Photo: ABC News
Eleven days ago, on August 19th, Colombian farmers, truckers, coffee growers and miners began a national strike to protest their economic condition, which they say has been brought upon by government carelessness and international free-trade agreements. Through the last eleven days, there have been marches and roadblocks that have made the country's major highways innavigable. In doing so, rural protestors have managed to even get the attention and support of those who live in large cities like Bogota, where protestors clashed with police in support of farmers, who have now been joined by teachers, dairy farmers and healthcare workers.
Through this process, which has now created shortages of food and fuel in many small towns, since highways throughout the country are completely blocked off, Colombia's president Juan Manuel Santos has said that there is no such thing as an agrarian strike, claiming that guerrilla infiltrators have chosen to destabilize the Colombian countryside. This amongst news that riot police are now using live ammunition against protesters, one whom died yesterday. After days of peaceful protests, matters have escalated, particularly in Bogota and surrounding areas. One unusual account has protesters in Bogota, one woman in particular, stopping a charging mob from attacking and likely killing (the Colombian newspaper used the word "lynching") 20 riot police who they were clashing with.
In the midst of all this, video of a seemingly unlikely supporter of the protesters has surfaced: Nairo Quintana. The native of Boyaca expressed his support of the strike, though it's worth pointing out that Quintana's statements were made before clashes became as violent as they have, but him speaking out on the matter is highly unusual in a country where celebrities and sports figures very, very rarely take up a cause of any kind, much less one as volatile as this one. Doing so is simply unpopular in Colombia (in part due to the class divisions that I mentioned in an earlier post). But then again, it's not everyday that someone who grew up as a potato farmer, is in the limelight, and has just been awarded the highest medal a country can offer by the very president that appears to be in denial about the situation.
As a sidenote, this has already brought about the first Quintana/strike joke. To be honest, it's not that funny, but it does work better in Spanish. Here it is:
President Santos is absolutely right. There is no strike and no roads are blocked in Boyaca at all! Turns out, all those thousands of people are just out on the roads to see Quintana go by as he trains.
Even before Quintana voiced an opinion on the matter, the image above became popular in social media. The text on the left reads, "This is how farmers/peasants are treated in Europe", while the text on the right reads, "And this is how they are treated in Colombia." (Thanks to my brother for sending this image my way). Before his comments, it had also been mentioned on the news that he has been unable to train due to road closures.
While covering the striking farmers in the department of Boyaca (where Nairo lives, and where road blockades are most severe), TV news crews found Quintana, riding his bike along goat paths, unable to train on proper roads due to protests. The video, which is now a major news story in Colombia, is below. I've subtitled it.