Colombian workers in two crucial sectors — coffee and trucking — are now on strike, while coal miners at one of the world’s largest open pit mines appear close to ending a strike that began February 7 to demand better wages and health benefits.
But whether or not the 5,000 miners end their strike at Cerrejon this week, the strikes by truckers and coffee growers affect far more people. There are 340,000 truckers affected by the strike, and some 500,000 families involved in coffee production.
By March 4, the coffee growers strike, which began February 25, had essentially cut off the southwestern city of Popayan from the rest of the country, and the truckers used their vehicles to shut down a key transit route between Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, and the western port city of Buenaventura.
Meanwhile, key legislators were on their way to Havana, Cuba, where delicate negotiations between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by its Spanish acronym FARC) have been ongoing in an effort to end nearly five decades of armed conflict.
But even as the two sides engage in talks on neutral terrain, violent conflict in Colombia between government forces and FARC paramilitaries have intensified, strengthening the hand of those who prefer a continuation of the conflict. For example, former President Alvaro Uribe Velez, who is a mouthpiece for the interests of the big landowners, has sought to turn outrage at the ongoing violence to speak out against the Havana peace negotiations. “This socioeconomic group amassed its fortunes during the war and feels threatened that a negotiated peace might result in reform that will redistribute land,” explains blogger Nazih Richani.