Agricultural protests disrupt Colombian capital
By Richard McColl, Thursday, May 08, 2014
BOGOTA, Colombia - Riot police have been deployed in Bogota as students from various universities in the capital protested in favor of agricultural reforms and the strikes which on Thursday entered their tenth day.
Students from three universities, the Pedagogical, the National and the District, blocked major thoroughfares, burned tires, threw debris at authorities and disrupted downtown Bogota for roughly six hours before calm was restored. Since the agricultural strikes began on April 28, an estimated 120 people have been injured nationwide and talks between the government and the farmers’ unions have frequently stalled.
“The door is open to the unions for when they feel it is the right time,” said Rubén Darío Lizarralde, Colombian Minister for Agriculture in an interview with El Tiempo newspaper.
“We are going over the agendas agreed last year,” he said. “We are not going to increase or open new debates.”
The strikes are a repeat of nationwide demonstrations that took place in August, 2013 which paralyzed the countryside leaving five people dead and scores injured. Colombian farmers are protesting various issues including international Free Trade Agreements and the costs of fuel and transport which they say are detrimental to their livelihoods.
While agreements were reached on these terms last year, bringing about an end to over 20 days of nationwide blockades, representatives of the farmers unions say that the government has failed to comply with what was agreed upon.
“The strike is a complicated issue and I have the feeling that what is happening has a great deal to do with influencing the presidential elections in 18 days,” said Leonardo Villar, Director of the Foundation for Superior Education and Development (Fedesarrollo) in an interview with El Espectador newspaper.
The government of President Juan Manuel Santos, who is seeking re-election on May 25, will be looking to move swiftly on the current strike as indigenous groups have said that they plan to join in, swelling the numbers of protestors.
While the government claims that only two major roads are blocked across all Colombia, in the southern department of Huila, there has been no compromise reached.
Land reform and agricultural rights are a source of major discontent in Colombia and many believe that this is the cause of the long running civil conflict. The first item on the agenda for the peace dialogues taking place in Havana, Cuba between the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas and the government which commenced in 2012 was the issue of agrarian reform.
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