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In Colombia, 17 dead in demonstrations linked to the pandemic

BOGOTÁ, Colombia – At least 17 people have died and hundreds have been injured after days of protests across Colombia, in which tens of thousands took to the streets to demonstrate against a tax revision intended to fill a gap fiscal hole linked to the pandemic.

President Iván Duque announced on Sunday that he would withdraw the proposal and on Monday the country’s finance minister announced that he would resign.

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

Videos of police officers responding to protesters by force have heightened long-standing anger over police abuse.

“They made us go hungry,” said Natalia Arévalo, 29, speaking in the streets of Bogotá. “And now they want to take what little we have left.”

On Monday, protests persisted in several major cities.

At least 16 civilians and a policeman died, according to the national mediator.

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

Sergio Guzmán, the director of risk analysis in Colombia, a consultancy firm, said the government had waited too long to overturn the unpopular tax proposal, allowing anger and resentment to soar.

“Now it’s a lot more about how the government has run the country for the past two and a half years, it’s about lockdowns, it’s about popular discontent,” he said. Much frustration had simmered over the past year amid lockdowns, he added.

“The protests have given all these things an opportunity to resurface.”

Latin America, and South America in particular, has been hit particularly hard by the virus, and many countries face dire fiscal positions if reforms are not made. Across Latin America, economies shrank an average of 7% 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 solve his country’s budget problems, Mr. Guzmán said.

But the public response does not bode well for other leaders. “This is one of those times when a major disruption in society occurs,” he said. “And people have had enough and are waking up to the power of the streets.”

Sofía Villamil contributed reporting.

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