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Hobart’s Colombian Community Stands in Solidarity

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Hobart’s Colombian community is preparing to take to the streets in solidarity with demonstrators in their home country. The government of the South American country has been on the back foot against a widespread social reform movement. In recent weeks the Riot Control Squadron known as ESMAD and the police have cracked down violently on […]

Hobart’s Colombian community is preparing to take to the streets in solidarity with demonstrators in their home country.

The government of the South American country has been on the back foot against a widespread social reform movement. In recent weeks the Riot Control Squadron known as ESMAD and the police have cracked down violently on protestors at demonstrations in the major cities.

The office of the ombudsman has confirmed that at least 17 people were killed in five days of protests against a proposed tax reform, with at least another 800 people injured.

Human rights groups and protesters have accused riot police squads of using unnecessary force.

Organiser Sonia Parra, married to an Australian and now calling Hobart home, said she wanted to do something in support of the demonstrations.

“You feel so helpless just watching it from far away,” she said. “If there is greater scrutiny from the outside world, perhaps the government will abandon this repression of the people. So we would like to try to raise some awareness here.”

Tasmania is home to a small number of Colombians, but people from other South American countries are inclined to show support for the cause.

“People from Bolivia, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, they have all been through similar things recently,” noted Parra, also an organiser in recent years of the Tasmanian incarnation of the Latin American Film Festival (LAFF).

“Usually it’s a government that is a ruthless exploiter of the common people, or stealing elections, or corruption and incompetence. Sometimes all of these things.”

Their demonstration is to be held at the Parliament Lawns, Salamanca, from 11am on Saturday 8 May.

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Parra invited any supporters to bring a pot or something to bang it with.

“We call this cazerolazo,” she explained. “It has been a common form of protest in recent times. Even when people were in coronavirus lockdown, they were doing it from their balconies. It’s loud. It resonates. It’s the sound of dissatisfaction.”

Anna Lopez, another Colombian now residing in Hobart, is assisting Parra with the event for which other details are yet to be finalised. The pair say they will promote the event more widely over the next few days.

Background

Unrest has been growing against the government of conservative President Ivan Duque for several years.

Initially the main causes were cuts to the education budget which brought students out on strike to protest. The reform swelled with protests over the targeted assassinations of civil leaders, and the uncertain implementation of the peace accord that followed the end of the long-running war with revolutionary group FARC.

The most recent flare-up has been in relation to a tax reform which would have lowered the income tax-free threshold, extended the 19% VAT to many items currently exempt, as well as increasing taxes imposed on businesses.

There has also been growing anger over the government’s perceived mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. A recent intervention by Duque sought to revoke a lockdown imposed by the mayor of Bogota. This has led to a fourth wave of the virus, with the country now experiencing 120,000 cases a week and over 3,000 deaths.

A ‘national strike’ that started on Wednesday quickly spiralled out of control. Police blamed protesters, reporting that they had made more than 400 arrests nationwide. They also said that across the country 20 public transport buses had been set alight by protesters, 59 businesses had been looted and more than 250 had been vandalised.

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NGO Temblores (Tremors) however has since reported updated figures that are significantly higher (see box).

Protesters had demanded the government to raise corporate taxes and decrease military spending instead of taxing the middle and lower classes.

For the time being Duque has withdrawn the controversial tax package, and Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla tendered his resignation on Monday to clear the way for a new plan.

Opposition groups however feel the government has lost all credibility over the issue, and are not going to back down until sensible reforms are implemented.

Interior Minister Daniel Palacios said that the government will seek to reach consensus with its coalition parties to present a new tax bill to congress. He also confirmed that the administration will hold discussions to listen to independent political parties and and civil groups.

 

 

Source: Tasmanian Times https://www.tasmaniantimes.com/2021/05/hobarts-colombian-community-stands-in-solidarity/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hobarts-colombian-community-stands-in-solidarity

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