Colombia prepares for renewed farm strikes
Colombian farm representatives ratified plans over the weekend for a new national agricultural strike this April 28. Led by worker organization Dignidad Agropecuaria, the announcement comes amid complaints of government failure to fulfill its obligations to the sector.
"After several meetings with the interior minister, Aurelio Iragorri; agriculture minister, Rubén Darío Lizarralde; finance minister, Mauricio Cárdenas and other government officials, requests were not answered for full implementation of the agreements signed by official representatives with different agricultural sectors during 2013," the organization said in the ratified document.
In August, Colombia's agricultural sector carried out another national strike, lasting around three weeks, that brought severe disruptions and clashes with authorities. The demonstrations resulted in a range of government compromises, including regulation of pesticide and fertilizer prices, elimination of tariffs for certain products and direct fertilizer importation.
Dignidad Agropecuaria and other farmer organizations said the government has failed to keep its word.
Dignidad Cafetera, or Coffee Dignity, representative Luis Gonzaga told RCN Radio that the government, "only listens to us when there strikes and protests."
"Unfortunately, the government has not been fulfilling its agreements, so we have made the decision to carry out a peaceful strike. The unconformity here is on part of the entire agricultural sector before the government's attitude."
Dignidad Agropecuaria called on all municipalities across Colombia to begin making plans for the strike. Various bodies, including coffee, potato and rice representatives, had already confirmed plans to join the movement.
Víctor Correa of Dignidad Cafetera said the strikes would not stop Colombia's coffee harvest because the sector could not afford to incur more losses. Due to economic limitations, he said this round of protests may only last one or two days.
"We don't have plans to interrupt the coffee harvest. We need it after so many years of crisis," he told Reuters.
The coffee sector said the government has failed to pay subsidies promised to farmers who have now incurred nearly US$68 million in debt under the scheme.
"They have not paid a single peso in 2014 to coffee producers that sold their grains to private buyers," Dignidad Agropecuaria said.
The organization has also criticized controls for contraband products and what it described as unnecessary imports of products such as sugar, onions and beans. In the coffee sector, growers have asked for greater restrictions on imports from Ecuador and Peru, which it said drive down prices.
President Juan Manuel Santos questioned motives behind the strike, which are planned just a month out from national elections.
"Sadly, objective reasons to go on strike do not exist at the moment. This government has not only been in continuous dialogue, fulfilling promises made to farmers and the agricultural sector, but we have also made Colombia's farms a priority," Santos told Reuters.
Related stories: Clashes continue in Colombia’s ag strikes
Photo: Coffee farm in Colombia, by Triángulo del Café Travel via Wikimedia Commons