President Juan Manuel Santos admitted Thursday that problems facing Colombia’s agricultural sector amount to “a crisis,” calling the agriculture strikes gripping the country a “storm” that his government must and will be able to navigate.
“There is a crisis in the agricultural sector,” he said, “a crisis we have to face, and one from which we are going to move forward, because this country has an immense potential in that sector.”
The president attributed the desperate economic conditions of Colombia’s rural population to “the accumulation of abandonment and a lack of policy in the agricultural sector during a period of many, many years.” At the moment, he said, Colombia is “paying the price” for that long history in the form of ongoing road closures throughout the country, work stoppages and massive nationwide protests.
At no point in the speech, however, did the president acknowledge the role his government has been accused of playing in fomenting the protests by media and many from within the protest movement itself. Nor did he mention the other major sectors on strike, an omission perhaps indicative of his government’s refusal thus far to acknowledge or negotiate with the various national labor bodies.
Instead, the president highlighted his administrations efforts to “focus on the rural sector” and establish “dialogue with various sectors long before” the start of the strikes last week.
Meanwhile, leaders of the national agricultural body have told Colombia Reports they have still received no direct contact from the president or his administration, and other negotiating teams, such as the ones representing Colombia’s teachers, health workers and university students claim their attempts to initiate conversations with the government have gone unanswered, even after having submitted national declarations to the relevant government ministries or entering strike activities.
What organizers did report was excessive used by state forces in response to the protests.
The president did not provide specific details as to how he plans to solve the deepening social crisis, but said that his job as chief executive is to “remain calm and follow the course” of economic globalization laid out by his government, a policy organizers within the agricultural protest movement say is directly responsible for their plight.