A schedule of eight meetings between government officials and regional leaders of Colombia’s nationwide agricultural strike has been solidified for the coming weeks, after a rough outline was agreed to Friday during national negotiations.
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On Thursday, a high-level government commission overseen by vice-President Angelino Garzon will meet with the national agricultural organizing and negotiating body (MIA) in Medellin, for the first in what is expected to be a long series of negotiations centered around the MIA’s six-point National Declaration.
In the meantime, the Ministry of the Interior has advanced a schedule of separate negotiations with strike leaders from the Boyaca, Narino and Cudinamarca departments, where protests led to complete economic shutdowns and heavy clashes with public forces, and an increased military presence still remains in certain points, even after an estimated 50,000 army soldiers previously deployed to secure roadways returned to their normal stations over the course of the weekend.
A spokeswoman from the Ministry told Colombia Reports that Interior Minister Aurelio Iragorri is acting as a guarantor of ongoing national negotiations, and, as part of his role in facilitating the process, agreed to establish the regional schedule, which was announced officially Monday on the Ministry website.
In an interview with Colombia Reports, Boyaca strike organizer Luz Dary Molina commended Iragorri and his office for showing “genuine initiative”, while emphasizing that the regional negotiations will be different from the “isolated, fragmented [negotiation] tables the government tried to establish at the beginning” of nationwide strikes.
“That was something we were clear about,” said Molina. “We are not negotiating separately from our partners in the MIA. We are not going to let ourselves be played one off of the other.”
Molina referred to the government’s apparent strategy during the first three weeks of strike, when the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos refused to acknowledge, or establish contact with, the larger national strike platform — the President came under public fire for announcing “there is no such national strike” — and instead attempted to deal with localized protest movements and labor sectors on an individual basis.
“We know that we are only strong when we stand together,” said Molina, “and the government has realized it cannot split us up to get an easier deal, or take away our collective force.”
The regional negotiation teams will be in close contact with the MIA, she said, and will be focusing on how best to apply the National Declaration proposals on a specific, case-by-case basis, rather than attempting to push for any new concessions.
“The National Declaration is that: national,” she said. “All we want is the chance to include local voices, and give local voices a chance to explain why the national points are meaningful to them, and explain the situations they are living in directly.”
Judging by the announced schedule, the Minister of the Interior understands the scope of the regional negotiations, and what the protesters hope to get out of them.
A spokesman from the office told Colombia Reports that each of the eight meetings planned so far is directed toward a broad component issue, as laid out in the six-point Declaration, and will include government experts from the individual fields in question, as well as representatives from any other relevant government ministries.
The meetings — set to take place in Tunja, the capital of Boyaca, where regional discussions began several weeks ago, and Bogota, at the Interior Ministry itself — cover such topics as agro-production, international commerce, human rights, and crediting, and last through the middle of next month.
A new schedule will be agreed upon toward the end of the current program, depending on how the negotiations progress, and the schedule for the national dialogue is expected to be worked out at Thursday’s inaugural session in Medellin.
Steven Cohen is an editor at Colombia Reports and contributing writer on the Beacon independent journalism platform. His interests in Colombia pertain mainly to labor, environmental, and human rights issues, though he is also a big fan of coconut rice and Aletico Nacional soccer.