Faced with a dead-letter agreement and the government’s neglect to address the demands of the Colombian people, we, the members of the social movement, the union centrals, the trucking sector, the taxi sector, and other citizen initiatives, are concerned about the economic, political, and social situation and have sent this letter to President Juan Manuel Santos, expressing the demands central to the national general strike whose first edition took place on March 17.
Dr. Juan Manuel Santos Calderón, President of the Republic. Palacio de Nariño Bogotá, D.C.
In view of the failure of the legal minimum wage negotiations, the outrageous and arbitrary sale of ISAGEN, the REFICAR scandal, the announcement of a suite of tax reform measures detrimental to working people, the liquidation of CAPRECOM and SALUDCOOP, and your default on an agreement with pensioners and workers to lower health premiums from 12 to 4% and to restore overtime, Sunday and holiday payments to their proper amount; noting your failure to fulfil agreements signed with Dignidad Agropecuaria, Cumbre Agraria, the Cruzada Camionera, taxi drivers, and other sectors; and more generally, taking cognizance of your toxic legislative agenda, the accelerated impoverishment of our farmers and the majority of the population, the high cost of the family food basket and public transportation, worsening unemployment, the growth of the informal sector, the unpayable foreign debt, all of this due to a regressive neoliberal economic model, we have decided to convene, organize, and hold a “National Day of Protest” taking the form of a general strike, scheduled for 17 March 2016 throughout Colombia. Are you aware, Mr. President, of the tragedy that has befallen the children in many parts of Colombia–a tragedy in which thousands of children have died of hunger, thirst, and all manner of diseases due to neglect by the government and an arrogant, self-interested governing class? Far from having been dismantled, paramilitarism runs rampant in our nation, sowing death and terror; it constitutes an ongoing obstacle and a threat to the guarantees which all citizens must enjoy to the full exercise of their rights, including the right to remain on the land.
The undersigned organizations support the negotiations of the national government with theguerrillas to put an end to the internal conflict. We stand in favour of the endorsement mechanism agreed upon by the parties and we will settle for no less than a serious commitment to fulfil all the agreements reached. The conjuncture calls for the utmost conscientiousness if you are to avert the people’s frustration and bring the long-sought peace agreement to fruition. We call on the national government to address the demands of the social and workers’ sectors, to allow for their participation in the process, and to respect the right of public protest, in the same spirit in which the negotiations in Havana are being conducted. Along these lines, we, the National United Command and Coordination of the social and political organizations, proceed to put forward the main demands that call for an urgent response from the government:
1. Develop a structural program with emergency measures for the people of Guajira department and elsewhere, since the existence of starving and dying child puts Colombia to shame.
2. Make good on the agreements signed between the government and the various organizations representing workers, pensioners, small farmers, African Colombians, students, indigenous people, transporters, and farm businesses.
3. Considering the high cost of living, we demand an across-the-board increase in wages and transportation subsidies, with pay equity for women and price reductions on public services and transportation. We also demand that the cost of the family basket of necessities be lowered and that vital minimums be established.
4. Defend the public heritage, especially Ecopetrol (construction of the PMRB, not the sale of the subsidiaries or the closing of oil and gas fields), and of publicly-owned companies, including Aseo, ETB, EAAB, EEB, Emcali, and the state’s interest in ISA and ISAGEN.
5. Evaluate and review so-called “free-trade” agreements. Defence of national industrial and agricultural production through tariff, taxation, and financial mechanisms (partial debt forgiveness and lowered interest for drought victims), among others. Reject zero-tariff food imports do not dismantle the public-owned liquor store system.
6. No to the privatization of public health and education services. We demand budget increases for these sectors, measures to respect and protect the health of teachers, and payment of labour debts. We also demand concerted, democratic university reform with forgiveness of student debts to ICETEX, and a budget increase for SENA.
7. Promote of decent, dignified employment, formalized a labour policy, expand public and private sector facilities and personnel with both permanent and temporary staff, and protect the right to work and access to the public space for informal-sector workers.
8. Promote a national legal framework based on environmental protection, water as a basic human right, and strategic ecosystems essential to human life. We demand that new mining concessions be put on hold, that Constitutional Court decisions be fulfilled, that prior informed consultation and consent on mining and energy projects be put in place, and that such projects be banned in urban areas.
9. Lower fuel prices, freeze highway tolls, and ban all further road concessions.
10. Tax reform cannot and must not be regressive. Therefore, tax exemptions for multinationals must be abolished and the VAT must not be increased, nor should there be any enlargement of the base of taxable items, nor should any further tax burden be imposed on the working class or pensioners. Abolish the deposit and withdrawal charge known as “4x1000.”
11. Defend the land for small farm production and recognize small farmers’ rights. Strengthen indigenous and local economies. Assist small farmers in gradually replacing illicit crops with legal ones.
12. Provide full and effective guarantees of human rights, trade union freedoms, and refrain from criminalizing or judicializing social protest and demands for collective reparations. Abolish ESMAD.
13. Strengthen the seniority-based (Colpensiones) pension system and refrain from making any regressive modifications to the pension system. Grant full recognition for the pension rights of retired police and military officers.
14. Lower interest rates to put an end to financial speculation, thereby protecting the solidarity economy sector (cooperatives, non-profit social services agencies).
15. Devise a concerted public policy to fight corruption and impunity, including enhanced powers for the relevant control and justice entities.
Bogotá, 9 March 2016
Cruzada Nacional por la Dignidad Camionera