SAN JOSE – Dozens of strikers protesting against a proposed tax overhaul in Costa Rica surrounded Congress on Friday, where lawmakers began a debate on the bill.
Chanting slogans such as “not one step back,” striking union workers have remained outside Congress despite the rains affecting the whole country and a heavy police presence.
“We are here fighting for the people. We do not want more taxes that affect the poorest among us,” Alberto Muñoz, one of the protesters, told EFE.
Inside the chamber, several opposition legislators criticized the governing PAC party for rushing the tax proposal to the floor without prior hearings and consultations.
Opposition lawmakers’ arguments, however, were ignored by congressional speaker Carolina Hidalgo, a PAC member.
The lawmakers could vote on the bill later on Friday, depending on the number of legislators who wish to speak.
Unions have been striking for 26 days to oppose the bill, which they believe will mostly affect the middle class and low-income people, sparing corporations and wealthy people.
The protesters have demanded that lawmakers withdraw the bill and negotiate a new piece of legislation based on union proposals.
According to the government, 80 percent of the new revenue created by the tax overhaul will be paid by corporations and the richest 20 percent of households.
The centerpiece of the plan calls for converting the existing national sales tax into a value added tax of 13 percent levied on a broad range of goods and services, including some that are now exempt.
Also part of the bill are changes in income and capital gains taxes, as well as measures targeting the pay of public employees.
The government says it needs additional revenue to reduce the budget deficit, expected to reach 7.1 percent of GDP this year.