After nearly a month of formal negotiations with the government, leaders of Colombia’s striking agricultural sector are dissatisfied with a perceived lack of progress.
Since an agreement about a timetable for meetings between the government and farmers last month put an end to active national protests and road blocks, the government has followed through on all scheduled dialogues with regional and national representatives of Colombia’s agricultural sector. But protesters say that mere attendance is not enough to satisfy their demands or needs, and that a return to strike activities and demonstrations will be “necessary” if no advances are reached soon.
“Showing up is not the same thing as negotiating,” said Dule Anzueta, a member of the national agricultural negotiating team (MIA), in an interview with Colombia Reports. “We’ve had four meeting now [with the national government] but no real agreements have come out of them. We understand that these things take time, but we haven’t seen a real willingness to solve our problems. There is a lack of good faith on the part of the government.”
Patience wouldn’t be so short, said Anzueta, if the dialogue process had started two months ago, when the protesters originally submitted their National Declaration to the relevant government ministries.
“You have to understand,” he said, “that we have been clear from the beginning about what our needs are, what the problems are that we’re dealing with, what the solutions we’re asking for are. The government has it all right there in the Declaration. If we’re not talking about that, then what are we even doing?”
The government’s response has maintained that renewed threats of strikes are uncalled for, with Aurelio Iragorri, the Interior Minister, going so far as to say that the government “rejects blackmail.”
President Juan Manuel Santos has taken a more conciliatory approach, announcing he will meet with individual strike sectors in the Casa de Nariño next week and publicly emphasizing his government’s six-point initiative to address Colombia’s “agro-production crisis.”
Even at the time of its original release, however, Santos’ so-called “National Pact” was widely unpopular with striking farm workers, who claimed it was directed toward benefiting large land holders and ignored the needs of farmhands, as well as the interests of small and medium-scale producers.
The response has not improved since then.
Luz Dary Molina, a labor organizer in the state of Boyaca and member of the national MIA platform, told Colombia Reports that the measures being taken by the president are “more empty publicity.”
“The president sees our frustration and goes to the media to talk about the pact the government made with itself and the richest producers in this country,” she said. “It was unilateral when it was announced and just as ineffective now as it was then. All this only reaffirms our suspicions that the entire negotiation process was a way of distracting the country from the crisis in the Colombian countryside.”
Anzueta echoed Molina’s disappointment. “The problem with what the government is doing,” he said, “is that we are not being represented at all. Whatever good the Pact will do — and, let’s be clear, it isn’t going to help in the long term — is not important, because we haven’t been included in the process. What the government doesn’t understand is that we are tired of other people enacting empty solutions to our problems.”
According to Molina, neither the MIA nor any of the regional and state organizing teams have set any specific deadline for relaunching full-scale strike activities. But the prospect of a second round of national protests,” she said, “seems more and more necessary the longer we go without progress.”
“From the time we agreed to end the road blocks, we were worried that this would happen,” she said. “We know from experience that the government only responds when there’s pressure. Well, maybe we need to remind them that we are still here. We never went away, and we can’t go away, until we get the help we need.”