The “millions on the streets” that opposition Senator and strike promoter Gustavo Petro had been announcing on his Twitter feed never materialized, even though tens of thousands of anti-government protesters marched in towns and cities across Colombia on Wednesday. While students protagonized protests in Bogotá by occupying the monument to Liberator Simón Bolívar, National Park and plazas fronting TransMilenio bus terminals, global credit raters S&P (Standard and Poor’s), took the decision to topple Colombia from its investment grade status BBB- to BB+.
The decision to rate Colombia as “sub-investment,” is grounded in the national government’s retiring of a proposed tax reform bill that would have gone into effect in 2023. The Reforma Tributaria was pulled by the government of President Iván Duque before it was even debated in Congress by lawmakers.
As a means to bankroll the economic recession caused by the pandemic and stem spiraling debt that impacts the government’s fiscal capacity to invest in social welfare programs, education, health and poverty-reduction, the country’s left-wing politicians seized the Reforma Tributaria as a clarion call to mobilize anti-government protests. The protests and road blockades have cost the Colombian economy in losses some US$3 billion during 22 days of civil unrest – almost half the revenue the Reforma was projected to levy (US$6.7 billion) from the most wealthy and large corporations.
The news that Colombia lost after a decade its IG with the London-based creditors was met with caution from Finance Minister José Manuel Restrepo, stating that the government will present a new bill to Congress within the next month, and one that responds to “a more gradual and prolonged fiscal adjustment in the context of the challenges the pandemic has generated.” The downgrade, however, puts additional pressure on interest rates as the government will need to depend on foreign revenue sources and its flexible credit line with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for equity. The two other global rating agencies, Moody’s and Fitch Ratings have yet to adjust Colombia’s credit profile.
The downing through public protest of the tax reform bill, as well as the resignation of Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla, has been seized by students and trade unionists as a “victory,” but a pyrrhic one given that the National Strike Committee and populist leaders have not presented solutions to mitigate the nation’s deepening economic crisis, and debt that will be passed on to the next administration, sooner than later.