Colombian cyclist Nairo Quintana has spoken out in support of the striking farm workers in his home department of Boyaca.
The national hero, who came second in this year’s Tour de France, the most important cycling competition in the world, rejected the heavy-handed nature of the security forces’ response to the strikes in Boyaca.
“We hope that [the government and the strikers] come to some agreement at the negotiation table, something just and dignified, so that [the farm workers] can continue to work,” he said in an interview with RCN radio.
He lamented the situation in Boyaca, in which young people do not want to work in the fields because they’ll barely make enough to survive. “It’s so sad when you see them take out their bag of potatoes in the square. It makes you want to cry, because it won’t even make them enough for the public transport.”
Quintana remembered that when he was young, his parents had their land taken away from them and they could barely grow enough to eat.
Boyaca has seen the most violent clashes between police and protesters during the strikes, which began on August 19th. Local and national authorities have typically attributed rock-throwing and road blocks during the protests to rebel groups and outside militarism, claiming that the protests have been “infiltrated by student extremists” who need to be met with appropriate force.
A protest organizer in Boyaca, Cesar Panchon, has, in turn, accused the government of giving protesting farmers “vicious beatings.” In a radio interview on Thursday, he said that “they’ve stabbed peasant farmers, shot them, broken cars, stolen money and cellphones.” He also said that videos of protesters throwing stones “don’t show everything.”
Nairo Quintana’s public show of support for the protesters is another sign of the growing agitation in the country. More than 10,000 people participated in “cacerolazos” — protests in which participants bang on kitchen pots and pans — held throughout Colombia’s major urban centers Monday night in support of the agricultural strike, as new labor and social groups announced they will be joining Colombia’s striking farmers, miners, health workers and truckers in protest activities.
President Juan Manuel Santos’ government has tried to calm the situation through localized negotiations, but the government has not helped itself by arriving six hours late to its first meeting with the striking farmers in Boyaca on Tuesday.