By Richard McColl
BOGOTA, Colombia (AA) – After five days of strikes in which demonstrators blocked main highways in various parts of the country, the government and agricultural groups agreed Friday to meet June 7 to try to end the protests.
“The government has maintained open channels for dialogue with social organizations, indigenous communities, farmers and afro Colombian groups,” said Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas.
The meeting Tuesday will be attended by government ministers who are in a position to address some of the demands by the 13 organizations that make up the Agrarian Congress - an umbrella group for the protestors.
The strikes, comprised mainly of indigenous groups and farmers, were called to reject government policies protestors say do not cater to the needs of the rural population and they say it shows reluctance by authorities to commit to agreements made after previous strikes in 2013 and 2014.
Strikes paralyzed most of the country in 2013 and led to violent confrontations between government forces and protestors, but during the current action three deaths have occurred.
The strikes were spurred originally by an agricultural crisis following decades of admitted government neglect of Colombia’s rural economic problems that protesters claim President Juan Manuel Santos has not worked to resolve.
“The government has a list of projects, but just on paper. It has not fulfilled even 50 percent of the minimum agreements reached in 2014,” protesters’ spokesman Jimmy Moreno said Friday.
While Santos has rejected the outbreaks of violence where there has been loss of life and the destruction of property, he said Thursday: “I know that people today are protesting because the resources have not reached them yet, they have the right to protest.”