Fed up with Santos, Colombia’s workers, students and farmers go on strike

(Image credit: RCN Radio)

Colombia’s largest labor unions and a myriad of social and student organizations begun a major national strike on Thursday, citing major nonconformity with the government’s socio-economic policies.

The strike is organized by labor unions, farmers, truckers, miners, students and citizen groups, who blame the government for economic hardship caused by dropping oil prices, widespread corruption and controversial policy decisions.

The organizations delivered an entire list of reasons for the strike, including the recent sale of the state’s stake in one of Colombia’s largest energy providers during an ongoing energy crisis, a recent minimum wage hike that in effect reduces half Colombia’s labor force’s spending power, the country’s collapsing healthcare system and a series of promises allegedly never kept by the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos.

The strikers’ demands

  • Emergency measures for the north of the country where children have been dying of hunger
  • Compliance with previously made agreements between the administration and protesters
  • Increase in minimum wage and transport subsidies
  • End to privatization of key energy companies
  • Revision of free trade agreements, for example the one with the US
  • Nationalization of the country’s failing healthcare system
  • Enhanced labor security
  • Protection of Colombia’s ecosystems from multinational mining companies
  • Reduction in fuel prices
  • Rejection of a possible sales tax increase and a more progressive income tax system
  • Support for farmers and effective policies to help coca farmers grow legal crops
  • Dismantling of the ESMAD riot police unit
  • Improved system for pension savings
  • Regulating financial speculation
  • Increased efforts to combat widespread corruption

“Be aware, Mr. President, of the tragedy our children live in many place in Colombia where, in a macabre death dance thousands of children die of hunger, thirst and all kinds of diseases because of the abandonment of your government and a vile an arrogant ruling class,” the organizations said in an open letter to Santos.

The organizations also blame the government for the dozens of killings of leftist leaders that have taken place ahead of the strike, according to the leftist Patriotic Union party, whose members were the victim of a political extermination campaign in the 1980s and 1990s.

Colombia’s left fears political extermination following 29 murders in 2 weeks

“Far from being dismantled, paramilitarism continues to be rampant throughout the national territory sowing death and terror, forming an obstacle and the threat to the guarantees citizens should enjoy for the simple exercise of their rights and their survival,” the groups said.

The administration of former President Alvaro Uribe officially dismantled paramilitary umbrella organization AUC between 2003 and 2006, but according to demobilized paramilitaries and arrested neo-paramilitaries, this demobilization was only partial.

The groups formed from the AUC during and after this demobilization have since become the primary human rights violator in Colombia, regularly threatening or assassinating rights workers or displaced farmers trying to reclaim land that was stolen from them.

The administration is currently carrying out peace talks in Havana, Cuba with leftist FARC guerrillas, hoping that this group also will disarm.

The labor unions and social organizations demand the government grant them the same respect and cordiality as the FARC, a designated terrorist organization.

“We ask the national government that in the same way negotiations are held in Havana, the complaints and participation of labor and social sectors are attended and that civilians’ protest is respected.

Thursday’s strike opposing Colombia’s unpopular president was preceded by a taxi drivers’ strike on Monday and will be succeeded by conservative opposition strike in two weeks.

The last time a major strike took place was in 2013, when striking farmers were joined by truckers and miners who shut down parts of the country, causing food shortages in the cities.

Dozens of protesters died in clashes with riot police while hundreds were arrested.

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