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
Date28 April 2021 – ongoing (1 week and 3 days)
Caused by
  • Duque government's tax reform proposal
  • Massacres in Colombia
  • Police brutality
  • Government handling of the COVID-19 pandemic
MethodsLabor strike, protests, demonstrations, civil disobedience, civil resistance, online activism, riots
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 opposition President Iván Duque
Marta Lucía Ramírez
Diego Molano Aponte
Alvaro Uribe[1]
Tens of thousands
  • 26 (Colombian government)[2]
  • 37 (NGO estimates)[3]
  • 89 missing[3]

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.[4][5][6][7][8]

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 governments of Colombia and Ecuador – citing reports from their intelligence agencies – alleged that the protests were organized by President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela in a foreign intervention effort to install an allied government in Colombia.[9] Most analysts agree that the Colombian government has exaggerated external influences on protests.[10]

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 the actions of police and soldiers during the protests.[11]


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.[4][12]

Ingreso Solidario, a universal basic income social program introduced by the Duque government during the pandemic,[7] had already provided at the time thirteen monthly payments of around US$43 to low-income populations since April 2020.[7] 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.[7] 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".[7]

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.[7] The tax increase on many Colombians was presented as a way to provide US$4.8 billion for Ingreso Solidario.[7] 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.[12][7][13]

A controversial legislative bill, Bill 010, proposed to reform health care in Colombia by making the system more privatized.[8] Plans to drastically change Colombia's health care system amid the pandemic as well as the hasty method used to file the bill – through a special committee in the House of Representatives that did not require congressional debate – also fueled discontent among Colombians.[8]

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.[4][13][14] 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.[15]


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.[16] Disgruntled citizens, however, ignored the public bans on protests.[13]

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.[4][17][18] 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.[17] Two were killed on the first day of protests.[4]

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.[17] Some TransMilenio stations were also closed prior to further protests, with the government stating the closures were due to damage.[17] 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.[12] Protests overall were in smaller numbers across the nation.[12]

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.[19][20][21] 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.[14] 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".[22] In preparation for Workers' Day protests, the government deployed 4,000 troops and police officers to Cali.[22]

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.[14][23] 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).[22][24] During the evening, President Duque said during a speech that he would increase the deployment of troops to cities experiencing violence.[25]

President Duque announced on 2 May that he was withdrawing the tax reform, although he stated that reform was still necessary.[26][27] Duque said that the tax reform "is not a whim, it is a necessity."[28] Despite the elimination of the tax reform, protests continued to be promoted by organizers.[29]

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.[15]

President of Ecuador Lenín Moreno and Vice President of Colombia Marta Lucía Ramírez released statements on 5 May 2021 alleging that the protests were organized by Venezuela, stating that they were supported by President of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro.[9] President Moreno, speaking at an Inter-American Institute for Democracy (IID) meeting in Miami beside Secretary General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro, stated that "the intelligence organizations of Ecuador have detected the gross interference of dictator Maduro, ... in what is happening right now in Colombia".[9] Vice president Ramírez would also release a statement saying that the protests were "perfectly planned, financed and executed" by Venezuela, stating that Maduro was attempting to install an allied government.[9] Minister of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela, Jorge Arreaza, rejected President Moreno's accusations, saying that the Ecuadorian president was attempting to distract from his own "incompetence".[9] Later in the day, protesters attempted to storm the Capitolio Nacional in Plaza Bolívar, Bogotá while some legislative sessions were occurring and were dispersed by authorities.[30]

Protest violence

A protester speaking with members of the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron

Although the majority of protests were peaceful, several acts of vandalism occurred, mainly in Cali and Bogotá. In Cali, several buses and stations of the mass transit system MIO were vandalized and burned.[31][32] About sixty percent of the MIO network was destroyed during protests.[33]

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.[22] Human rights groups at the time provided different numbers, saying that at least fourteen were killed during the protests.[25] By 3 May, the ombudsman reported nineteen deaths related to the protests,[34] 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.[35]

Groups have said that multiple human rights violations occurred during the protests, though the Duque government denies that any occurred.[24] Human Rights Watch said that it received reports of abuse by police officers in Cali.[25] On 3 May 2021, Fecode reported 1,089 instances of police violence, 726 arbitrary detentions, 27 killed and 6 acts of sexual violence.[35] The same day, Temblores reported 672 arbitrary detains and 92 cases of police violence.[35]

During the night and early morning of 3 May, in the city of Cali, 5 people died and 33 were injured due to clashes between protesters and the police and ESMAD.[36] In the Siloe neighborhood, a peaceful demonstration was violently broken up by members of the public force.[37] Numerous videos denouncing acts of brutality by the Colombian authorities were uploaded on social networks and in the media.[37][38] In the La Luna neighborhood, also in Cali, that same night, a hotel was burned. While some versions suggest that a group of people incinerated it, others point out that the fire is the product of the ammunition explosion that ESMAD had.[38][39]

On the night of 5 May, in Pereira, a firearm attack against protesters by an unknown individual occurred, injuring three people.[40][41][42][43] One of the wounded, Lucas Villa, was considered "a peaceful activist and was seen in all the demonstrations singing, dancing", according to his aunt.[40] Social networks of individuals close to Villa indicated that he was possibly brain dead.[41][44] Several people rejected the attack, including President Iván Duque.[45] The Secretary of Government of Pereira, Álvaro Arias Vélez, offered a reward of up to 50 million pesos for those who give information to the authorities that allow them to find the responsibles for the attack.[46]


