Colombian strike threats turn into Santos administration’s perfect storm

Protester surrounded by tear gas in Catatumbo (Photo: Marcha Patriotica)

Colombian students said Monday they will join truckers, health workers, coffee farmers and miners in a planned national strike in August, further increasing pressure on the government, which has been unable to reach consensus with already striking farmers and miners.

The students of the National University, Colombia’s largest public university with campuses in seven cities, will go on strike on August 19 over alleged broken government promises over budgets and the appointment of a rector.

Subsequently, Colombia’s largest student organization called on its members to take to the streets on August 29. The last time the organization called for a strike, they were able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of students, effectively shutting down Colombia’s cities.

The wave of strikes began in June when farmers in the northeastern region of Catatumbo laid down work, took to the streets and eventually blocked roads and clashed with security forces over demands for more autonomy and the suspension of coca eradication programs while coca farmers are not offered alternative income to sustain their families. The violence between police and farmers led to the death of four protesters and was condemned by the United Nations.

The farmers were joined by miners earlier this month. The small and medium-sized mining companies on strike have said the government is favoring multinational mining companies over domestic, smaller mining companies in the concession of mining rights while criminalizing informal miners. In clashes with police that followed this strike, two miners were killed.

MORE: Miner Strikes Turn Violent In Western Colombia: 2 Killed

Meanwhile, coffee farmers announced that they will return to the streets to demand that promised government aid for the sector be delivered. Nearly 100 thousand coffee growers took to the streets earlier this year demanding compensation for losses made due to low coffee prices and disappointing harvests. The strikes in March shut down parts of the country and images and video of police violently repressing the coffee growers’ protests spurred Santos’ approval rating to drop.

On Sunday, Colombia’s truckers — who have long been complaining about high fuel prices and freight tolls– announced that they, too, will join the strikes in August, also claiming the government failed to keep promises made to end a strike earlier this year.

MORE: Colombia Truckers End Strike After Deal With Govt

The wave of strike announcements is increasingly turning into the perfect storm for Santos, who is facing elections within a year and is trying to negotiate peace with rebel group FARC while his approval rating is slowly dropping below his disapproval rating.

As Santos has failed to end the ongoing strikes that have already shut down parts of the country, other sectors announced that they will join the strikes.

With the inclusion of truckers and students, the strikes have turned into a major public security challenge as the truckers on several occasions proved able to effectively block major highways and the students successfully shut down the capital Bogota when taking to the streets in 2010.

Additionally, leftist rebel groups like the FARC have expressed their support for the strikers. The FARC went as far as to offer to arm the striking peasants in the northeast to defend themselves against police. This proposal was rejected by the farmers.

MORE: FARC Offers To Arm Revolting Peasants; Protesters Pass And Seek Refuge Abroad

Other agricultural workers have threatened to join the already announced strikes, further increasing pressure on Colombia’s security forces who, while already controversially dealing with public order challenges posed by the protests and strikes, also need manpower to fight urban crime and rebel groups that have been trying to oust the government since the 1960s.

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