Colombia: gains seen as peasants end strike

Colombian campesinos on Sept. 10 ended their national strike after more than two weeks, and lifted the road blockades they were still maintaining, chiefly in Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo and elsewhere in the south of the country. The organization coordinating the strike in this region, the National Agricultural and Popular Table of Dialogue and Accord (MIA), agreed to recognize a pact already won in talks between the government and campesino organizations in Boyacá, Cundinamarca and elsewhere in the central region of the country. United Nations observers who had been brought in for the dialogue process confirmed that all protest roadblocks had been dismantled. (EFE, Sept. 11; El Tiempo, Bogotá, Sept. 7)

Among 15 demands of the campesino movement that the government agreed to under the pact are compensation to small domestic producers for income lost due to imports of potatoes, milk and other products under the Free Trade Agreement with the United States, and a two-year suspension of the most onerous provisions of the controversial Resolution 970, concerning the "intellectual property rights" of corporate seed producers. Resolution 970, approved in 2010, prohibited farmers from saving seeds, ostensibly to protect patented hybrids and GMOs. But the law applied to all seeds, essentially forcing farmers to buy new patented varieties each season. The law will still apply to imported seeds, but Colombian farmers will be free to save domestically produced or indigenous seed stock for two years while the law is rewritten. (El Tiempo, Sept. 7; GRAIN, Sept. 4)

On Sept. 16, 10,000 Colombian coal miners returned to work at US-based Drummond's operations at Pribbenow/La Loma and El Descanso in the northern department of Cesar, ending a 53-day strike and enabling coal exports to resume. The strike was called off when Colombia's Labor Ministry agreed to establish a special arbitration tribunal to resolve the long-running dispute over pay and work conditions. (Bloomberg, Sept.. 16; EFE, Sept. 15; El Universal, Caracas, Sept. 14)

However, just as the peasant strike ended Sept. 10, some 330,000 public school teachers across Colombia opened an indefinite strike, accusing the government of fialing to deliver on promises made to pay an estimated $40 billion in back wages. Leaders of the Colombia Federation of Education Workers (FECODE) charged that the government is intentionally bleeding the national school system with the intention of privatizing it. (UPI, Sept. 11; BBC Mundo, Sept. 10)




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Colombia: campaign for imprisoned strike leader

LabourStart has launched a campaign to free Huber Ballesteros, a leader of this year's national strike who was arrested Aug. 25 in Bogotá on charges of "rebellion" and "funding terrorism." Ballesteros sits on the executive committee of Colombia's largest trade union federation, the CUT, as well as being vice president of FENSUAGRO agricultural workers' union and a national organiser for the union-backed Patriotic March movement.

Colombia remains the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist. According to UN figures almost 3,000 trade unionists have been killed since 1986. In the first six months of 2013 at least 11 trade unionists were killed. (More information at Morning Star, UK, Sept. 11; Justice for Colombia, Aug. 27)

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The first week of November saw a national mobilization to oppose the government's proposal to reform Colombia's healthcare system, with marches held in cities and towns across the country. The mobilization was called by the National Association of Interns and Residents (ANIR), representing healthcare workers, with the support of Colombia's main union federation, the