Protests in Sincelejo (Photo: Marcha Patriotica)A nationwide strike in Colombia—which started as a rural peasant uprising and spread to miners, teachers, medical professionals, truckers, and students—reached its 7th day Sunday as at least 200,000 people blocked roads and launched protests against a U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and devastating policies of poverty and privatization pushed by US-backed right-wing President Juan Manuel Santos.
"[The strike is a condemnation] of the situation in which the Santos administration has put the country, as a consequence of its terrible, anti-union and dissatisfactory policies," declared the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), the country's largest union, in astatement.
The protests and strikes, largely ignored in the English-language media, have been met with heavy crackdown from Colombia's feared police, with human rights organization Bayacareporting shootings, torture, sexual assault, severe tear-gassing, arbitrary arrests, and other abuses on the part of state agents. Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon recently claimed that the striking workers are being controlled by the "terrorist" Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in a country known for using unverified claims of FARC connections as an excuse to launch severe violence against social movements.
"Violent clashes continue in rural areas where farmers and truck drivers have been setting up roadblocks since Monday, and the Santos administration has deployed 16,000 additional military personnel to 'control the situation,'" Neil Martin of the Colombia-based labor solidarity organization Paso International told Common Dreams Sunday. "There have not been deaths reported in relation to this violence, but human rights organizations and YouTube videos have documented military personnel beating protestors, stealing supplies, carrying out vandalism unwarranted arrests, and generally inciting violence."
Protesters are levying a broad range of concerns about public policies that devastate Colombia's workers, indegenous, and Afro-Colombian communities. The US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement has forced small farmers to compete with subsidized US products, made them more vulnerable to market fluctuations, and eroded their protections and social safety nets through the implementation of neoliberal policies domestically. Farmers are demanding more protections and services in a country beset with severe rural poverty.