Allegations of censorship

In Colombia, some in the media have called for internet censorship to prevent unrest, though the majority have called for the preservation of internet freedom.[47] Internet connection is reported to have been cut off in Cali as of 4 May 2021 16:30 local time.[47][48] The Siloe neighborhood was the most affected during an unexpected internet crash, which occurred twice on 4 and 5 May.[49] After the reports and complaints, Emcali explained that "Our fixed internet access service has been working in optimal conditions for our internet clients, Emcali is not a mobile internet operator and guarantees internet service as an essential service in Cali and the area of ​​influence", in addition to indicating that they do not carry out "massive intentional interruptions in the provision of services, public services or telecommunications".[49] Anonymous, who have supported the protests and declared war on the government of Iván Duque,[50] also denounced the status of Colombia's internet.[49] Several users on social networks have rejected the situation and have considered it censorship.[37]

Since 5 May 2021, Instagram users who are sharing content from the protests in their stories – mainly in Colombia – are reporting the application has been erasing this content.[51]

Allegations of disinformation

Caracol and RCN have been criticized for instilling fear against protests and mainly showing and reporting vandalism.[52] Protesters tried to enter RCN facilities on 28 April due to negativity towards the channel.[53]

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.[54][55] Some media, such as Colombia Check and La Silla Vacía, verified that the information was incorrect: the RCN newscast had taken the images out of context and adapted them to a headline that did not correspond to what happened in the place.[55][56]

Social media

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.[57]

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 that Twitter removed for "glorifying violence",[11] ended up being used by some followers of K-pop in Colombia to publish content related to this type of musical genre.[58] Other Uribism trends on Twitter have been covered up by K-pop posts.[58]



Various individuals were in favor of the protests, such as senator and former presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, who invited Colombians to participate in the strike,[59] as well as the senator Gustavo Bolívar. In addition, the actresses Lina Tejeiro and Esperanza Gómez, the comedian Alejandro Riaño, the actor Julián Román, the singers Adriana Lucía, Mario Muñoz, Karol G and other influencers supported protests.[60][61][62] In the same way, Colombian artists such as Shakira, Juanes, J Balvin, Maluma as well as athletes Egan Bernal, Radamel Falcao, Juan Fernando Quintero, René Higuita, among others, have demonstrated in solidarity with the victims, calling for an end to the violence while demanding the government to listen to the Colombians.[63]

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".[11] Twitter removed the tweet, saying that it was an act of "glorifying violence".[11][64] Journalist Vicky Davila, former Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa and former Colombian soccer player Faustino Asprilla rejected the protests.[65][66][67]



  •  Argentina: President Alberto Fernández said he was following with "worry" the events in Colombia and condemned what he called "repression against social protests" and "implemented institutional violence". He also said he was "begging for an end to the conflict."[68]
  •  Chile: The Minister Spokesman for the Government of Chile, Jaime Bellolio, declared that "the violation of human rights must be prosecuted without nuances", when referring to the situation in Colombia.[citation needed]
  •  Peru: The Foreign Ministry of Peru reported that: "it deeply regrets the acts of violence and the victims that occurred in Colombia," and stressed that both countries are united by good relations and cooperation.[69]
  •  United States: The United States Department of State asked the Colombian government for "maximum restraint" on the part of the public forces to avoid further loss of life.[70] In the same way, Democratic House Representative Gregory Meeks demanded a reduction in violence.[71] Democratic Representative Jim McGovern, for his part, denounced the use of excessive force.[70]
  •  Venezuela: The Attorney General of Venezuela, Tarek William Saab, in a message posted on his Twitter account on Sunday noted that: "The Duque Government [is] massacring the population that repudiates the criminal structure of that narco-state." He also questioned the silence of the Organization of American States, the United Nations Organization and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.[72]

Supranational organizations

  •  United Nations: The Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, expressed his concern about the police repression against the protests in Colombia. He invited the Colombian authorities to exercise restraint during the protests.[citation needed]
    • Regarding the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, Commissioner Juliette de Rivero reported that members of the High Commission were threatened and attacked in Cali while investigating the violation of human rights against the protesters.[73]
  •  European Union: The spokesman for the European Union, Peter Stano, said that "we are closely monitoring the situation, and we condemn acts of violence" and reported that "it is really a priority to contain the escalation of violence and avoid the disproportionate use of force".[74]
  • ALBA: Condemned the excessive use of force by Colombian security agents in the protests through a statement: "The Alliance, faithful to the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter, international law, respect for the self-determination of the peoples, social justice and peace, condemns the excessive use of force by security agents of the Colombian State".[75]


Colombian students protest in Tyumen, Russia on 5 May 2021

Protests have also taken place in other countries, such as Chile, Canada, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.[76]

Numerous celebrities including Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian, Demi Lovato, Nicky Jam, Residente, Ibai Llanos, AuronPlay, Luisito Comunica, among others, have expressed their sympathy with the Colombian people and, especially, with the victims of the violence from the police.[63]

Progressive International released a statement condemning police brutality and Duque's government, 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".[77]

See also


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