2021 Colombian protests

2021 Colombian protests
Top to bottom, clockwise:
Protesters in Cali on 1 May 2021, a group of protesters sitting at the entrance of St. Joseph Church in El Poblado, a protester washing tear gas from his eyes, human rights defenders observing the response of authorities
Date 28 April 2021 – ongoing (1 week and 1 day)
Caused by
  • Duque government's tax reform proposal
  • Massacres in Colombia
  • Police brutality
  • Government handling of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Withdrawal of tax reform
  • Withdrawal of health reform
  • Resignation of President Iván Duque Márquez
Methods Labor strike, protests, demonstrations, civil disobedience, civil resistance, online activism, riots
Status Ongoing
Parties to the civil conflict


  • Central Union of Workers (CUT)
  • Central General de Trabajadores (CGT)
  • Central de Trabajadores de Colombia (CTC)
  • Federación Colombiana de Trabajadores de la Educación (Fecode)
  • Dignidad Agropecuaria
  • Cruzada Camionera
Lead figures
Social Leaders and government oposition President Iván Duque
Alvaro Uribe[1]
Diego Molano Aponte
Tens of thousands
Death(s) 19–27
Injuries 800+
Arrested 500+

A series of ongoing protests began in Colombia on 28 April 2021 against increased taxes and health care reform proposed by the government of President Iván Duque Márquez. The tax initiative was introduced to expand funding to Ingreso Solidario, a universal basic income social program established in April 2020 to provide relief during the COVID-19 pandemic in Colombia, while the legislative Bill 010 proposed the privatization of health care in Colombia.[2][3][4][5][6]

Although the courts had anticipated the protests would be widespread, having had annulled all existing permits out of fear of further spread of COVID-19, the protests began in earnest anyway on 28 April 2021. In large cities such as Bogotá and Cali, thousands to tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets, in some cases clashing with authorities, resulting in at least six deaths. Protests continued to grow over the coming days, and amidst promises by the president to rework his tax plan, they reached a peak on 1 May, International Workers' Day. On 2 May, President Duque declared that he would fully withdraw his new tax plan, though no new concrete plans were announced, and protests continued. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch noted abuses by police against protestors, while former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez called on the people to support police and soldiers acts during the protests.[7]

The protests have also taken place in other countries, such as Chile, Canada, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.[8]


In April 2021, President Iván Duque proposed increased taxes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic in Colombia was beginning to worsen as various healthcare systems were failing throughout the country.[2][9]

Ingreso Solidario, a universal basic income social program introduced by the Duque government during the pandemic,[5] had already provided at the time thirteen monthly payments of around US$43 to low-income populations since April 2020.[5] Three million of about fifty million Colombians were eligible for Ingreso Solidario payments, with the program being at a smaller scale when compared to other Latin American countries.[5] According to Merike Blofield, director of the German Institute for Global and Area Studies' Latin American division, "Compared to other countries in the region, the coverage that Ingreso Solidario offers is extremely weak, ... For the 3 million people that got it, it certainly made a difference. But there were five times as many households that needed it".[5]

The Duque government, seeking to expand the program to include 1.7 million more people and to establish a permanent basic income program, chose to pursue a tax reform for funding.[5] The tax increase on many Colombians was presented as a way to provide US$4.8 billion for Ingreso Solidario.[5] Duque's tax reforms included the expansion of value-added taxes on more products such as food and utilities, the addition of some middle-class earners into a higher tax bracket and the removal of various income tax exemptions.[9][5][10]

A controversial legislative bill, Bill 010, proposed to reform health care in Colombia by making the system more privatized.[6] Plans to drastically change Colombia's health care system amid the pandemic as well as the method the bill was filed – through a special committee in the House of Representatives that did not require congressional debate – also fueled discontent among Colombians.[6]

Colombians – simultaneously experiencing the third-highest number of COVID-19 deaths in Latin America, the worst economic performance in fifty years with a gross domestic product decreasing 6.8 percent in 2020 and an unemployment rate of fourteen percent – were angered by the proposed tax increase and organized a national labor strike similar to the 2019 protests.[2][10][11] In addition to the tax and healthcare reforms, strike organizers demanded a universal basic income at the nation's minimum wage level, additional support for small businesses and the ban on using glyphosate-based herbicides, including other requests.[12]


