Peasant strike rocks Colombia

Campesinos launched a strike across Colombia May 31, with some 100,000 blocking highways and effectively shutting down at least half of the country's 32 departments. One is reported dead from clashes at a roadblock outside the main Pacific port of Buenaventura, and four soliders were briefly detained by protesters on the Quibdó-Medellín highway. The "indefinite" strike, or National Agrarian Minga, was called to protest the economic policies of President Juan Manuel Santos, and especially to press him on promises made in 2013 to end a similar national strike that left dozens dead. "They have not complied with 30% of the accords," said Robert Daza of the Agrarian Summit. He charged Santos with drawing up a National Development Plan that corresponds to the needs of the Free Trade Agreement with Washington rather than Colombia's small producers. Daza said Santos is "putting the strategic resources of the nation up for sale [and] distributing the land in an unequal manner."

Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo said the strike is unnecessary, as the government is maintaining a "permanent space for dialogue." But President Santos himself offered apologies, acknowledging that his government has been slow to follow through on pledges of aid to rural communities: "Many of them have been promised some kind of aid that has not arrived, and I ask their forgiveness… They have a right to protest." (RT, June 2; La FM, RCN, Colombia Reports, El Espectador, June 1; El Tiempo, May 31; El Espectador, May 30)

Santos' National Development Plan broadly opens lands to mining interests, and gives the executive "extraordinary powers" to carry out "institutional adjustments" in land management and rural development.  The plan was released along with a new agrarian law that would create Zones of Economic and Social Rural Development Interests (ZIDRES)—agri-business enclaves to be favored with aid and credit. These pose a threat to the peasant autonomous zones created in many areas of the country under the previous agrarian reform policies.