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In Colombia, 17 dead in pandemic protests

BOGOTA, Colombia – At least 17 people have been killed and hundreds injured after days of protests across Colombia, in which tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate against tax repairs designed to fill the fiscal hole associated with the pandemic.

On Sunday, President Ivan Duke announced he would withdraw the proposal, and on Monday the country’s finance minister said he would resign.

But the decisions did little to quell public anger, and the protests turned into a national protest over rising poverty, unemployment and inequality caused by the arrival of the coronavirus last year.

Videos of police officers responding to violent protesters have exacerbated long-standing anger at police abuses.

“They pushed us to hunger,” said Natalia Arevalo, 29, on the streets of Bogotá. “And now they want to take what little we have left.”

On Monday, protests continued in several major cities.

According to the national ombudsman, at least 16 civilians and one police officer were killed.

The protests come just as the country is experiencing the deadliest moment of the pandemic and has had one of the highest casualties per capita in the world last week, according to a New York Times database that tracks deaths and infections.

Sergio Guzman, Director of Colombian Risk Analysis, Consultant, said the government had waited too long to repeal the unpopular tax proposal, allowing anger and resentment to increase.

“Now it’s a lot about the way the government has run the country for two and a half years, it’s about the blockades, it’s about people’s dissatisfaction,” he said. There have been many disappointments over the past year amid the blockades, he added.

“The protests allowed all these things to be resurrected.”

Latin America, and in particular South America, has been particularly irritated by the virus, and many countries face severe fiscal situations if reforms are not made. In Latin America, economies shrank by an average of 7 percent last year, more than in any other region, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Mr Duque was among the first in the region to try to tackle his country’s fiscal problems, Mr Guzmán said.

But the public response does not bode well for other leaders. “This is one of those moments when a key breakthrough in society is happening,” he said. “And people are tired and wake up from the power of the street.”

Sofia Vilamil participates in the reporting.

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