The first day of farmer protests that mobilized hundreds of thousands of Colombia’s agrarian workers on Monday were “not of the expected magnitude,” said President Juan Manuel Santos on Monday.
“The strike really has not been of the magnitude we expected. There were a few roadblocks. The security forces have been unblocking these points … and have been able to take action to guarantee security,” said the president.
The first day of strikes called by truckers and an accumulation of agrarian workers, led to violence in the first hours of Monday when protesters tried to block highways and subsequently clashed with police. According to radio station RCN, one protester got killed in riots. Police say 22 people were arrested and at least seven were injured.
At the end of the first day of strikes — that are expected to expand on Tuesday as the strikers will be joined by health workers, coffee growers and university professors — protesters had blocked seven to 14 of Colombia’s main highways.
Authorities and protesters disagreed on the turnout of the strikes organized by agrarian rights groups and supported and promoted by leftist political movement Marcha Patriotica. During the day, the police said some 60,000 people were taking part in the protests, while the Marcha Patriotica told Colombia Reports approximately a million people were taking part.
The roadblocks and traffic jams caused by tens of thousands of protesting truckers caused a decrease in incoming food trucks in the capital Bogota, reported RCN, adding that food merchants feared price speculation as strikes go on.
In spite of the incidents and the magnitude, the first day of the biggest anti-government protests in recent history went relatively calm.
On Tuesday, professors of the National University and health workers will be joining the truckers and farm workers, taking the protests to the cities. A spokesman of the health workers’ union told Colombia Reports last week that he expects some 15,000 health workers will be marching.
The strikes come at a time when Santos is already facing a steadily dropping approval rating while maintaining peace talks with the country’s largest rebel group, the FARC.