Colombia Farmer Strikes Were Result of Washington Policy

Search form

Colombia Farmer Strikes Were Result of Washington Policy

Colombia Farmer Strikes Were Result of Washington Policy
Tue, 10/1/2013 - by Andrew Gold

MEDELLIN, Colombia – Colombia’s agrarian workers made headlines across the world last month when they brought their country to its knees with coordinated strike actions. At times, the battle turned violent and roadblocks prevented police and ambulances from reaching their destination. But due to a lack of coverage in the United States, many are unaware that the difficulties actually stem from a controversial free trade agreement with Washington.

The reasons for the strikes are manifold. Several different groups, including coffee farmers, truckers and miners, joined up to express their grievances. It is impossible to pin down one sole cause. However, it would appear a huge part of the problem derives not only from Colombia’s relationship with the United States of America in general – but with the specific agreement entered into last year, in which the Colombian government privatized seeds pushing farmers to the brink.

At one point, authorities went so far as to seize 70 tons of rice from the country's own cultivators and dump them in a landfill. The story was exposed by a Spanish-language documentary made by university student Victoria Solano.

But Colombia does not suffer the agricultural conflict alone. Farmers from Mexico, Peru and Chile are also at risk from similar agreements with the U.S. The fact is that while the treaties benefit large corporations and the United States as a whole, local peasant populations suffer immeasurably.

In Colombia specifically, farmers argue that the lack of government subsidies and the excessive price of fertilizers make it impossible to compete with foreign products. Due to regional monopolies, these items cost 25-45 percent more here than in other countries.

Obama spoke recently of the United States’ hard-working agricultural industry, saying, “If the playing fields are level, America will always win.” But when a poorer country is forced to destroy much of its own crop in order to adhere to a nation-to-nation "deal," it would appear those playing fields are more level for the U.S. than anyone else.

During the protests, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos did not help matters. He constantly popped up in the media to taunt and belittle the strikers. He tried the customary line of blaming guerrillas and rebels in the mountains. The president also made startling claims that only "10 or 15 people" were involved in the strikes and that the situation was "under control" when clearly it was not. He said: “This so-called agrarian strike does not exist.”

The instability was visible to anyone who wished to see it. Roadblocks brought the South American nation to a halt. Food prices doubled since truckers were too afraid to transport goods. And even tourists felt the effects as they were unable to move freely from city to city; the north-south freeway was completely cut off, freezing travel from Popayan and Cali to Bogota and Medellin.

According to official police reports, there were five deaths and hundreds of injuries as a direct result of the conflicts in the countryside. There could be many more unknown fatalities. Students joined the fight as well, with bombs going off in the universities across the country. Occupy.com spoke with Norwegian student Julia Bårdsen at the Universidad de Antioquia. She witnessed multiple explosions.

“Every week, they let off bombs on campus to show the government they were not happy with the farming situation. It became the norm," said Bårdsen.

“The first time was terrifying. At first, I heard explosions and saw a lot of smoke coming out of a classroom. Suddenly, police in SWAT uniforms turned up and started shooting wildly into the smoke. I got out of there pretty fast.”

Perhaps this was President Santos’ idea of "under control," though in time he too appeared ready to face up to the crisis engulfing the country. Despite claims that he would never negotiate, the government is now finally in talks with union leaders. The protests are over and center-right Santos’ approval rating has taken a dramatic fall, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Despite its huge strides in recent years, Colombia continues to suffer from a huge disparity in wealth distribution. The country has failed to invest in small-scale trade activities, and farmers occupy first place in a long list of neglected people who make the country tick – from miners to teachers to truckers. Now, with farming particularly difficult and expensive, Colombia's decision to open its doors to international competition from giant U.S. corporations only compounds the people's hardship.

 
 

Article Tabs

The new 40-page report published by Oxfam International also said the global fossil fuel sector now receives $1.9 trillion in subsidies each year.

Edward Snowden

Snowden told the audience he engaged in civil disobedience because he believes the democratic system of government is not able to work when people don’t know what their government is doing.

Large corporations are the winners and taxpayers are the losers when transparency, accountability and the public interest are sold out to for-profit firms.

The city's social justice roots are centuries old – and today Seattle is also home to more than 70 social justice organizations and more than a dozen progressive film festivals.

Coinciding with the National Day Against Police Brutality and Mass Incarceration, people in Santa Rosa, Calif., will hold a vigil and community potluck Wednesday to commemorate the teen's tragic death.

“We wanted to take action to dramatize the betrayal of the American people and show that we will resist and attempt to disrupt or at least expose pro-corruption politicians' ability to raise big money.”

Posted 6 days 10 hours ago

Drug and device makers paid doctors $380 million in speaking and consulting fees over a five-month period last year – and saw a healthy return on their investment.

Posted 5 days 9 hours ago

As of September 19, 181 institutions and local governments and 656 individuals representing over $50 billion in assets have pledged to divest from fossil fuels.

Posted 5 days 9 hours ago

Florida has the highest foreclosure rate in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2014, and also has a "foreclosure king" who is now disbarred for his failure to oversee employees accused of carrying out wrongful foreclosures.

Posted 2 days 10 hours ago

So little of our national wealth is going to feed people or provide jobs and instead, the richest Americans vastly increased their wealth this past year. But what vaulted these individuals to the top?

Posted 6 days 10 hours ago
Edward Snowden

Snowden told the audience he engaged in civil disobedience because he believes the democratic system of government is not able to work when people don’t know what their government is doing.

Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE) is a grassroots group taking the lead to combat systemic racism and build a people's economy in St. Louis.

In times of crisis, the term “protect the women and children” might still come to mind.

Punishing local cuts are leaving communities up in arms as the removal of vital school road patrol service – known as the lollipop ladies – could go into effect.

“We wanted to take action to dramatize the betrayal of the American people and show that we will resist and attempt to disrupt or at least expose pro-corruption politicians' ability to raise big money.”

Sign Up