Tuesday, September 03, 2013


Well, it is certainly going on in Colombia where the multitudes have had enough nonsense for a lifetime.  Everyone from farmers to teachers to healthcare workers to miners to truckers have been on strike and protesting for a while now.  Hundreds of thousands are out protesting the government for its trade and agricultural polices, for the price of gas and fertilizer, for crop subsidies...and more.  

Colombia Reports tells us who is striking and why:

Health workers

Health workers are striking against recent health sector reforms passed by Congress.

“We have exhausted the tracks of dialogue and therefore define the realization of a strike from August 19 to press the government to try and hear both our demands and aspirations,” Hector Gaviria Alviz, President of the national trade union of workers and public health (ANTHOC) told Colombia Reports.

MORE: Colombia’s health workers join farmers, miners and coffee growers in strikeAccording to the unionist, the health workers “wish to remove the economic concept of health and ensure that the service be provided directly by public hospitals and municipal authorities” instead of corruption-ridden health care providers that fail to pay hospitals on time.

Alviz additionally claimed that current health workers at present have no economic stability “as they are hired to work for two, three or maybe four months only.”

According to the unionist, recent legislation passed by congress only “increases instability among health workers,” added Alviz.

Coffee Farmers

Coffee farmers are striking because the sector claim that subsidies promised by the government to compensate for falling international coffee prices has never reached farmers.

In march the government agreed to pay coffee farmers a subsidy known as the Grower Ingress Protection, which guarantees that they will not lose money with the fluctuation in grain prices.

The production costs of coffee are between $335 and $365, while its market price is approximately $245. The subsidy of $85 promised by the government barely compensates for the loss.

Vicor Correa, one of the coffee strikes organizers, told Colombia Reports however that such subsidies have “not made it to the farmers yet.”


Truckers are striking against high gasoline prices.
In February the government raised the price of fuel by 6%, resulting in a strike by the truckers. After no reduction in fuel costs, the truckers have decided to continue demonstrations.

MORE: Colombia truckers go on strike

The president of Colfecar (Colombia’s road freighters union) Jaime Sorzano said that constant increases in fuel prices have “become intolerable and unsustainable.”
The price per gallon of gasoline is now $4.82 in Bogota. The share of an average wage to the price of gas puts Colombia in the top 10 of Bloomberg’s “pain at the pump” rankings.

“This hike has no purpose and is not in [step] with the quality of infrastructure…[the] quality of roads, the expensive tolls and the price of diesel and biodiesel,” said Sorzano.

The union leader said that approximately 34 percent of truckers’ costs is fuel, so with each increase the business becomes less profitable.
University teachers

University teachers are striking over the government’s alleged failure to honor agreements made after earlier strikes this year.

In an interview with Colombia Reports, FECODE Secretary General Rafael Cuello Ramirez detailed the issues at stake.

“Last May 21, we signed an act of agreement with the Education Ministry; those terms, however, have been delayed by the national government, specifically the Minister of Education. We agreed on a text, and it was written, but the spirit of what was agreed to hasn’t come to fruition,” said Ramirez.

The most blaring inconsistency has to do with the state’s allegedly continued delinquency on the sizable debts it owes its education employees.

“Today, the [Education] Ministry’s debt to retired pension and benefits funds exceeds $49 million…we’re asking the government to open up just $1.7 million in the budget it is supposed to pass October 31 to go toward the amortization of its debt,” added Ramirez.

One of the more pressing concerns for FECODE regarding the government’s faulty debt payments is the financial welfare of education employees whose contracts have been terminated, in many cases because of cost-cutting measures.

“Right now we have been notified of 15,000 severances but do not have the money to pay any of the teachers [their severance packages].”


Miners have been striking since July 17 demanding the repeal of a decree that orders for the destruction of machinery used in the informal, and according to the law illegal mining industry.

Stella Luz Ramirez, executive director of the Confederation of Colombian miners justified the strike, stating “the national government has failed us twice. On July 25 last year we agreed not to strike because the government pledged to improve conditions in the sector, but they once again broke their word. This time, we will not yield.”

Miners are seeking the repeal of decree 2235 of 2012, which authorizes the destruction of machinery used in exploration of minerals without legal authorization.
Ramirez argues however, that the decree “violates due process and the right to self defense” as it has led to the destruction of materials used in the informal mining industry.

