According to Santos, the government “is losing its patience” after weeks of anti-government protest culminated in violent chaos Thursday during marches in support of the strikers’ pleas.
“I have asked the ministers to return to Bogota and leave their proposals on the table, proposals the Colombians know very well,” Santos said in a speech that was broadcast live on national television.
Santos’ speech followed one of Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon the night before in which he ordered the army to increase presence in cities where violent revolts have occurred.
Santos announced he will be deploying 50,000 troops across the country to unblock roads, and “deal with the thugs and vandals who only want destruction and social chaos.”
The military has already taken over control of security in Bogota, and Santos warned that he will send the armed forces into any other cities in which police are unable to maintain order.
Before tens of thousands took to the streets in eventually violent anti-government protests, Santos had proposed to remove import tariffs on almost two dozen fertilizers in an attempt to please farmers that claim ongoing government neglect and economic policies negatively affecting the countryside has made making a living impossible for farmers.
Ongoing strikes, protests and roadblocks on the countryside had already forced the president to admit that Colombia’s rural economy is in crisis.
Santos’ move further polarizes the already bitter stand-off with national strike organizations representing miners, truckers, farmers, health workers and a whole range of other sectors, who have been involved in weeks of protest over the alleged government neglect and failure to keep its word on promises made previously.
In his speech, Santos only referred to striking farmers an failed to recognize protests organized by miners, university teachers, child welfare workers and truckers.
“We continue to be willing to talk to the real farmers,” said Santos, “in spite of … the constant dilatation of a deal because they don’t want to compromise, or are not allowed to.”
The national organization of striking farmers has insisted that the government has yet to make first contact with the organization, while local branches involved in talks with the government have refused to close deals and maintain the government must talk to their national representatives.
The accumulating strikes were supported by protests in Colombia’s cities Thursday, but saw their attempts to protest peacefully literally go up in flames as groups of hooded men and police incited violence, spurring massive riots in the capital Bogota and the country’s second largest city, Medellin.
An increasing popular support for the rural protests, fueled by an apparent general frustration with Colombian politics, has put Santos under enormous pressure that threatens to only get worse as students and public school teachers have threatened to join the strikes.