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.
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.
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

Afghanistan, Pakistan Leaders to Hold Icebreaking Talks in Paris

Two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease bilateral tensions and jointly work for resumption of stalled peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

IOC Leaders to Discuss Mexico Dispute Next Month

The International Olympic Committee said Friday the issue of government interference in Mexico will be reviewed by its policy-making executive board at its Dec. 8-10 meeting in Lausanne

Hurricane Sandra Loses Strength Off Mexican Coast

Now a Category 3 storm in the Pacific with winds of 195 kph, it's expected to weaken to a tropical storm Friday night

Ecuador to Impose Visa Requirements on Cuban Citizens

Objective is 'to discourage the flow of people seeking to reach the United States,' Ecuador's deputy foreign minister says

Destruction of Brazil's Amazon Forest Jumps 16 Percent in 2015

More than 5,800 square kilometers of forests were cleared during the 12 months ending in July, the government confirms — an area half the size of Puerto Rico

Local Opposition Leader Shot Dead in Venezuela

Armed assailants in vehicle shoot Luis Diaz, head of Democratic Action party, in Altagracia de Orituco in central Venezuela

Brazil Corruption Probe Widens; Bank CEO, Senate Leader Arrested

Detentions on orders from Supreme Court raise stakes in bribery scandal that now threatens heights of Brazilian banking and politics