Coffee farmers from western Colombia have sued the government, demanding an end to restriction of the production of lower-quality Colombian coffee and the import of foreign coffee of that quality, the farmers said Wednesday.
The farmers charged that government policies “violate the fundamental right to equality” due to firm government restrictions on what coffee farmers can and cannot grow and export, in turn forcing them into economic plight, the lawsuit — of which Colombia Reports received a copy — said.
“Commercial inequality against 560,000 peasant families who grow coffee in Colombia comes to light when assessing that national coffee producers cannot export similar quality imported for domestic consumption, causing an oversupply of green coffee consumption,” said the lawsuit. “All to the detriment of domestic producers and their dwindling income.”
What is troublesome, according to the farmers’ statement, is that Colombia imports some 80% of coffee that is domestically consumed from neighboring countries with lower quality standards. Colombia imports this lower-quality coffee from countries like Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru, the farmers said. The same lower-grade coffee that Colombian farmers want to sell, but cannot, matches the grade of imports from neighboring countries.
As a result, said the court papers, coffee farmers must throw out huge amounts of coffee.
Though the economic woes coffee farmers face are mighty, they might not be classified as legitimate violations of fundamental rights, Senator Jorge Robledo told Colombia Reports during a telephone interview.
“It seems strange to me that there would be violations of fundamental rights,” said the Senator.
Coffee farmers blame the National Coffee Growers Federation and the Ministry of Agriculture for the existing situation. Both of these entities, along with President Juan Manuel Santos and Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas, have participated in dialogue with coffee growers throughout the first half of this year.
The result of those discussions yielded a plan to prop up the coffee growers by subsidizing their falling incomes. Santos’ administration responded with $443 in aid for coffee growers.
But now some coffee farmers — mostly small producers — claim it is impossible to access the government’s subsidies. According to them, this is because a special coffee growers’ identification card is needed to apply. Many small coffee farmers do not have it. Colombian Senator Carlos Baena has asked the Ministry of Finance to scrap this rule and allow small farmers to access the subsidies.
In a response, Colombia’s coffee growers federation, FedeCafe, said that this is a misunderstanding and that coffee farmers need nothing but their normal identity papers to demonstrate they are bona fide coffee growers in order to claim the subsidy.
The costs of the coffee growers’ bedlam have put an ugly dent in the Colombian economy. A recent analysis published by economic research think tank ANIF found that some 117 days of strikes from the final quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013 have cost the Colombian economy $470 million.
Growers in the coffee sector are angry. And they have planned another big strike in August, in turn piling on more pressure for President Santos who already faces the pinch of his nearing November deadline for finalizing the peace talks with the FARC in Havana. That, coupled with new threats of strikes in other agriculture sectors and the mining business, make for a hydra-headed problem to get under control.
- Accion de Tutela
- Interview with Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo
- Costo económico de los paros y descarrilamiento institucional de Colombia (ANIF)
- Senador Baena asegura que siguen trabas a los cafeteros (Vanguardia)