Agricultural strike enters fifth day in Colombia

By Richard McColl, Saturday, May 03, 2014

President Santos on the campaign trail while strike continues, promising to create 2.5 million jobs by 2018

President Santos on the campaign trail while strike continues, promising to create 2.5 million jobs by 2018

BOGOTA, Colombia - While Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos continues on the campaign trail across the country in his bid for reelection May 25, the agricultural strikes are now into their fifth day with no sign of conciliatory talks being reestablished between the two sides. 

The agricultural strikes this year began on April 28 when representatives of various agricultural unions began blockading major roads in various departments around the country. Strikers claim the government has failed to make good on promises tabled in 2013 after almost a month of strikes that left Colombia reeling.  

“If the government showed any interest, their ministers would be here, even President Santos, but we can see that the countryside is of no interest to them,” said César Pachón, the representative of the Agricultural Dignity union in an interview with the El Espectador newspaper. 

While concerns continue about the possibility of the strikes growing and further unions taking part, President Santos remained on the campaign trail and informed listeners in the city of Pereira that in March 2014 unemployment rates in Colombia fell from 10.2 percent to 9.7 percent according to official figures from the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE). The DANE’s figures show that there are now an estimated 2.24 million people unemployed in Colombia while 20.8 million are in formal employment. 

“This figure means that a further 380 thousand people who were jobless in 2014 now have Jobs,” said President Santos in his televised speech. He went on to promise a further 2.5 million jobs between 2014 and 2018 suggesting that with a larger and more qualified formal workforce this would be possible. There was, however, no mention made of either the agricultural sector or the on-going strikes.   

Negotiations between the strikers and the government were called off on Wednesday as the government received notice of further blockades. 

“If the agricultural unions can assure the government that they will not promote further blockades, nor incite violence, we will continue working towards the commitments agreed last year,” said Rubén Darío Lizarralde, the Colombian minister for agriculture, in an interview with El Tiempo newspaper. 

The demonstrations of 2013 were to demand subsidies and highlight accusations of general government abandonment of the sector. Farmers and agricultural unions feel overlooked and adversely affected by the international Free Trade Agreements agreed by the current government. 

Land reform and a readjustment of benefits for the agricultural sector have long been a source of discord in Colombia and are seen as one of the reasons for the long running civil conflict. Agrarian reform was the first point on the agenda for the peace dialogues between the government and the FARC guerrillas (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) which have been taking place since 2012 in Havana, Cuba.

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