On September 12, 2013 and as a result of the agricultural strike in August, popular organizations set up the Agrarian Summit. Since then the Summit has worked towards a common position on the problems of the agricultural sector, and above all the demands being made on the state. As a result of this collective effort and as an expression of the political unity of the social organizations involved, 4000 peasant, indigenous, Afro-descendant and urban leaders attended an Agrarian, Peasant, Ethnic and Popular Summit on 15, 16 and 17 March 20141.
The Summit drew up a unitary list of demands to present to the Colombian state, and agreed that the strike would resume in the first week of May if the government did not fulfill these demands, along with past agreements that remain unfulfilled. The list was presented to the President of Colombia on April 4, and since then the government has met the political committee of the Summit on 3 occasions, but without meeting the demands. Hence since April 28 the Agrarian Strike has been in force, supported by many peasant movements, such as the different “dignity” movements organised by coffee farmers, rice farmers, potato farmers etc.
The government is currently in negotiations with the Agrarian Summit and the dignity movements. It is seeking to stop the strike, arguing that these organizations have electoral interests, as the image of President Juan Manuel Santos is being strongly affected in the run-up to his attempt at reelection on May 25. However, it is clear that beyond the elections there is a deep rural crisis caused by the expansion of agribusiness, the agrarian counter-reform carried out by the paramilitaries, the FTA, mining and energy policies and a history of state neglect. That is why the unitary demands of the Agrarian Summit are more than a list of specific points and actually seek to negotiate state policy towards the agricultural sector.
Since the government met with the Summit on 11 April, the latter has argued that its demands deal with structural issues and contain comprehensive proposals in that have not been acknowledged or welcomed by the government or the state, and that therefore the strike is not only legitimate and justified but necessary. The Summit has asked the government, through the Interior Minister Aurelio Iraggory, to set up a single national negotiating forum which is not just a consultation body but one where binding agreements can be made, and where the Agrarian Summit’s unitary demands are treated as a minimum requirement in seeking to transform public policy. It has also demanded that the state guarantees the right to protest and puts an end to the human rights violations carried out by the state’s repressive apparatus since that since April 28.
Next Tuesday the negotiations between the government and the political commission of Agrarian Summit will resume, and it is expected that the draft decree setting up the single negotiating forum will be made public. Until then the 30,000 people from different regions, organizations and social processes that are blocking roads and protesting for their rights will remain on strike.