Ivan Duque, the Statesman
The centre of attention for the international media has been marked by front pages showcasing the violent protests in Colombia. In a successful attempt to romanticize vandalism and terrorism, the protests that once commenced as a disapproval of the Tax Reform Bill have now evolved into an orchestrated attack towards the Colombian institutions.
Diego Molano, the Colombian Ministry of Defence, has recently blamed the Marxists terrorist organizations “FARC” and “ELN” as the perpetrators of the violent targeted attacks towards the Police and Military Forces. This is not surprising, considering how the ELN itself admitted involvement in national protests last year, where there were vile attacks towards policemen. If that was not enough, President Lenin Moreno from Ecuador stated that "The Ecuadorian Intelligence organizations have detected the nasty interference of the dictator Maduro, of the bloody, corrupt hands of that dictator, in what is happening at this moment in Colombia"; a clear explanation of the atrocious attacks experienced by the country, such as when terrorists aimed to burn cops alive.
President Duque, the youngest elected president in Colombia’s 132-years of republic history, has been characterized by a democratic and pragmatic spirit, despite desperate attempts from the opposition to discredit his labour. Notwithstanding the known unpopularity of the purposed reform measure, his intention of a new Tax Bill responds to the fiscal responsibility of a statesman. The IMF affirmed that Colombia spent the equivalent of 4.1% of its GDP on relief measures, following the economic contraction caused by the pandemic (-6.8% on 2020, figure revealed by DANE). If it were not for Duque's pragmatism on implementing policies, the statistic could have been much worse. Relief programs such as supporting vulnerable households “Familias en Acción”, helping families through conditional cash transfers for health and education, or “Ingreso Solidario”, benefiting more than 3 million homes in all the municipalities of the country with economic aid.
While there was a predictable fall in tax revenue during the crisis, all the aforementioned rescue programs were financed through resources obtained by increasing the public debt, intending to postpone the tax reform as much as possible. On these grounds, a tax reform that rises the nation's fiscal earnings and the sustainability of public finances was not an option but a necessity. A spiral of low growth, high unemployment and poverty in the upcoming years will inevitably come if there are no adjustments on the tax collection's policy.
Considering that scarcely 15 months are separating Duque from leaving office, one could imagine that he has no rush nor necessity on pressuring the tax bill for this year. Instead, he can continue the policy of increasing public debt and leave the issue to his successor. Duque risked his image and accomplishments. He has promoted and accomplished the highest education budget in Colombian history, the largest minimum wage salary increase in the last 25 years, corresponding to a 6% rise, the reactivation of more than 20 projects of the Fourth Generation Highways (4G) programme, the largest reduction in illicit cocaine crops in six years, while regularizing the almost million undocumented Venezuelan migrants who arrived in Colombia fleeing the crisis in their home country.
While maintaining fiscal responsibility and putting the interests of the country before his own legacy in office, Duque in an almost politically suicidal act, tried to build a consensus on a tax reform that could fix the imbalance of current accounts while avoiding amajor harm to the finances of Colombian families. Unfortunately for him and the country, the opposition led by former guerrilla member Gustavo Petro generated the false image of him as an irresponsible and incapable President within the population, an image that prompted citizens to take to the streets.
Just as Kennedy failed to invade Cuba through the Bay of Pigs, or as Churchill brought Britain back into the gold standard, a major factor in the following Great Depression, Duque may have been mistaken in his timing of the tax reform. Just as Kennedy and Churchill have been remembered, history will remember Duque as the young, honest, bright and major statesman that he is.
His pride abashed, he removed the tax bill proposed in congress, and stablished a dialogue with opposition leaders and the protests committee to form consensus, all while maintaining a toughness with the terrorists and criminals who have destroyed the streets of Colombia in the misnamed “peaceful protests”.
Duque is not killing Colombians; they are not dying because of him nor the Military Forces. 400 Colombians are dying every day due to COVID-19, while protesters and vandals continue to take to the streets in the middle of a pandemic, ignoring the dangerous implications of it.
Hopefully, sooner rather than later, vandals will realize that the true social detriment comes because of them.
Written by Nicolas Martinez
Nicolas Martinez is a columnist at DecipherGrey.
Photograph: Inter-American Dialogue|Flickr.com