Colombia’s Vice President announced that the country’s Minister of Agriculture will resume negotiations with agricultural leaders in search of a deal to end ongoing nationwide agrarian strikes, national media reported.
According to Vice President Angelino Garzon, the Minister of Agriculture Ruben Dario Lizarralde is willing to resume dialogue with leaders of the Agrarian Dignity who represent the farmers protesting across Colombia for the last 12 days, Radio Santa Fe reported.
The talks between the government and the strike leaders were suspended on Tuesday in the Capital Bogota after the parties could not reach an agreement on the issue of refinancing the debts of small farmers. The negotiations were to reopen after the board of the Agricultural Bank met to establish the amount of debt to refinance.
Colombian farmers and small-scale miners have been protesting in a number of states across the country to highlight promises they claim the government has not delivered since the previous agrarian strikes last fall.
Garzon denounced the vandalism that has occurred during the strikes, and warned protesters that while they have a duty to defend the human rights of the people, they must respect the physical integrity of police and soldiers.
In turn, the Minister of Agriculture said the government is completely willing to continue the dialogue, but that “incitement to violence, looting and blocking the roads” is not acceptable.
Lizarralde added that strike leaders are “saying the government ended the talks and left the table. I have to say very clearly that this is not true. After we had negotiated for a day, they began to question the agreement and eventually left the table.”
The Minister, who yesterday met with other sectors, such as representatives of small farmers of La Mojana and the National Agricultural Unit, said that “all agreed that what the government is offering is remarkable.” According to Lizarralde, one of the offers is the refinancing of outstanding debts of up to $ 10,000, which can be paid over 10 years with zero interest.
“We will reach an agreement with or without the Agrarian Dignity leaders,” said the minister.
Lizarralde also met with the Deputy Prosecutor General on Wednesday concerning the progress of an investigation into fraud in the Coffee Support Program Income (PIC), an entity designed to pay stipends to coffee farmers if internal coffee prices fall below a certain point.
The minister said that the fraud has caused delays in payments to coffee farmers, but that the situation “can not be used to confuse farmers” and sustain the protests.