President ‘out of touch with people’s plight’
FACED with street protests and international criticism over his security forces’ response, Colombia President Ivan Duque is coming across as erratic and out of touch with a country in crisis, analysts say.
Since April 28, hundreds of thousands of people have vented their frustrations against the government after poverty and violence has soared during the pandemic.
The trigger was a proposed tax reform that has since been withdrawn.
It’s not the first time Duque, 44, has faced social unrest against his presidency. In 2019, an unexpected student movement served as a warning.
After decades of stigmatisation against social protests, often associated with left-wing rebellions, young people who did not live through the darkest days of Colombia’s more than half-century of armed conflict with Marxist guerrillas have no qualms about demanding better living conditions. They’ve joined unions, indigenous people and others in taking to the
streets recently in what have largely been peaceful protests. However, some have descended into violence with at least 26 people dying and more than 1500 injured.
The police response to the protests has come under fire from the UN, EU, US and rights organisations. Yet the government has insisted in its claim that the violence has been wrought by left-wing guerrillas and drug-traffickers infiltrating demonstrations.
Jairo Libreros, a political analyst at the Externado university, said Duque “seems to be isolated from reality”. Duque has proposed a dialogue with demonstrators but none of them were invited to the first talks among various government agencies and the business sector. The president’s move to deploy 47 500 police and armed forces on the streets served to confirm “the disconnect” between the government and the problems faced by the people.
Since the pandemic began, the disparity in death toll figures has left little confidence in the government’s official line. But for analyst Laura Gil, there are “so many videos” of police brutality that “the numbers hardly matter”. There’s also a lack of faith in the separation of powers.
The president failed to take into account expert opinion when launching the tax hike. It aimed to increase VAT and the taxpayer base. But with the economy ravaged by the pandemic, poverty has soared to 42.5% and unemployment is up to 16.8%. That’s on top of the 3 million Covid-19 cases and 77 000 deaths among the 50 million population.