Miners have called for the government to create a law, clearly differentiating between informal, and illegal mining.

Rice growers

Rice growers are striking as the government has failed to respond to their letters, in which they have put forward a four point plan that they feel could bring the sector out of its current state of crisis.

The rice farmers’ four main propositions are as follows:

  • Prices: The first point that the farmers are claiming is related to establishing new base prices per field, per year, which, according to producers, would allow them to judge how much each harvest would make and how much to sow.
  • Control of imports: Another demand is that the government shut off the importation of rice from the United States and Andean Community Nations (CAN) such as Peru and Ecuador due to the increase that they say internal demand has on prices.
  • Contraband: In addition to these imports, rice farmers point to contraband as a factor in the sector’s troubles. More stringent border control from the government is called for to stem the entry of contraband rice into Colombia.
  • Modernization: Finally the farmers are asking for resources in order to modernize, in particular, machinery for the post-harvesting process.

Sugar cane cutters

Sugar cane cutters want to be directly hired for the companies that they work for.

Prior to the reform of Colombian labor law in 1990, this was the case. The legislation however, allowed for the sub-contracting of work through labor intermediaries which severed the relationship between employee and employer.

Jhonsson Torres, Vice President of Sinalcorteros (sugar cane union) explained the impact of the legislation.

“The law ended labor stability for workers. This was when the plantations took advantage and removed the cane cutters from collective bargaining agreements. We became contractors,” said Torres. “My father made good money. We lost all that.”

Putumayo peasants

Putumayo peasants are striking because they disapprove of the governments manual eradication of coca in the region.

Many of Putumayo’s peasants grow coca as they say it is they're only means of economic income.

Without adequate alternative development plans in place, the destruction of coca crops in the region leaves the peasants with no viable source of income, they say.

Whoa, that is a bag full of unhappy folks who ain't wanting to take it no more.

Colombia’s national miners union (CONALMINERCOL) announced Tuesday it will be lifting its national work stoppage after nearly two months of nationwide strikes.  According to Colombia Reports:

The exact details of the deal are set to be released by CONALMINERCOL leaders Tuesday afternoon, but Ramirez said it will only prove effective in dealing with the ongoing struggles of Colombia’s independent mining sector if the government follows through on its promises.

“We are here in part because the government refused to honor its word,” said Ramirez. “If you study each of the protest movements, that is the common theme. Everyone had deals with the government, and the government refused to fulfill its promises. We have provided oversight measures to ensure the government’s compliance with our [most recent] deal, but we have no way of knowing if they will work or not.”

With the formal resignation of the 16 presidential cabinet ministers, senior advisers and secretaries on Monday, the government is trying to send a message to the public that it is dealing with the severe crisis that erupted in recent weeks, according to El Tiempo newspaper.

Earlier today it was announced that four Colombian soliders who had been taken captive while trying to infiltrate the protests have been released.  NTN24 writes:

According to farmers protesting in the area, the alleged infiltration of the protest movement by the Colombia Army soldiers was aimed at creating instability and violence.

The troops' release comes after three local officials were detained by protesters in Antioquia and then later released the same day over the weekend.

A group of Canadian organizations, NGOs and unions released a statement yesterday in support of the strikers and condeming the repression activists have met from security forces.

We the undersigned organizations stand in solidarity with Colombian rural peasant farmers who along with other members of civil society, including miners, teachers, medical professionals, transport workers, and students have undertaken nationwide strikes. This past weekend an estimated 200,000 people blocked roads and marched peacefully across Colombia to protest the negative impacts on their communities of the U.S.-Colombia and Europe- Colombia Free Trade Agreements.

There is a growing discontent with Free Trade Agreements that benefit only large multinational corporations and impose privatization, deregulation and anti-union policies. President Juan Manuel Santos government’s economic policy known as “locomotora minero-energetica” is promoting the development of large scale mining and resource extraction in the hands of multinational corporations many of which will benefit Canadian companies like Pacific Rubiales Energy and Gran Colombia Gold at the expense of small scale local miners and workers.

