COLOMBIA ANALYSIS: A short primer on the national strike

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CPTnet
26 August 2013
COLOMBIA ANALYSIS: A short primer on
the national strike

[Note: the following has been edited
for length.  The original is
available here]

 
  Protests in Sincelejo (Photo: Marcha Patriotica)

 Beginning on Monday, 19 August, broad
sectors of Colombian society rose up in a national strike.  The strike, which is now taking place in
cities and rural areas across the country,
includes coffee growers’ unions, truck drivers, small-scale miners, students,
teachers, health workers, farmers, and fishermen.  CPT has had a presence at the strikes and roadblocks taking
place in Segovia and Remedios, in northeastern Antioquia.  What follows is a short primer on why Colombians are striking, the
historical context of these
demonstrations, and what the demonstrators have demanded from the State.

 Colombia is a country deeply divided by
economic inequality.  Almost half
of all rural Colombians live in extreme poverty, defined
as subsisting on less than $1.00 a day.  Colombia is also home to five million internally displaced people, a
number on par globally only with the Sudan.  That adds up to one in ten Colombians, displaced within the
last twelve years to refugee camps, shantytowns, and temporary shelters.  Women, Afro-descendants, and indigenous
peoples are more likely than others to be displaced.

 But Colombia is also a nation of great
wealth and a growing GDP.  Unfortunately,
the poor have not seen the benefits of that growth.  The country has the second greatest income inequality  in the Western Hemisphere, following
close on the heels of Haiti, and ranks eighth in the world for income inequality.  In the rural areas, this inequality
manifests itself most obscenely in rates of land ownership: 0.4% of landowners
own 61% of rural land, and that concentration
is increasing even further with the skyrocketing foreign investment that
Colombia has seen in the last fifteen years.

The recent spate of Free Trade Agreements
has only worsened the situation.  Oxfam and others estimated that the U.S.-Colombia
Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect in 2012, would mean that small
farmers in rural areas could lose up to 70% of their income.  The rate of displacement has already increased since the
Free Trade Agreement went into effect.

Profits of Gold Mining 

Foreign investment by extractive
industries in Colombia has skyrocketed over the past fifteen years, due in part
to a much-touted reduction in guerrilla activity, which makes mining less risky
for multinational corporations.  Owing
to those changes, and responding
 to
 a
 hike
 in
 gold
 prices
 during
 the
global
 financial
 crisis, gold
 production
 in
 the
 country
 has
 tripled
since
 2006.  

 The
 government’s
 spending
 on
infrastructure
 development
 is
 highly
 concentrated
 in
 areas
 under
exploration
 by
 multinational mining interests, and
 up
 to
 a
 reported
 forty
percent

 of
 the
 nation’s
 rural
 land
 is
 now
 open
 for
multinationals
 to
 apply
 for
 mining concessions (See Pierre Shantz’s
reflection here,
which discusses gold profits in Segovia, Antioquia.)

 Moreover, these economic realities take
place within the context of an armed conflict, which, contrary to the national
narrative, has not ended.  Rural
residents, in particular, continue to be affected by the violence of legal and
illegal armed groups.  Indeed,
organizers note that murders of and attacks on social movement leaders,
blockages of aid and shootings and bombings by the armed forces are often the
only evidence of state presence in rural areas.

 Social Movement
Demands

In sum, while Foreign Direct Investment
(FDI) continues to rise in Colombia, especially in the gold mining sector,
local communities—many of whom have been making their living mining small
amounts of gold by hand for centuries—have seen none of the benefits of that investment.  They have instead have suffered further
violence, displacement, and impoverishment as foreign multinationals and local
elites line their increasingly heavy pockets.  The Santos administration has refused to discuss foreign investment or the
free trade economic model during its current negotiations with the FARC-EP.  In response, organizers of the National Strike yesterday
released a list of six specific demands of the government.  These include

  • Measures
    to confront production crises in agricultural and fishing sectors
  • Access
    to property ownership and land titles
  • Recognition
    of peasant land reserves.
  • The effective participation of local
    communities and small-scale and traditional miners in the development of
    federal mining policy.
  • The adoption of measures on the part
    of the State that would guarantee the exercise of the rural population’s
    political rights
  • Social investment in education,
    health, housing, public services and roadways

            To continue to follow unfolding developments in the National Strike, check out our Storify page, where we will continue to post the latest news. 

            For more information on mining issues in Colombia, check out this report by Peace Brigades International, and this report by the U.S. Office on Colombia.

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