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Colombians turn out in droves to protest 50% gasoline price hike

  • Colombians took to the streets in thousands in cars and motorbikes to express their anger over the recent petrol price hike by the government of President Gustavo Petro.
  • The protests came amid growing dissatisfaction with the leftist Petro government.
  • Gasoline prices in Colombia have risen by 5,000 pesos ($1.21) over the past year.

Thousands of protesters in cars and motorbikes took to the streets of major Colombian cities on Monday to protest the recent petrol price hike that has caused fuel prices to soar in Colombia, South America.

Protesters say monthly price hikes imposed by Colombia’s first left-wing government could make it harder for small businesses to operate and push up food prices.

But President Gustavo Petro’s government says the gasoline subsidies will cost about $11 billion a year. It said subsidies to pay off debts to state oil company Ecopetrol, which produces most of the country’s fuel, need to be removed and more money made available for social programs.

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The protests come amid growing dissatisfaction with Petro’s government, a year after he took office promising to reduce poverty and bring peace to the country’s remaining rebels.

The Petro government has stifled violence in the country’s rural areas and is struggling to revitalize Colombia’s economy, which is expected to grow just 1% in 2023 according to the International Monetary Fund.

“This government is making anti-business decisions,” said Alejandra Mendoza, manager of a small business that transports frozen food and other goods for supermarkets in Colombia. She wore the company’s yellow jacket to attend Monday’s protests.

“Costs have increased by a third and we have to adjust our budget every month because of the gas price hike,” Mendoza said.

Petrol prices in Colombia have risen from 9,000 pesos ($2.50) a gallon last August to more than 14,000 pesos ($3.40) now, as the Colombian government cuts monthly subsidies.

A motorbike caravan protests recent petrol price hikes in Bogota, Colombia, Monday, August 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

Colombian Treasury officials have said they want gasoline prices to drop to 16,000 pesos (about $4) a gallon by the end of the year, which would cut current gas prices in the United States, where the federal minimum wage is set. Reflecting that, this is more than four times the $280 monthly minimum wage in Colombia.

In July, the ministry announced a subsidy for the diesel used in most of Colombia’s freight trucks. It will be phased out after the city council elections in October, and the price of diesel fuel will double by the end of next year.

Petro argued that state petrol subsidies primarily benefit wealthy Colombians who own cars. But he has indicated that he is willing to negotiate gasoline prices with some groups.

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The Petro government last weekend signed an agreement with taxi drivers’ unions across the country to freeze gasoline prices for an estimated 200,000 yellow taxis in the country.

But Colombian opposition lawmakers say the government needs to go further because gasoline price hikes are also hurting delivery workers, drivers and small business owners struggling to recover from the pandemic. there is

Rep. Jennifer Pedraza, who helped organize Monday’s protests, said the government could help ease rising fuel prices by lowering excise taxes on gasoline and diesel.

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“People are asking the administration to negotiate different gasoline policies,” he said, adding that it was time for Colombia’s National Oil Company to “be concerned about making gasoline affordable for all.” added.

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