In Reversal, Colombian President Agrees to Meet With Strikers

Tuesday, 27 Aug 2013 12:15 PM

By Joel Himelfarb

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Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos now says his government will enter into negotiations with agricultural workers as their strike enters its ninth day.
 
Hundreds of thousands of protesters including dairy farmers and potato, onion, rice, and coffee growers have blocked almost a dozen major roads, sparking concerns about shortages of basic commodities.
 
There are fears that residents of the capital Bogota could face shortages of bread and potatoes as a result of the strike. The protesters’ cutoff of main roads connecting the central province of Boyaca with other regions had sparked reports of fuel shortages, and in many areas of the province, school lessons were canceled and shops were closed, the BBC reported Saturday.  
 
The government previously said it would not meet with the protesters until they lifted the roadblocks. But even though they remain in place, Santos has invited strike leaders from the three worst-affected provinces to talks with key ministers in Bogota, the BBC reported Tuesday.
 
The president said his government is determined to “work hand in hand with the farmers to see how we can get out of this situation.”
 
Protesters complain that free-trade agreements with the United States and the European Union (EU) are flooding the market with cheap imports while their costs for items such as fertilizers and fuel have gone up.
 
National Union of Farm Workers President Ederto Diaz said small farmers were hurt by the free-trade agreements with the EU which came into force this month, and with the United States, which has been in force since last year.
 
"We're not going to leave this country to the big farmers, or the multinationals which are taking over the land," he said.

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