News / Americas

Santos Calls for Calm as Farm Protests Reach Bogota

Protesters challenge riot police during clashes in downtown Bogota, Aug. 29, 2013.
Protesters challenge riot police during clashes in downtown Bogota, Aug. 29, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Reuters
— Thousands of Colombian farmers and state workers marched through Bogota on Thursday, banging pots and pans as they converged on the capital after 11 days of increasingly violent protests against agricultural and trade policies they say have left them impoverished.
 
Students wearing balaclavas pelted shop windows with rocks near the capital's main square and clashed with riot police who fired tear gas to disperse them.
 
“Long live the farmers' strike! Food sovereignty,” they chanted, holding up protest banners.
 
President Juan Manuel Santos, who has been unable to end the so-called national strike that has united potato growers, milk producers, teachers and health workers, acknowledged agriculture is in crisis, but called for peaceful dissent while talks about possible solutions are going on.
 
“The farm sector has been abandoned,” the center-right president said in a televised address early on Thursday. “The protests are valid ... but, via dialogue, we will resolve the problems ... We are in a storm, but we will persevere.”
 
Protesters wearing typical farmer attire of woolen ponchos, brimmed hats and rubber boots to show their solidarity, marched in 15 columns toward the Plaza Bolivar, where the presidential palace and Congress are located.
 
Demonstrators protest in front of riot policemen at the entrance of La Calera near Bogota, Aug. 28, 2013.Demonstrators protest in front of riot policemen at the entrance of La Calera near Bogota, Aug. 28, 2013.
x
Demonstrators protest in front of riot policemen at the entrance of La Calera near Bogota, Aug. 28, 2013.
Demonstrators protest in front of riot policemen at the entrance of La Calera near Bogota, Aug. 28, 2013.
Farmers have blocked roads, snarling city-bound traffic and pressuring Santos three months before he must decide whether to run for a second term. The government's tough peace negotiations with Marxist FARC rebels are creating their own contentious national debate at the same time.
 
“My purchase power is zero, it's only enough to survive,” said Orlando Pamo, 50, an indigenous father of six from central Tolima province who earns less than the minimum wage farming citrus and other fruits. “The government wants us off the land so it can be given to big business. We don't get the benefits companies get.”
 
Santos said he will lift import duties on 23 products, including some fertilizers and pesticides, to help lower crop production costs. He also is working to find more permanent solutions for the farm sector's problems.
 
Clashes between police and protesters over removal of the barricades resulted in at least one death and scores of injuries and arrests since the strike began on Aug. 19.
 
Looting was reported in several towns and blocked roads have prevented food getting to market, raising prices for consumers. Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon has accused the FARC rebels of infiltrating the protests and seeking to rope peaceful farmers into their struggle against the government.
 
“Please, let's not fall into the hands of the violent,” said Santos. “Do not allow them to gain strength from these protests because it will distort the entire meaning of the demonstration and it leads to unnecessary confrontations that have led to deaths.”
 
Second Wave
 
The already grueling life of farming families has become harder in recent years since income from harvests has failed to cover costs of fertilizers and transportation.
 
Potato, corn and milk producers complain that free trade agreements with Europe and the United States have made it  almost impossible to compete with cheaper imports. Droughts followed by unusually heavy rains have also made farming conditions difficult over the past several years.
 
The demonstrations are the second wave of national strikes this year against agricultural and economic policies.
 
“More demonstrations will follow in the coming days if there is no response from the government,” said Julio Roberto Gomez, head of the nation's second biggest union confederation, as protesters banged pots and pans behind him.
 
Even though Santos has made improving the conditions of the poor and cutting the jobless rate a priority, difficulties for farmers are unlikely to change in the coming months.
 
Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas said it would be impossible to meet all demands from the different protest groups.
 
“The country is on the right track and the economy is an example worldwide,” he said on local radio. “But if you add up everything they want, there's no way to give them it all. They are seeking significant resources. There isn't enough money to cover the demands of all the sectors.”

You May Like

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Audit Finds US Housing Aid Program in Haiti Falls Short

Results show post-earthquake USAID program has delivered only a quarter of planned number of homes at nearly twice the budgeted cost
More

Mourning, Memories in Garcia Marquez's Languid Hometown

Nobel Prize-winning author, who died on Thursday, spent the first years of his life in Aracataca and drew on it for some of the characters and tales in 'One Hundred Years of Solitude'
More

Powerful Earthquake Rattles Mexico

US Geological Survey says quake measuring 7.5 on Richter scale, was centered in the western state of Guerrero, north of Acapulco beach resort
More

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support
More

Colombian Novelist Garcia Marquez Dies at 87

Author of 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' won Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982
More

Salsa Legend Cheo Feliciano Dies in Car Crash

Police say singer was alone in his jaguar when he hit a post before sunrise Thursday
More