For the 13th time in 15 years, Colombia’s truckers went on strike. This time, things have gone violent. Here’s why.
The truckers are primarily angrily because, according to the protesters, the government has allowed multinational transport companies to flood the country with trucks.
The abundance of foreign trucks has virtually eliminated tens of thousands of local truckers’ ability to make a living they way they were able to before.
Large transport companies would be able to cover losses for an extended period of time, but individual truckers can not and they are afraid they are purposely being run out of business by the multinationals.
The truckers fear that the government policy is similar to those in cities where small bus companies have been pushed out of business by public-private mass transit corporations, often in hands of foreign corporations or local elites.
According to the truckers, the Transport Ministry even illegally granted 50,000 trucking licenses to befriended companies.
But things are more complicated like that.
According to the strikers, the government has also been in the process of privatizing the maintenance of highways, leaving the charging of freight tolls to private enterprises. While these private companies do charge toll, they pocket profits without investing income in road maintenance, the truckers say.
The truckers are additionally angry that the government has consistently raised fuel prices when crude oil prices went up, but is refusing to lower gas prices now that crude oil is low.
According to the striking truckers, clauses in a controversial free trade agreement with the United States are at the root of what they consider the “monopolization of the economy.”
Farmers, who carried out strikes earlier this year, also revolted against this free trade agreement that has plummeted exports to the US and has driven many into precarious economic situations.
The farmers, whose strikes overlapped those over the strikers for a few days earlier this year, have expressed their support for the truckers and blame the government of refusing to attend the strike and instead violently repressing the protests.
So far, at least one protester died when a tear gas grenade, fired by riot police, hit his head. The government initially claimed the protester could have been manipulating explosives.