Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos declared on Tuesday that Vice President Angelino Garzon will lead the dialogue with tens of thousands of striking coffee growers.
The appointment came after the vice president made his availability known on Monday saying, “I am available if the President authorizes, to negotiate with all of the directors of the coffee strike, that we don’t discriminate [against].”
Garzon has told strikers to “respect” emergency vehicles and allow ambulances and medical supplies to pass through the roadblocks.
Santos also sent a group of ministers to different areas around the country to establish direct dialogues with coffee strike leaders.
Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzon was sent to the southwestern department of Nariño on Monday to help mediate the strike, and to warn strikers that they could be arrested for blocking roads.
For his part, from southwest Huila department Labor Minister Rafael Pardo echoed the VP’s concerns regarding the free passage of emergency vehicles through the roadblocks.
“The proposals of the government are given. My task in Huila is to find solutions to the humanitarian crisis,” said Pardo on Monday.
Tens of thousands of Colombian coffee growers have been demonstrating and blocking the highways in 10 of Colombia’s 32 departments since February 25. They have demanded that the government provide more subsidies to the industry that has been hit hard by low prices, years of flooding and a mold that killed off much of the crop.
The Santos government has responded by arguing that the current administration has already given the coffee industry more subsidies than any prior Colombian government, and that there simply aren’t enough resources with which to provide more subsidies.