Written by Santi, our long term ESC Volunteer
Colombia has made it to worldwide media this month with clashes between citizens and PM Iván Duque’s government, sparked by proposed tax increases for people already highly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. This is the story of Matheo Dávila Castaño, a Colombian national who marched the streets of Cardiff, along with supporters, on May 7 in solidarity with his country.
My name is Matheo Dávila Castaño, I’m 29 years old and I am originally from Colombia. This is the first time in my life that I see a national strike of this magnitude. As people may know worldwide, Colombia is a controversial country when tackling violence, drug trafficking and social policies. More recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has hit Colombian citizens extremely hard. Contrary to other parts of the world, vaccine rollout is very poorly managed and lacks resources. That of course puts people down, and the general sentiment is fear, anguish and anxiety.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has hit Colombian citizens extremely hard”
The national strike is a consequence of a tributary reform introduced by PM Iván Duque to collect taxes. As usual, the greatest impact falls into middle class. Obviously, most of the people refused this biased regulation and went on strike throughout the country. We are all very angry because the government is implementing these regulations and at the same time limiting people’s right to protest on the streets. There has been a clear abuse of power by local and national authorities including police and the military. Local spaces are now militarized.
For example, my family lives in a little town called Cocorná in the region of Antioquia where most people are farmers and cattle breeders. Those people are protesting peacefully, but local authorities are counteracting by sending out an excessive use of their military force… Why? That is the biggest reason to keep protesting on the streets. There have been dead protestors all over the country and politicians haven’t spoken out! Not a single one of them. People are very discontent. Media keeps categorizing us as rebels, sensationalism frames us as violent people. We are just protesting peacefully.
“We are just fighting for […] respect to human dignity and freedom of speech”
Of course, there are others here and there who protest violently, but the vast majority are good people. There are so many others without resources that don’t even march because they have to focus on earning their living. We just don’t agree with being taxed higher when minimum wage doesn’t even allow a normal family to pay their monthly rent and food. Additionally, those reforms are aiming at privatizing health services and other social resources.
PM Iván Duque and the government will have to talk with the people or the national strike is unlikely to stop just now. We need to reach an agreement. We are not even talking about first-world amenities such as the ones people have in Europe, United Kingdom and the US. Since we have been so impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, we are just fighting for justice and fairer social policies including education, health and most of all, respect to human dignity and freedom of speech.