The decision of Colombia’s House of Representatives to approve a tax reform widely rejected by the public and economists is a major blow for democracy.
The tax reform, which includes tax discounts for large companies, only benefits the rich without stimulating economic growth, according to 70 of the country’s top economists who asked Congress to sink the bill.
Additionally, the reform will gradually reduce the country’s tax revenue without the government having a solution for the growing deficit, according to economic think tank Fedesarollo.
To make matters worse, according to former Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas, the reform puts the country’s credit rating at risk.
In short, Colombia’s government will have less budget and increased difficulty to access credit, if all goes according to the economists’ projections.
When multiple branches of government fail
For those who have studied the different campaign proposals, it has been clear since before last year’s elections that President Ivan Duque and his far-right Democratic Center party consider their four years in office a get-rich-quick scheme.
Congress’ failure to block this kleptocratic use of power does not just threaten the economy and the already weak state, it further erodes Colombians’ confidence in their democratic institutions.
Colombians from the left to the right have taken part in the largest anti-government protests in more than four decades and have made their disapproval of Duque and his far-right party clear both in local elections and opinion polls.
If their elected representatives also betray their constituencies while the executive branch violently represses constitutional rights and liberties, people are left without peaceful tools for dissent provided by democracy.
Some will conform to this, but some will not.
This is where the guerrillas come in
The increasingly authoritarian behavior of the Duque administration and Congress’ mind-boggling inaction are fuel to fire for the country’s armed conflict.
As has been proven many times in the history of Colombia, state failures to act in the public interest or function as a democracy have provided the perfect excuses to take up arms.
Colombia’s last-standing guerrilla group and FARC dissidents are likely to capitalize on the situation by using the failure of peaceful resistance to justify and promote armed resistance. This must be discouraged.
Unless the Constitutional Court intervenes, little can be done to prevent the damage done to Colombia’s economy. The country’s voters will simply have to wait until 2022 and elect better politicians next time.
But efforts to safeguard democracy while it is under increased threat must urgently be stepped up.
Most imminently, I believe it is important to maintain the protests peaceful and actively counter any attempt to either promote violent opposition to the government or the state.
At the same time, Duque’s dictatorial tendencies must be stopped in their tracks. Fortunately, the country’s top courts have proven to be reliable partners in this.
The pending imprisonment of Duque’s political patron, former President Alvaro Uribe, and the ongoing investigations of the war crimes tribunal and the International Criminal Court will remind the president he is not king.
The criminal investigations into recent human rights violations will also put the out-of-control security forces in their place.
Last but not least, social leaders and emerging political leaders must restore faith in democracy, initially by showing how it’s done, secondly by promoting political participation and lastly by guaranteeing free and fair elections in 2022.