trigger for an insurrection. On April 15th, the proposal reached Congress and on April 28th hundreds of people took to the streets of Colombia’s main cities. The demonstrators, based on a legitimate demand and a disagreement justified by terrible handling of the pandemic, blockaded the streets. Yet what started as a peaceful protest degenerated into absolute chaos: buses and police stations burned; banks, stores, and supermarkets looted; the main access roads to several cities blocked, causing a severe shortage of food and medicine. More than 20 people have died and hundreds of civilians and policemen have been injured.

Although Duque did not resist the pressure and withdrew the tax reform proposal and his finance minister, Alberto Carrasquilla, resigned, the protests escalated, now with other demands: the withdrawal of a health reform bill, the introduction of a guaranteed minimum income, and an end to the forced eradication of cocaine cultivation. The truth is that, the more the government concedes, the list of demands grows longer.

International media has chosen to cover Colombia in an irresponsibly distorted way. Within days, a democratic, prosperous and growing country became, according to the international media, a cruel right-wing dictatorship, which has been violating human rights and oppressing its people for years. Nothing is further from the truth.

Moreover, the international press has willfully chosen to ignore the reality of the streets of Cali or Bogota: taken over by violent anarchists, peaceful protests have morphed into urban terrorism. Militants have tried to burn policemen alive, have destroyed millions in private and public property; and have blocked access to cities, causing deaths due to medicine shortages or medical emergencies.

President Duque’s popularity is sinking rapidly and, meanwhile, the extreme left, supported by narco-terrorist groups such as the FARC and the ELN, are encouraging the riots. Senator Gustavo Petro, leftist leader and former terrorist, is without a doubt the greatest beneficiary of this crisis, one of the worst in recent history.

People should be aware that the riots are no longer against the tax reform, which was wisely withdrawn by President Duque. The riots have continued because the far left aspires to take by force what it has failed to achieve through votes. What we are witnessing in Latin America is a dangerous attempt to overthrow a government that, although unpopular, was democratically elected and next year is due for a transition of power. Those are the rules of the game.

Colombia is in crisis. And the greatest threat of all, as warned by The Economist, is that Duque’s legacy will be the first socialist president in Colombia’s history —and the country, in the hands of the extreme left, would flood the US with a new wave of immigrants as has happened with every other extreme left regime in the region.

Peaceful demonstrations should be protected, but when they become riots and are useful to terrorist organizations, we are talking about a condemnable insurrection.

The Editorial Board

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