Santos has himself to blame for losing rural support in Colombia elections: Farmers

(Photo: Vanguardia Liberal)

Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos has himself to blame for losing electoral support on the countryside after numerous protests to improve living conditions were mishandled, according to rural leaders.

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Where Santos has faltered, hard-line candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga (Democratic Center — Centro Democratico) gained convincingly in the countryside in the first round election held in late May, according to Cesar Pachon, leader of the Potato-Growers’ Dignity labor group in the central state of Boyaca and one of the figureheads of ongoing national strikes.

A month before the ongoing presidential elections, Colombia saw the second national agrarian strike in less than one year. The farmers, whose ultimate tool for being heard was protesting, mobilized nationwide to demand their rights and ask for better working conditions.

MORE: Colombia’s farmers begin national strike, government deploys 10K police

Farmers decided to temporary call off the national strike as they did not want to interfere with the presidential elections.

In a communicate posted on social media on May 17,  Pachon announced that the strikes will be held in abeyance during the presidential elections as “farmers want to express our deep respect to democracy.”

This, however, does not mean that farmers have reached any sort of agreement with the government. To the contrary, farmers have constantly complained about government’s negligence and indifference towards the problems farmers are facing.

“It is not the fault of the farmers, but the fault of those who abstained from voting and of the left.”

Farmers’ disagreement with president Santos’ government is to be visible in the presidential elections as it is speculated that farmers will not endorse Santos in being re-elected.

One week before Colombia’s presidential election, hard-line candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga struck a deal with striking farmers on Sunday, strengthening his already strong electoral base in rural areas in the center and central southwest of the country.

The deal was signed with regional chapters of the Agricultural Dignity movement in the states of Huila and Cundinamarca where Zuluaga’s rival, incumbent president Juan Manuel Santos faced fierce rural protests over an economic crisis on the countryside.

MORE: Zuluaga strikes pre-election deal with striking farmers in key rural states

Huila strike leader Wilian Gonzales confirmed the deal signed between farmers and Zuluaga and said his organization struck a deal with Zuluaga out of sheer disappointment with the governments.

“Santos failed to comply with the country’s farmers, he never met with us and this is why there is a big percentage of people supporting Zuluaga, because Santos failed on us” said Gonzales, adding that “the big majority of the agricultural sector from Huila are with Zuluaga and this is the reality.”

MORE: Rural protests turn violent in southwest Colombia

“I see Santos enclosed in a capsule from where he doesn’t want to interact with society.”

Pachon, who has refused to endorse either candidate, said that “there are no options to chose from. It would have been great if we had two opposite candidates and people could choose freely. But the two candidates are very similar and it makes it very complicated. Besides, they both stand for the neo-liberal model which is against agriculture and the country’s development.” said Pachon.

“It is not the farmers’ fault for having these two options. It is the fault for that 60% of the population who didn’t vote and let others decide for themselves and for the left party for fighting between them and not staying united” Pachon added.

When asked about the two candidates’ initiative for the agricultural sector, Pachon expressed his disappointment with president Juan Manuel Santos, saying that he did not try to get closer to the farmers during these elections and has constantly “underestimated” the farmers.

“President Santos didn’t want to meet with us. If he doesn’t talk to us now, how will he treat us in the following 4 years? (…) He underestimated us in the strikes, he doesn’t give us clear answers, he doesn’t give us resources for the farmers commuting from the north or south of the country. We can not even get in touch with the minister now, we are talking to the subordinates who have no power in decision-making.” said Pachon.

The other candidate, on the other hand, did make an effort to meet with the farmers and present his proposals for the agriculture sector. According to Pachon, farmers met with Zuluaga, “were listened to and listened to him [Zuluaga],” adding that they would have liked a similar approach from Santos.

In one of his last campaign rallies, Santos apologized to farmers in the Boyaca state on Sunday for having denied the existence of rural strikes that hit the rural northeastern state particularly hard in August last year.

The president, dressed in a traditional ruana overcoat with a campaign logo on it, attempted to regain confidence and voters in the state where new strikes were suspended for the duration of the elections.

MORE: Santos apologizes to farmers over strike denial as campaign comes to end

However, the president’s initiative to visit Boyaca is not enough for the striking farmers. According to Pachon, “Santos gathered public officials of the city hall of each village, not the farmers. It would have been great if he had met with the farmers, we would have helped to call all the farmers and discuss and find out what would happen to us in the next 4 years if he is re-elected.”

In what concerns the continuity of the national strikes after the presidential elections, Pachon said that farmers will discuss and analyse the situation and that it depends on the elected candidate as well.

Polls that were released on Friday indicated contradictory possibilities for Sunday’s electoral outcome; One pollster said Santos was clearly leading the race, another said the same about Zuluaga, while a third said both candidates were tied.

Source

  • Interview with farmers’ leader Cesar Pachon
  • Interview with Coffee growers leader from Huila state Wilian Gonzales

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