Protesters in Medellín on 28 April 2021

In preparation for protests, Judge Nelly Yolanda Villamizar de Peñaranda of the Administrative Court of Cundinamarca ruled on 27 April that permits to demonstrate in cities across the country be annulled, banning public demonstrations due to health risks related to COVID-19.[13] Disgruntled citizens, however, ignored the public bans on protests.[10]

Tens of thousands of protesters began demonstrating on 28 April 2021, with strong protests occurring in Cali where the statue of Spanish conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar was torn down by Misak protesters.[2][14][15] In Bogotá, tens of thousands protested and clashes with authorities began later in the day, with four thousand protesters maintaining their activities throughout the night.[14] Two were killed on the first day of protests.[2]

Police presence increased on 29 April, when General Eliecer Camacho of the Metropolitan Police of Bogotá announced that 5,800 police would be deployed during the demonstrations.[14] Some TransMilenio stations were also closed prior to further protests, with the government stating the closures were due to damage.[14] The leader of the Central Union of Workers (CUT) described the 28 April demonstrations as a "majestic strike" and called for further protests throughout Colombia.[9] Protests overall were in smaller numbers across the nation.[9]

Protests would continue throughout Colombia on 30 April – especially in Cali, Bogotá, Pereira, Ibagué and Medellín – with some demonstrations occurring in other smaller cities as well.[16][17][18]

Although the majority of protests have been peaceful, several acts of vandalism have occurred, mainly in Cali and Bogotá. In Cali, several buses and stations of the mass transit system MIO were vandalized and burned.[19][20] The MIO network has been destroyed by 60%.[21] In Bogotá, some people tried to enter the headquarters of RCN Televisión.[22]

President Duque first announced that he would not remove the tax reform, although he later stated that his government would consider removing some of the more controversial proposals from the tax reform plans.[11] The Mayor of Cali, Jorge Iván Ospina, responded to President Duque, stating "Mr. President, the tax reform is dead. We don't want it to cause more deaths. Please, withdraw it, I am asking you for this on behalf of the people of Cali".[23] In preparation for Workers' Day protests, the government deployed 4,000 troops and police officers to Cali.[23]

On 1 May, International Workers' Day, tens of thousands of people protested in one of the largest demonstrations during the wave of protests, with cacerolazos heard in various cities.[11][24] Minister of National Defense Diego Molano, a business administrator, said in Cali "according to intelligence information, criminal and terrorist acts in Cali correspond to criminal organizations and terrorists", relating the protesters to splinter groups of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).[23][25] During the evening, President Duque said during a speech that he would increase the deployment of troops to cities experiencing violence.[26]

President Duque announced on 2 May that he was withdrawing the tax reform, although he stated that reform was still necessary.[27][28] Duque said that the tax reform "is not a whim, it is a necessity."[29] Despite the elimination of the tax reform, more days of protests have been called.[30]

The National Strike Committee announced on 3 May that another day of protests would be held on 5 May, criticizing the Duque government for not convening with groups to make negotiations.[12]

Protest violence

A protester speaking with members of the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron
Colombia students protest. Tyumen, Russia. May 5, 2021.
Colombia students protest. Tyumen, Russia. May 5, 2021.

On 1 May, Ombudsman of Colombia Carlos Camargo said that six had died during protests during the week, including five civilians and one police officer, and that 179 civilians and 216 police officers were injured.[23] Human rights groups at the time provided different numbers, saying that at least fourteen were killed during the protests.[26] By 3 May, the ombudsman reported nineteen deaths related to the protests,[31] while the non-governmental organization Temblores reported twenty-one dead and the Colombian Federation of Education Workers (Fecode), which helped lead protests, reported twenty-seven deaths.[32]

Groups have said that multiple human rights violations occurred during the protests, though the Duque government denies that any occurred.[25] Human Rights Watch said that it received reports of abuse by police officers in Cali.[26] On 3 May 2021, Fecode reported 1,089 instances of police violence, 726 arbitrary detentions, 27 killed and 6 acts of sexual violence.[32] The same day, Temblores reported 672 arbitrary detains and 92 cases of police violence.[32]

Media coverage and use of social media

Several Colombian media and news outlets have reported on the demonstrations.

