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Colombia: Millions rallied against the government

Farmers, workers, natives and students marched all over the country on Tuesday to block conservative president Alvaro Urive’s re-election bid. Protesters also demanded the end of the negotiations aimed to reach a free trade agreement with the United States.

Colombia’s democratic forces made clear last Tuesday that they represent the only serious opposition to the pro-market reforms led by conservative president Alvaro Uribe and his unconstitutional bid to seek re-election. While the President still enjoys a 70% approval rating thanks to his hard-line against Marxist rebels, no less than 1,5 million rallied all over the South American nation to fill the vacuum left by the armed opposition that has lost any contact with Colombian masses a long time ago.

Workers, natives, farmers and students took the streets this week as part of a general strike to protest President Alvaro Uribe's economic policies. Protests were led by Colombia's labor unions that organized a work stoppage, which was widely carried on in cities like Bogota, Cali, Medellin and Barranquilla.
Protesters marched against negotiations aimed at reaching a free trade agreement with the United States; increasing unemployment –it reached 13% in August- and poverty, which has risen to 60% thanks to pro-market reforms of the nineties. Additionally, the demonstrators were protesting potential changes to the constitution that would allow President Uribe to seek re-election. The president is currently barred from running for a secondt erm.

In declarations to the foreign press in Bogota, labor leader Julio Gomez said the success of the strike was due to the “outstanding unemployment rates and the extreme poverty of the farmers”. Even when Colombia’s economy grew up to 4% last year, the social crisis has reached unprecedented levels.
Mr. Gomez also blamed on the negotiations aimed to reach a free trade agreement with the United States. “This is a strike against the deal”, he said.

Organizers told the press that the event was historic as for the first time in years, labor unions and democratic leftist parties “joined efforts against free trade and pension reforms, policies directed from the IMF to secure Colombia’s due paying of its foreign debt”.

However, not only Alvaro Uribe has to learn some lessons from Tuesady’s mass demonstrations, but also the armed rebel groups like the FARC and others. These groups have lost any touch with the Colombian average citizen by insisting with bloody methods of fight and old fashioned revolutionary programs.

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