Colombia’s largest trade unions, socialist movements and left-wing parties, do not want to foot the bill for the coronavirus pandemic, preferring instead to summon a National Strike Day on April 28, and during a week in which third wave infections and deaths are expected to peak. On Monday, hours after opposition leaders called for “strike action,” Colombia registered 420 deaths: highest toll in a day since the start of the pandemic.
Despite grim milestones registered in recent weeks by the Ministry of Health and confirmation that the UK and Brazilian variants are circulating, representatives of National Strike Committee believe mass protests will sink a tax reform bill that needs to levy an additional US$6.7 billion in government revenue. The Reforma Tributaria was presented to Congress by Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla and stipulates expanding the collection base and increasing sales tax on specific goods and services. The reform is also essential to maintaining social welfare programs and bank-rolling the country’s post-conflict.
While the Reforma has been presented by the government as the only means to reduce growing debt and balance a budget smashed by pandemic expenditure, for the country’s trade unions and opposition leaders, the best way to remedy insolvency is to mobilize the base (and no doubt scores of vandals who infiltrate these marches), like they have done in every successive national strike day since the first was declared November 21, 2019.
So why should the events of #28A be different than those of #21N given the fact that now everyone must wear face masks, not just “encapuchados”? The difference, of course, is the pandemic, and one, that during the last 14 months has claimed the lives of 68,748 Colombians and infected more than 2.6 million.
While Bogotá Mayor Claudia López is powerless to prohibit social protest – even one in the midst of a health crisis – the Colombian capital should brace for another round of civil disobedience and senseless vandalism. The events also on October 10, 2020, when Bogotá became engulfed in extensive rioting after a demonstration against police brutality was hijacked by criminals who proceeded to torch police stations and TransMilenio buses, is the most recent reminder that a “call to action” potentially endangers the lives of law-abiding citizens, without considering current health threats. During the rioting that followed the death of Javier Ordoñez in police custody, 13 people were killed by firearms and more than 60 injured.
If April 28 turns violent, who ultimately is responsible? The national government for presenting a bill before lawmakers? The district administration for accompanying protestors with anti-riot police? None of the above.
The country’s trade unionists and representatives of the National Strike Committee – including many student organizations – should be held accountable for an event that belittles ongoing health measures and mocks core human values given that 15,000 citizens are hospitalized with COVID-19, many clinging to life in overwhelmed ICUs.
On Monday, ICU occupation in Bogotá reached 84% or 2,060 beds of 2,447 in total. “Today we are at the highest occupation of ICUs since the start of the pandemic,” stated Mayor López before announcing that night curfews will start April 20 from 8:00 pm to 4:00 am, as well as second strict lockdown from midnight Thursday, April 22, to Monday, April 26. The day also registered 14,189 additional cases nationwide, 2,165 in the capital.