Despite being among the largest channels in the country, Caracol and RCN have been criticized for instilling fear against protests and mainly showing and reporting vandalism.[33] Protesters tried to enter RCN facilities on 28 April due to negativity towards the channel.[22]

On 30 April, the day President Duque announced changes to the tax reform, in its last broadcast of the evening news, Noticias RCN showed some videos of protesters in the streets of Cali, while a journalist said: "With harangues and singing the anthem of Colombia and the city at different points, [the Caleños] celebrated [Duque's] announcement". Because of this, RCN was criticized for "misinforming" and "lying" about the event.[34][35] Some media, such as Colombia Check and La Silla Vacía, verified that the information was incorrect: the newscast had taken the images out of context and adapted them to a headline that did not correspond to what happened in the place.[35][36]

Several people have used social media to invite people to protest, as well as to denounce acts of repression and attacks by some protesters and members of the public force.[37]

On Twitter, #LaVozDeUribeSomosTodos, which began as a trend used by Uribe followers, due to the removal of a controversial tweet by former president Álvaro Uribe, which Twitter removed for "glorifying violence",[7] ended up being used by some followers of K-pop in Colombia to publish content related to this type of musical genre.[38] Other Uribism trends on Twitter have been overshadowed by K-pop posts.[38]


Former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez, a right-wing politician, tweeted "Let's support the right of soldiers and police to use their firearms to defend their integrity and to defend people and property from criminal acts of terrorist vandalism".[7] Twitter removed the tweet, saying that it was an act of "glorifying violence".[7][39]

Numerous celebrities like Shakira, Juanes, Maluma, J Balvin, Karol G, Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian, Nicky Jam, Residente, Ibai Llanos, AuronPlay, Luisito Comunica, Egan Bernal, Radamel Falcao, Juan Fernando Quintero, among others, have expressed their sympathy with the Colombian people and, especially, with the victims of the violence from the police.

The Progressive International released a statement condemning the policy brutality and Duque's regime, while also calling "the world's progressive forces to answer its call, and hold the Duque government to account in every community, every courthouse, and in every parliament where we work".[40]

