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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