We condemn the heavy handed tactics of the riot police who have used violence in the form of beatings, arrests and tear gas on peaceful protests in an effort to crackdown on civil society. Civil society is also condemning the targeted arrests and detention of peasant and labor leaders like Mr. Ballesteros, the Vice President of the Agricultural workers union, FENSUAGRO who was recently elected to the Executive Board of the trade union central CUT. Mr. Ballesteros is an organizer and spokesperson in the labour movement and has played a significant role in the current strikes.

We are also alarmed by the irresponsible comments of Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon who claimed that the striking workers are being controlled by "terrorist” groups.

We support civil society calls for President Juan Manuel Santos to guarantee the democratic right for peaceful protests and to establish a meaningful dialogue with striking sectors that will allow their demands to be met.
Bolivarian Circle Louis Riel
British Columbia Teachers' Federation (BCTF)
Christian Peacemaker Teams Colombia
Common Frontiers
Comité pour les droits humains en Amérique latine
Council of Canadians
Idle No More
The Colombia Action Solidarity Alliance (CASA)
The Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network (LACSN)
United Steelworkers (USW)

The following report is from the Alliance for Global Justice is a few days old but informative.

Brutal Repression of National Strike in Colombia-Santos Declares Militarization of Bogotá

by James Jordan

Colombian Armed Forces have brutally attacked members of the “Paro Agrario” National Farmers and Popular Strike, with at least four to five persons dead and reports of hundreds wounded. Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, dismissing strikers as vandals, has ordered the militarization of the capital city of Bogotá and places throughout the country, vowing to deploy 50,000 soldiers. Santos accused the popular peace movement, the Marcha Patriótica (Patriotic March) of fomenting the violence, saying, “We know the Marcha Patriótica seeks nothing but a situation without exit to impose its own agenda. The interests of the peasants don’t mean anything to them, nor do regional accords: the only thing that matters is their political agenda.” What Santos does not seem to understand is that the Marcha Patriótica is largely made up of peasant groups, including Colombia’s largest agricultural union, FENSUAGRO. The fact that Marcha Patriótica leaders have been chosen to represent strikers, and the widespread participation in the strike itself, both expose the lie of Santos’ declaration.

The national strike was called following attacks against peaceful protesters in the Catatumbo region, which set off a national movement. Demands include popular participation in the peace process, an end to Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) that threaten the livelihoods of family farmers and workers, and government fulfillment of unkept promises for infrastructure development and Peasant Reserve Zones in rural areas.

Starting around mid-afternoon on Thursday, August 29, 2013, violent crack downs on protesters were carried out by ESMAD, the Colombian riot police, in Bogotá. Eyewitnesses told us ESMAD attacked demonstrators with bricks and tear gas. Telesur reports 89 wounded in the city and in a more recent report by Ecuador’s El Comercio, the number was raised to 200. Similar events were unfolding in cities and departments throughout Colombia, including Tolima, Meta, Guaviare, Antioquia and elsewhere. Radio Caracol lists five persons killed, including two in Bogotá, one in Soacha (a Bogotá suburb), one in Coyaima, Tolima, and one in Rionegro, Antioquia. FENSUAGRO reports two farmers killed and four wounded in Tolima. El Espectador also published photos documenting police attacks against journalists covering the strike in Medellin, and FENSUAGRO has informed us of attacks in Bogotá against reporters for Contagio radio.

The Alliance for Global Justice (AfGJ) is especially distressed to hear about the arrests in Tolima of Jailer Gonzalezand Maribel Oviedo, with whom we visited in both our last delegations to Colombia. Jailer is the President of ASTRACATOL, the Tolima affiliate of FENSUAGRO, and Maribel is the Educational Secretary. In 2011 the Colombian Armed Forces illegally apprehended Jailer. He was released only after a campaign of national and international pressure. In March of this year, Maribel was threatened with execution by members of the Colombian military who held her hostage in a farm house for two days. Before her cell phone was confiscated, she was able to alert community members about her situation. When we visited Maribel in April, she also credited national and international intervention for her safe release. Jailer and Maribel are husband and wife, with two daughters, one an infant. We are very concerned for the entire family during this difficult time.

I spoke to July Henriquez, a lawyer for the Lazos de Dignidad (Links of Dignity) organization who provide support for Colombian political prisoners, and for ASTRACATOL. I wanted to ask for more information about Jailer and Maribel. However, at the moment I contacted her, she was in the streets of Bogotá and told me that national strike supporters were under attack. She reported that, “At this moment we are in a critical situation in Bogotá. Since 2pm, the police have been committing abuses against the protesters from the National Farmers Strike and damaging the property of downtown residents.”

