In Colombia, 19 Are Killed in Pandemic-Related Protests

Al menos 19 muertos y 800 heridos en cinco días de disturbios en Colombia #AFP ➡

In Colombia, 19 Are Killed in Pandemic-Related Protests Photo

The demonstrations over a proposed tax overhaul tied to the pandemic have morphed into a national outcry over rising poverty, unemployment and inequality.

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The dead include a ninth grader who went out to protest with his brother; an artist shot in the head as cameras rolled; and a teenager whose mother’s anguished cries of grief — “son, I want to be with you!” — have been shared thousands of times online.

At least 19 people were killed and hundreds more injured during days of protests across Colombia, in which tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to demonstrate against a tax overhaul meant to fill a pandemic-related fiscal hole.

On Sunday, President Iván Duque announced that he would withdraw the current proposal, and instead seek a new plan, this time borne out of consensus. “The reform is not a whim,” he said. “The reform is a necessity.”

But the decisions have done little to quell public anger, and the protests have morphed into a national outcry over rising poverty, unemployment and inequality set off by the arrival of the coronavirus last year.

Latin America, and South America in particular, has been especially pummeled by the virus, and many countries in the region face dire fiscal conditions if reforms are not made.

Mr. Duque was among the first to try to address his country’s economic problems, and the public response here does not bode well for other regional leaders, said Sergio Guzmán, the director of Colombia Risk Analysis, a consultancy.

The protests have continued, in part, because of anger over what several human rights groups have called a heavy-handed state response in trying to control them.

Several instances of police abuse have been captured on video in recent days, including one in which a young protester is seen kicking a police officer on a motorbike. The video shows the officer respond by shooting at the protester as he runs away.

The protester was Marcelo Agredo, 17, the ninth grader who went out to march with his brother. He died soon after, according to his father, Armando Agredo. The death was confirmed by the country’s ombudsman, a government agency that investigates human rights violations.

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