Colombia adopts new version of tax law that sparked deadly unrest

Colombia on Tuesday adopted a tax reform plan that was at the root of violent anti-government protests that left more than 60 people dead this year, but was eventually reconfigured to be kinder to the middle class and the poor.

President Ivan Duque signed the so-called “social investment law,” which has as its stated objective to combat poverty in a country hard hit by the coronavirus epidemic.

The law “will benefit nearly 29 million Colombians in a vulnerable situation” out of a total population of some 50 million, he said on Twitter.

The reform, approved by parliament last week, aims to collect more than 15 billion pesos (nearly $4 billion).

It aims to provide social assistance to nearly 14 million Colombians, free university education for youngsters from poor backgrounds, the creation of 350,000 jobs for women, and financial support for small and medium-sized businesses.

A first version of the law, presented by Duque early this year to combat the economic consequences of the global health crisis, would have significantly increased taxes on an already battered middle class.

Some 42 percent of Colombians now live in poverty, and more than 16 percent are unemployed.

The tax bill caused a social explosion, with thousands taking to the streets on April 28 claiming they would be left poorer.

The proposal was withdrawn and the finance minister resigned, but the protests morphed into a wider denunciation of the government and the hard-handed response of the security forces, which was internationally condemned.

At least 60 people died in weeks of clashes, according to Colombia’s human rights ombudsman.