Colombian strikers see violence from the police

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Colombian strikers see violence from the police

by Adriano Mérola


Potato farmers are protesting against the government's neoliberal policies (Momentcaptured1 under a Creative Commons Licence)

Last week a Colombian friend sent me a video on Youtube ( The frightening video showed police violence to those on general strike in Colombia. Sadly this shows the politics here - peaceful protests are met with violence supported by the government. The police are trying their best to discourage the striking workers.

The Youtube video shows Colombian riot police on motorbikes. They are following striking farm workers back to their homes. They are using tear gas in their homes and breaking windows. Protesters have seen peaceful demonstrations in the streets attacked with force. And the major roads of the country have been taken over by the military to stop the effects of the strike. The government has agreed with the use of force to stop the effects of the strike but it has made the strikers stronger.

The protest began on 19 August 2013 as a national strike of farm workers. They asked for lower production costs and better access to markets. It has now become a general strike against the policies of President Juan Manuel Santos. Workers from public health, education, transport, and mines have joined the indefinite strike. Students are occupying universities and schools. The strikers want a more open police force and changes to trade union laws.

The protest is a natural reaction to the neoliberal policies, which have been so bad for local communities. They are the result of 11 free trade agreements between Colombia, the US, and the EU. These trade agreements have led to rises in petrol and food prices, and have destroyed local agricultural markets.

The strikers have a lot of public support, in Colombia, which is Latin America's third most unequal country. Between 45 and 64 per cent of people are very poor. The protests show how unhappy people are with .Santos' government. 72 per cent of the Colombian people are critical of the president. It was 44 per cent 3 months ago.

With the population in open (peaceful) protest against the government, the government has responded with control and some limited talks. The police say that terrorists have joined the protests. The workers say they have the right to strike. Nine workers are dead and 303 protesters are badly injured. At least 11 people are in hospital with gunshot wounds – this shows how violent the police have been.

Police have arrested about 250 people for terrorism. One of them is the important trade-unionist, Huber Ballesteros. Ballesteros’ political party – the Patriotic March (Marcha Patriótica) – criticised his arrest as an attempt to discourage and stop the strikers. Even with the violence, striking workers have had success. The transport workers, including lorry drivers, have reached some agreements with the government including no price increases on petrol.

Farmers have won a fight against policies that allowed only the big multinational companies to control farming. Small farmers and farm workers in Tunja have changed a law from 2010 which stopped the use of non-certified seeds in farming. They also made the government increase spending on domestic farming. The strikers are winning the fight against the Colombian neoliberals.

But the government appears to have two plans of action – to keep control and to start limited talks to try to stop the effects of the strike. Talks started after the police failed to break the strike. Curfews across the country have become normal including in the capital Bogotá. Many say that Bogotá is one of the most militarized places in Colombia. In a country which had 50 years of civil war, this general strike is a battle between the few rich leaders and the poor farmers joined by the poor in the towns and cities and by progressive thinkers.

With community protests and road blocks, the protesters are asking for a complete change in Colombian neoliberal policies. The streets are now the battleground for the future of Colombia.

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