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Deadly Protests Continue In Colombia

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Protests over the president of Colombia's plan to raise taxes have turned deadly. At least 19 people have died following a crackdown by the police in response, and starting last week, tens of thousands have taken to the streets. The president has since walked the plan back. The finance minister announced he'll resign. However, it's done little to quell protesters' momentum.

Earlier today, we spoke with Ramon Campos, an independent journalist from Colombia, about why and what the protesters say is so problematic with the tax plan.

RAMON CAMPOS: The tax reform bill has lots of different elements, but the most problematic one was the fact that the government was proposing to apply a VAT tax to different food staples that didn't have it before. So coffee was one of them, and it really sort of broke the camel's back because coffee has never had a VAT tax in Colombia - coffee and other elements, too, also things like electricity and water, things that people need to have in their homes.

CORNISH: The president has walked this back. The finance minister's announced he'll resign. Can you explain why people then are still protesting?

CAMPOS: So the tax bill was really, you know, the immediate excuse to come out to the streets, but Colombia had, you know, a lot of underlying issues that were building up. So one of them is the systemic violence. Like, lots of social leaders have been killed since the peace deal with the FARC was signed. And the government has really not implemented the necessary measures to protect social leaders. That's one of the main demands of the protest movement.

Also, the government decided to abandon the peace process or the implementation of the peace process. Formally, they keep at it, but on the ground, people see that the peace process is, you know - is full of cracks, and it's beginning to fail. It's an accumulation of facts that the government has failed to sort of address in the past three years since the government of Ivan Duque took power.

CORNISH: In the military and the police, there has been outcry about the way they have cracked down on protesters. Is that also fueling the continued demonstrations?

CAMPOS: Of course. I mean, this government has been characterized by responding to demonstrations very violently. So last year in September, the police came out and shot 14 people and killed 14 people in the streets of Bogota. And that, you know, sort of stayed in the common conscience.

CORNISH: How has the government responded on that issue?

CAMPOS: There's a very worrying silence on the part of the government.

CORNISH: Where do you see this headed? I know there have been calls for another demonstration on Wednesday, but is there anything like a solution or resolution in sight?

CAMPOS: Well, right now it's very hard to predict. The protests, as we have seen, go beyond the tax bill, and they go in the realm of human rights, the peace process and just the general sense of discontent that's spreading around the country. And since the government's response has been exclusively violence and not - they haven't done anything to negotiate with the protesters, then it's hard to know where it will go from here.

CORNISH: Ramon Campos is a journalist who's been covering the protests in Colombia. We spoke to him from Miami.

Thanks so much for your time.

CAMPOS: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF TANGERINE DREAM, WOODY JACKSON, THE ALCHEMIST, OH NO AND DJ SHADOW'S "LOS SANTOS AT NIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.