See also


  1. ^ "Álvaro Uribe llama al Ejército a que utilice las armas en las protestas en Colombia". El Pais. Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e Semana (29 April 2021). "Paro Nacional: así titularon los medios internacionales la jornada de protesta en Colombia". Semana.com Últimas Noticias de Colombia y el Mundo (in Spanish). Retrieved 1 May 2021.
  3. ^ "Miles de personas marchan en Colombia en protesta por la reforma tributaria en medio de un grave repunte de casos de coronavirus". BBC News Mundo (in Spanish). Retrieved 1 May 2021.
  4. ^ "Thousands march in Colombia in fourth day of protests against tax plan". Reuters. 1 May 2021. Retrieved 1 May 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Rauls, Leonie (29 April 2021). "Could Colombia's Protests Derail its Basic Income Experiment?". Americas Quarterly. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  6. ^ a b c "Armando Benedetti anuncia que pedirá el retiro de la reforma a la salud". infobae (in Spanish). 2 May 2021. Retrieved 3 May 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d colombiareports (1 May 2021). "Colombia's former president 'glorifying violence': Twitter". Colombia News | Colombia Reports. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  8. ^ Heraldo, El. "Colombianos radicados en el extranjero se unieron al paro nacional". EL HERALDO (in Spanish). Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  9. ^ a b c d Acosta, Luis (29 April 2021). "More subdued second day of Colombia tax reform protests". Reuters. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  10. ^ a b c "Protesters March In Colombia Against Plan To Raise Taxes In Pandemic-Wracked Economy". NPR. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  11. ^ a b c "Nuevas protestas contra la reforma tributaria en Colombia | DW | 1 May 2021". Deutsche Welle (in Spanish). Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  12. ^ a b "Centrales obreras convocan nuevo paro nacional para el 5 de mayo". infobae (in Spanish). 3 May 2021. Retrieved 3 May 2021.
  13. ^ "Tribunal ordena aplazar marchas contra la reforma tributaria". El Heraldo (in Spanish). Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  14. ^ a b c d "Paro nacional en Bogotá: cerca de 5.800 policías acompañarán las protestas convocadas para este jueves". Semana (in Spanish). 29 April 2021. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  15. ^ Grattan, Steven. "Thousands march in Colombia over tax proposals, rising insecurity". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  16. ^ "Paro Nacional, hoy 30 de abril: protestas y manifestaciones en Bogotá, Cali, Medellín..." AS Colombia (in Spanish). 1 May 2021. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  17. ^ "Tercera jornada del paro en Cali: siguen plantones y bloqueo de vías". www.elpais.com.co. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  18. ^ "Atención: continúan las marchas del paro nacional en Ibagué este primero de mayo". El Nuevo Día (in Spanish). Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  19. ^ Tiempo, Casa Editorial El (28 April 2021). "Paro nacional en Cali: el MIO afectado por ataques de manifestantes". El Tiempo (in Spanish). Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  20. ^ Tiempo, Casa Editorial El (30 April 2021). "Paro nacional: atacan estaciones del MIO y bloquean vías en Cali". El Tiempo (in Spanish). Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  21. ^ "Al menos dos muertos en Cali en otra jornada de protestas contra la reforma tributaria en Colombia". BBC News Mundo (in Spanish). Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  22. ^ a b Tiempo, Casa Editorial El (28 April 2021). "En medio de protesta, grupo de personas intentaron ingresar a RCN". El Tiempo (in Spanish). Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  23. ^ a b c d "Five civilians and one police officer die in Colombia protests". CNN. 2 May 2021. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  24. ^ "Colombians keep protesting even after unpopular tax plan is axed". AFP. 2 May 2021. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  25. ^ a b "La Jornada - Masivas protestas en Colombia contra reforma tributaria". La Jornada (in Spanish). Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  26. ^ a b c "Colombia tax protests: six dead as marchers clash with police for fourth day". The Guardian. 2 May 2021. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  27. ^ Cobb, Julia Symmes (3 May 2021). "Colombia's president withdraws tax reform after protests". Reuters. Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  28. ^ "Duque retira la reforma tributaria del Congreso y pide tramitar un nuevo proyecto". elpais.com.co (in Spanish). Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  29. ^ Espectador, El (2 May 2021). "ELESPECTADOR.COM". ELESPECTADOR.COM (in Spanish). Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  30. ^ Tiempo, Casa Editorial El (3 May 2021). "Así avanzan movilizaciones de este lunes; Comité dice que paro sigue". El Tiempo (in Spanish). Retrieved 3 May 2021.
  31. ^ Turkewitz, Julie (3 May 2021). "In Colombia, 19 Are Killed in Pandemic-Related Protests". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  32. ^ a b c "Al menos 17 muertos y más de 800 heridos en las protestas de Colombia de los últimos días". BBC News (in Spanish). Retrieved 3 May 2021.
  33. ^ "RCN y Caracol, los otros derrotados con el paro nacional". Las2orillas (in Spanish). 3 May 2021. Retrieved 3 May 2021.
  34. ^ Pulzo; Pulzo.com. "ONG lidera críticas a Noticias RCN por "desinformar" y "mentir" sobre marchas en Cali". pulzo.com. Retrieved 3 May 2021.
  35. ^ a b Espectador, El (1 May 2021). "No, Cali no estaba celebrando los cambios en la reforma: ¿qué pasó en realidad?". ELESPECTADOR.COM (in Spanish). Retrieved 3 May 2021.
  36. ^ "Detector: Caleños no estaban celebrando cambios a la reforma, como dijo RCN". La Silla Vacía (in Spanish). Retrieved 3 May 2021.
  37. ^ de 2021, 1 de Mayo. "Denuncian con videos en redes sociales ráfagas de fusil y disparos en Cali". infobae (in Spanish). Retrieved 3 May 2021.
  38. ^ a b Tiempo, Casa Editorial El (3 May 2021). "Seguidores colombianos del K-pop desvían atención de hashtag uribista". El Tiempo (in Spanish). Retrieved 3 May 2021.
  39. ^ "Twitter oculta un tuit de Uribe por incitar a la violencia en Colombia". EFE (in Spanish). Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  40. ^ "SOS Colombia". Progressive International. Retrieved 5 May 2021.