What is happening in Sri Lanka? The keys to the conflict

(CNN Spanish) — After President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed interim president of Sri Lanka on Wednesday amid the serious political conflict unleashed by the economic crisis and protests in the country in recent months, pending new elections.

Wickremesinghe ordered a curfew in Colombo, one of the country’s two capitals, and the rest of Sri Lanka’s western province after police fired tear gas into the crowd outside the prime minister’s office, he told CNN. a ministry official.

How did this chaotic instance come about and what exactly is going on in Sri Lanka?

The worst economic crisis in decades

Massive anti-government protests in Sri Lanka began in March, in a context of a severe economic crisis in the country – the worst since independence in 1948— with inflation, electricity cuts and shortages of basic goods, including fuel, food and medicine.

Specifically, shortages are caused by the historic drop in foreign currency reservesmaking it impossible to import these goods.

Protesters swim in presidential swimming pool after storming palace in Sri Lanka 0:42

The crisis is largely financial: in the last decade Sri Lanka has borrowed vast sums of money to finance public services and its huge deficits, said to CNN Murtaza Jafferjee, president of the Colombo-based Advocata Institute.

The stagnant economy was later beaten by natural catastrophes, such as the heavy rains brought by the monsoon, the terrorist attacks of 2019, which affected tourism, and also the pandemic of covid-19and the Government tried to stimulate activity by reducing taxes.

The measure worked against: the collection collapsed, affecting Sri Lanka’s credit rating, and the country was left with almost no access to new loans. Thus, the Government began to use its foreign currency reserves to pay its debt, affecting the ability to import goods.

Of the US$6.9 billion it had in 2018, the Government started this year with just $2 billion in reserves.

One of the latest pieces of bad news came in March when the government let its currency, the Sri Lankan rupee, float freely. giving beginning of a strong devaluation against the dollar.

For Sri Lankans all this translates into a daily routine of wait in long lines to receive basic items that are under ration, if they arrive at all, amid power outages. Sometimes the long wait has led to clashes between civilians and the police and military guarding the process.

In the midst of this, the trains reduced its frequency, the sick cannot reach hospitals because there are no means of transportation due to lack of fuel, and the prices of food, including rice, are skyrocketing.

According to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, year-on-year inflation I pass from 3.7% in January 2021 to 14% in December, and by May 2022 it had already reached 45.3%.

And many merchants have had to close because they cannot operate refrigerators, fans and air conditioners due to the lack of electricity.

The Government’s Response

Rajapaksa, accused of high-level corruption and economic mismanagement that would have bankrupted the country, became the main target of protesters’ criticism.

The president, on the other hand, has said in an April statement that “the current crisis is the result of various economic factors and global developments,” also blaming the COVID-19 pandemic covid-19.

sri lanka conflict

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. (Credit: ANDY BUCHANAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The Government tried to mitigate the crisis with a series of measured actions, including going to the International Monetary Fund and establish four day workweek but anyway at the beginning of July it was noted that the country had barely enough fuel for one day, and Tuesday of last week bankruptcy was declared.

The four-day week aimed, among other things, at allowing people to spend one day a week growing food in an attempt to make up for shortages, said in June the Government. People were also encouraged to work abroad and send money to relatives.

The situation erupted on March 31, when protesters threw bricks and lit fires in front of the president’s residence. The Government responded by sending the police to disperse the protest with tear gas, and stating the national emergency on April 1.

But the protests, and the arrests – whose numbers reach hundreds of people-they continued.

The resignation of the president

On Saturday, four months after the protests began, Rajapaksa agreed to resign after more than 100,000 people gathered outside his residence calling for his resignation.

That day some of the protesters broke into the property and bathed in its pool, while the president was transferred to a safe place by his security services.

Rajapaksa agreed that the resignation, which would leave him without presidential immunity and potentially exposed to a series of legal charges, would take place this Wednesday, but he finally fled to the Maldives before making the formal presentation, and pending the elections scheduled for 20 July.

The president cited a section of the constitution that allows a prime minister to “perform the powers, duties and functions of the office of president” when the president is ill or “absent” from Sri Lanka.

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