Colombia: agrarian strike re-mobilizes

Colombia campesinos launched a new national strike on April 28, blocking roads through the departments of Antioquia, Caldas, Tolima and Risaralda. Cesar Pachón, spokesman for campesinos in the central department of Boyacá, said the strike will continue indefinitely until the government of President Juan Manuel Santos helps resolve problems, include small farmers' debts of more than $1 billion. Pachón estimates that 100,000 have joined the strike so far. The decision to strike if the government did not respond by the end of April was taken during the Campesino, Ethnic, and Popular Agrarian Summit, held from March 15-17 in Bogotá. (AP, EFE, El Tiempo, April 28; MR Zine, April 17)

As he strike gotunderway, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón charged that the FARC rebels are behind the strike, posting to his Twitter that pamphlets promoting the action were in circulation signed by guerilla organization. FARC spokesman Ricardo Tellez AKA "Rodrigo Granada" responded, "The infiltration of the guerrilla in the national agrarian strike is an invention of the enemies of peace." However, he added that the FARC "support any protest that our people do." (Colombia Reports, El Tiempo, April 28)

The United Nations' humanitarian coordinator in Colombia, Fabrizio Hochschild, weighed in on the controversy, saying: "It is very important that these strikes are conducted without violence, and to avoid this it is important to stop stigmatizing the strike, [to] stop treating the protests as if they were an extension of the guerrilla; that does not help anything." (Colombia Reports, Caracol Radio, April 28)

The strike comes as severe drought in northern Colombia has caused a "public disaster" to be declared in Riohacha, La Guajira, with local delegates flying to Bogotá to meet with the President Santos and draw up a contingency plan. (Colombia Reports, April 28)

Colombian campesinos last September ended their national strike after several weeks of road blockades and clashes with the National Police.