A public show of support from the highest representative of the Catholic Church in Colombia was not enough to push a freeze on gas prices through the national government, as negotiations with striking truckers have yet to take shape.
At an assembly held in his honor, Cardenal Dario Castillon told Colombia’s Senate to deal with the problems of social injustice, instead of being scared of the protests that fight for it.
“We cannot be scared of the strikes,” he told congressional leaders, “we should be scared of the pain that causes the strikes — that is what should scare us. The government has no reason to fear marches, it should be scared of the lack of housing and livelihood [Colombians suffer] in many cases — that is what should scare us. Feel the pain of the Colombian people and think of one another.”
Cardenal Castillon mentioned the truckers strike specifically as an example of Colombians’ plight.
“It seems unjust to me that Colombia’s truckers have to pay what they are paying for gasoline, it seems unjust […] As a country with oil production, we can’t have more expensive gasoline than others that don’t have any.”
It’s unclear to what extent the cardenal’s comments were coordinated with congressional leaders, but later in the same day, Congress sent a proposal to the Ministry of Mining and Energy asking for a freeze on gas prices in Colombia.
“The freezing of [gas] prices until the end of the fiscal year could be a good alternative to start reducing the impact of combustibles in many sectors,” said Senate President Juan Fernando Cristo.
The proposal, however, was rejected Wednesday by the Minister of Mining, who said a price freeze would be too expensive for the national government, and that other options are being explored to reduce price volatility.
Representatives of Colombia’s trucking sector could not be reached for comment, but in a previous conversation with Colombia Reports, union president Pedro Antonio Aguilar indicated that price volatility is not the issue at stake.
Prices in general, he said, “are immensely high, higher for [Colombians], who produce [oil], than for the people we export it to.” But the problem behind the strikes is bigger than that, and includes issues such as inflated loan rates on truck purchases, unfavorable working conditions, unpaid wages, a lack of benefits and the government’s general unwillingness to negotiate.
The union, which claims it has put 450,000 total trucking employees and 270,000 trucks on indefinite strike, has said it will not end its work stoppage for anything less than a “substantive and comprehensive” dialogue with the government, and negotiations between the two parties have yet to begin.
Meanwhile, the early effects of the strike are already being felt in certain parts of the country. In the famous Corabastos food market in Bogota, for example, managers report that vegetable deliveries have been cut in half in some cases, causing spikes of over 30% in the prices of staple foods such as onions and potatoes.
- El paro provoca alzas y menor oferta de algunos productos (Caricol Radio)
- Gobierno descarto bajar precio para negociar con los camioneros (El Espectador)
- La Iglesia critico el elevado precio de la gasolina colombiana (Santa Fe Radio)
- Interview with Pedro Antonio Aguilar