Colombian President Presents Social Welfare Tax To Combat Drug Violence

Gustavo Petro, considered Colombia’s first leftist president, has proposed an $11 billion tax plan to the nation’s congress in order to increase social spending. Petro’s campaign promises to improve crime rates by investing in rural areas that have been plagued with drug-related violence for years.

Colombia has long been troubled by civilian violence due to protests and guerrilla warfare. The Colombian Peace Agreement Referendum brought forth in 2016 was supposed to end the conflict between the government and the guerrilla groups who had been terrorizing the nation and recruiting civilians into their disputes for over 50 years. However, this peace accord was not successful.

Many are hoping that the new social welfare policies implemented through Petro’s tax plan will more effectively solidify the Referendum’s results.

On top of declaring his intent to renew negotiations with armed groups, Petro is promising new subsidies for poor, single mothers, as well as free tuition for college students. The new social aid Petro’s policies will provide will lower the appeal of drugs and crime as means of income for Colombia’s disadvantaged: in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, about 40% of Colombia’s population now lives in poverty. With fewer people in the drug trade, the hope is that there will be less drug-related crime, and thus, less senseless violence.

Additional plans from Petro include removing all police from military control, re-opening relations with Venezuela, and moving away from oil – a top export – to reduce Colombia’s stark income inequality.

Taxing Colombian citizens has been tricky in the past. Much of the population works in the “informal economy,” in jobs whose income is not taxed or formally processed. Conservative President Iván Duque’s effort to raise income taxes and some sales taxes last year sparked massive protests, during which more than 50 people were killed.

By contrast, Petro’s incoming finance minister said the new tax reform plan will only attempt to raise income taxes on Colombia’s wealthiest 2%, leaving the rest of the population be. This will prevent the mass protests seen in the past, the minister said.

“We’re incredibly happy,” Maydany Salcedo, a 47-year-old social leader from the southwestern Putumayo province, said on inauguration day. “But the expectations of poor farmers are high for what Petro can do and we hope that his discourse won’t be limited to paper.”