Colombia: Farmers' strike challenges gov't, pro-corporate 'free trade'

May 11, 2014
Colombian farmers block a road near Huila on May 4. Photo by Sergio Reyes.

Tensions between the Colombian government and agrarian workers are reaching an all-time high. Strikes that began on April 28 have helped bring the country to a stand-still and sparked student protests violently that were suppressed by police.

The farmers launched strikes in the face of the government’s failure to follow through on promises made after similar strikes last August. The strikers are seeking measures to alleviate rural poverty, among other deep-rooted problems they face.

Leader of the Dignidades Agropecuarias movement, Cesar Pachon, said that neither the high costs of pesticides and fertilisers, nor the expansion of environmentally destructive mining activity had been addressed by the Colombian government.

Pachon has also spoken out against US-pushed free trade agreements (FTAs) and the unsupportable levels of public and private debt in the rural sector, both damaging impacts of neoliberal policies.

Only a month before presidential elections, the strikes have forced the farmers' concerns onto the national agenda.

Colombia is an agricultural country. The agrarian sector provides employment for about a third of the country’s workforce. However, despite the fertile land and agrarian productivity, this sector continues to face problems.

FTAs have had a disastrous impact on the Colombian agrarian sector. Foreign products have flooded the market and undercut small- and medium-sized producers.

The 2011 FTA between the US and Colombia removed all trade tariffs. This led to a higher dependency in Colombia on US products, less self-sufficiency and severely damaged the cause of Colombian food sovereignty.
FTAs signed between developed and developing countries tend to heavily benefit the richer country and large multinationals with vested interests in expanding their influence and slashing regulations and trading tariffs.

The few large farm holdings in Colombia have huge power. They continue to push smaller farmers out of business as they find it harder to compete with the impossibly low prices of large agribusiness.

The lack of infrastructure, including decent roads and railways, means smaller farms have great difficulty in transporting their produce across the country, let alone exporting it further afield.

In many areas, these problems have led farmers to grow coca and other illicit crops. They are offered greater income by drug traffickers who pick up the crop themselves ― guaranteeing a livelihood that the traditional agricultural sector cannot.

Many small farmers are given no choice but to cultivate illegal crops as the government offers them no viable alternative.

Colombia’s main exports are coffee, bananas and sugar with all of its best produce grown for export. It is impossible to buy certain types of cacao in the country, claims various guerrilla groups were trying to infiltrate the strikes.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.