Jason McGraw on Colombia’s Rural Revolts

On Sunday, June 15, Colombians will head to the polls for a runoff in the presidential election. Jason McGraw, author of The Work of Recognition: Caribbean Colombia and the Postemancipation Struggle for Citizenship (forthcoming August 2014), recently wrote about what’s at stake for agrarian, indigenous, and Afro-descended communities with this election.

McGraw begins:

Juan Valdez is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. Or at least, this is the case for his real-life Colombian counterparts. Under threat from death squads, criminal gangs, and U.S.-imposed free trade, rural communities across Colombia have again erupted in rebellion. On April 28th, coffee farmers, potato growers, and other peasant groups launched a paro agrario (agricultural strike). Tens of thousands of peasant demonstrators have blocked highways, staged daily rallies in cities and towns, and chained themselves in front of the national Congress in Bogotá. University students, schoolteachers, and truck drivers have joined in with solidarity strikes. Popular violence and state repression have been acute, with hundreds of protestors and police injured or killed and travel advisories issued for the affected areas.

The peasant movement’s main strike demands revolve around issues of economic security. Protestors have proposed new state subsidies for food crops, a refinancing of household debt, and the opening of new lines of interest-free credit. These demands come as peasant producers respond to new threats from neoliberal market reforms, including the U.S.-Colombia Trade Agreement that went into force in 2012. The more immediate cause of the April strike stems from the failure of the administration of Juan Manuel Santos to follow through on promises it made to end the agrarian strike of 2013. After more than two weeks of escalating protest, President Santos, who is currently seeking reelection, signed a new accord on May 13th with strike organizers in southwestern Huila. While the agreement brings a formal end to pickets in the region at the center of the strike, small producers in other parts of Colombia and workers in other industries have vowed to continue their protests.

McGraw goes on to explain how these recent protests have engaged an unprecedented multiracial coalition of allies across the country. Read the full article, “Why Colombian Peasants Are Again in Revolt — And What’s Different this Time”, at the History News Network.

Jason McGraw is associate professor of history at Indiana University. Follow him on Twitter @JasonPMcGraw to stay up to date.