An international labor activist living in the area, who asked to remain anonymous, described “…a scene of utter chaos. I was observing in the march all day. ESMAD was extremely aggressive. A lot of people were arrested. This is particularly worrying because most of the human rights organizations and lawyers are in the field in verification missions and so on….I witnessed ESMAD throwing bricks into a crowd of mostly nonviolent protestors, with representatives of the mayor’s administration and the ombudsman’s office dodging them. I also saw quite a few crowds of totally peaceful protestors getting gassed by mobile police units on motorcycles.”

These attacks are the latest in a series of harsh actions taken by the state against growing protests 0010091470around the nation. Peasant farmers are demanding the government honor agreements to protect their farms by establishing Peasant Reserve Zones and building basic infrastructure for rural areas, such as good schools, roads to get crops to market, support for crop substitution to replace coca cultivation, and basic health facilities.

We at AfGJ are especially concerned because of the targeting of FENSUAGRO, the Marcha Patriotica, and the strikers’ chosen representatives in negotiations with the government. The arrest of Hubert Ballesteros was a major blow to the entire process for peace.[Click here to send an email demanding his release.] He is Vice President of FENSUAGRO and a member of the Executive Committee of the United Workers Center (CUT), Colombia’s largest labor federation (which includes FENSUAGRO). Hubert is one of ten primary negotiators for the national strike. More than that, he is an adamant supporter of just peace through negotiations. I first met Hubert in 2009 when he helped organized one of AfGJ’s delegations. In several discussions Hubert repeatedly told us two things that Colombians were asking of us in the United States: to end support for war and repression in Colombia; and to advocate for a peace process based on dialogue including not only the armed actors, but all the people. Hubert was arrested on August 26th and charged with “Aggravated Rebellion”.

The crackdown has been difficult for the embattled ASTRACATOL union in Tolima. In May, Guillermo Cano was arrested and charged with “Rebellion”. He is the Human Rights Coordinator for ASTRACATOL, and a member of the FENSUAGRO Executive Committee. He was arrested, along with eight other activists from ASTRACATOL and the Tolima Marcha Patriótica, just days after attending a United Nations forum on popular participation in the peace process. By removing ASTRACATOL’s President, Human Rights Coordinator and Educational Secretary, the representation of Tolima’s peasant farmers and agricultural workers is seriously compromised.

For Fensuagro nationally, it is the same situation. Since the 2011 installation of the Marcha Patriótica, there has been a spike in arrests and assaults of Fensuagro and other Marcha leaders. Aggressions against rural human rights defenders are at a ten year high, and forced displacement has risen by 83%. It is clear that the Santos Administration is trying to break Fensuagro, the Marcha Patriotica, the national strike and the entire agrarian movement.

The United States is continuing policies that encourage state violence and violations of basic human, labor and civil rights, having spent more than $8 billion on Plan Colombia, the US sponsored war plan. The US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and active support for Colombia’s integration into NATO show that the White House is less interested in peace than in rewarding displacement and brutality when it advances corporate interests. By jailing farmers, workers and peace and justice activists, the Colombian government is systematically removing those who stand in the way of further acquisitions of resources and profits for big landowners and transnational corporations.

This coming Wednesday, September 4th, 2013, is the first anniversary of the Colombian government accord with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) that began the current peace process. It is interesting that at the same time that Santos was ordering attacks on protests around the country, that the FARC released a statement calling for a bilateral cease fire for the upcoming 2014 elections.

What you can do:

  • September 4th is SOLIDARITY WITH COLOMBIAN FARMER/LABOR DAY! It is also the first anniversary of the beginning of the peace process between the Colombian government and guerrillas. We are asking people to jam the Colombian Embassy and Consulates with calls demanding an end to repression of the national strike and for the immediate liberty of the unionists and peasant leaders Hubert Ballesteros, Jailer Gonzales and Maribel Oviedo. We are further urging people to contact their Representatives and ask them to act to suspend the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and to end all aid to Colombia until these three are freed and the repression has ended.

CALL THE COLOMBIAN EMBASSY:  202-387-8338 Fax: 202-232 8643

No comments: