Mass protest have erupted in Columbia as thousands troop to the streets and major cities on Monday to condemn and reject recent gasoline prices increase that have resulted in escalating hike in prices of fuel in the South American country.
Thousands of protesters in Colombia’s major cities took to the streets on vehicles such as cars and motorbikes to express their discontent with recent increases in gasoline prices, which have significantly raised fuel costs within the country.
The demonstrators argue that these monthly price hikes, implemented by Colombia’s first leftist government, are creating challenges for small businesses and could contribute to higher food prices.
Colombia protests fuel price hikes amidst Petro’s administration
President Gustavo Petro’s administration, however, justifies the removal of gasoline subsidies, which amount to around $11 billion annually.
The government claims that these subsidies need to be eliminated to pay off debts to the national oil company Ecopetrol, the primary producer of the nation’s fuel, and to allocate more resources for social programs.
The protest comes amidst growing dissatisfaction with Petro’s leadership, one year after his inauguration with promises of poverty reduction and reconciliation with remaining rebel groups.
Petro’s administration has struggled to curb violence in rural regions and stimulate Colombia’s economy, projected to grow by a mere 1% in 2023 according to the International Monetary Fund.
Protesters like Alejandra Mendoza, who manages a small frozen food transportation company, voiced concerns about their businesses being negatively impacted by the fuel price hikes.
Gasoline prices in Colombia have surged from 9,000 pesos per gallon in August of the prior year (equivalent to $2.50) to over 14,000 pesos currently ($3.40) as the government incrementally reduces subsidies.
Colombia’s Finance Ministry aims to reach a gasoline price of 16,000 pesos per gallon (approximately $4) by the year’s end.
However, this aligns with current U.S. gas prices, even though the U.S. federal minimum wage is over four times higher than Colombia’s monthly minimum wage of $280.
While some concessions have been made, such as freezing gasoline prices for taxis, opposition members urge the government to go further, considering the adverse impact on delivery workers, drivers, and struggling small business owners in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Calls for alternative policies, such as reduced sales taxes on fuel, are resonating among the protestors, who seek more affordable gasoline accessible to all.