Strike of the Colombian farming sector

The nationwide strike of small-scale farmers, miners, freight transporters, teachers, healthcare workers and other social organizations, which began on August 19th, continues in the midst of road blockades and violence.

The demonstrations were initially summoned by small-scale coffee growers, who are demanding that the administration of the president, Juan Manuel Santos, honours the commitments that it made in March as part of the negotiations to end a two-week protest.

At that time the government committed to pay subsidies to support the income of coffee growers that have been affected by falling international prices (despite a rise in overall coffee production). However, the measures have been delayed by administrative issues.

The concessions made to the coffee farmers earlier this year served as a precedent for other economic sectors, which have since been increasing their demands vis-à-vis the government in the hope that the Santos administration will cede under strong pressure. This explains the participation of a wide array of interests in the ongoing strike, including other agricultural producers, who demand support to mitigate the rising costs of fertilizers; freight transporters that insist on lower diesel prices and higher tariffs for their services; teachers and healthcare workers asking for wage rises; and small-scale miners demanding the elimination of a decree that forces their formalization.

Santos’s opponents have criticized the government’s inability to prevent strikes from taking place, as well as the slow and often dismissive reaction to the protests of members of the administration.

Although the sources of complaints are often complex—and some appear unjustified—the fact that Santos tends to minimize their importance, or link them to political manipulation by the country’s leftist-guerrillas, has only aggravated the sense of public dissatisfaction.

In the case of the ongoing strike, the government will eventually be forced to make some concessions in order to avoid further political repercussions, in particular as the electoral campaign ahead of the 2014 presidential election approaches. However, problems with the implementation of government plans will mean that social protests are set to continue in the short and medium term.

Although the basic assumption is that the government will manage to keep social unrest under control, there is a small but increasing risk that protests will lead to increased violence in the pre-electoral period, potentially leading to a deterioration in the political scene beyond initial expectations.