Gustavo Petro, considered Colombia’s first left-wing president, proposed an $11 billion tax plan to the national congress to increase social spending. Petro’s campaign promises to improve crime rates by investing in rural areas that have been plagued by drug-related violence for years.
Colombia has long been troubled by civil violence from protests and guerrillas. The Colombian peace accord referendum held in 2016 was supposed to end the conflict between the government and guerrilla groups that had terrorized the nation and recruited civilians into their conflicts for more than 50 years. However, this peace agreement did not succeed.
Many hope that the new welfare policies implemented through Petro’s tax plan will more effectively consolidate the results of the referendum.
In addition to declaring his intention to resume negotiations with armed groups, Petro promises new subsidies for poor single mothers, as well as free tuition for students. The new social assistance that Petro’s policies will provide will reduce the appeal of drugs and crime as a source of income for disadvantaged people in Colombia: as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 40% of the Colombian population lives now in poverty. With fewer people in the drug business, the hope is that there will be less drug-related crime, and therefore less senseless violence.
Petro’s additional plans include removing all police from military control, reopening relations with Venezuela and abandoning oil – a major export – to reduce Colombia’s high income inequality.
Taxing Colombian citizens has been tricky in the past. Much of the population works in the ‘informal economy‘, in jobs where income is not taxed or formally treated. Conservative President Iván Duque’s efforts to raise income taxes and some sales taxes last year sparked massive protests, in which more than 50 people were killed.
In contrast, Petro’s new finance minister said the new tax reform plan would only attempt to raise income tax on the richest 2% in Colombia, leaving the rest of the population alone. This will prevent the mass protests seen in the past, the minister said.
“We are incredibly happy,” said Maydany Salcedo, a 47-year-old social leader from the southwestern province of Putumayo, on the day of the inauguration. “But poor farmers’ expectations are high for what Petro can do and we hope his talk won’t be limited to paper.”