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Colombian strike threatens flower exports

Colombian farmers began a strike on April 28, halting flower production just before export season.

Tens of thousands of farmers in Colombia are on strike, blocking roads and threatening to disrupt exports. A similar strike last August stretched 17 days, meaning the current work stoppage could cut into flower exports just in time for Mother’s Day, the sector’s second-most lucrative event after Valentine’s Day.

The South American nation is a significant flower exporter to the US, which last year purchased 65 percent of Colombia’s flower exports, or $740 million. The sector employs more than 130,000 Colombians.

But the striking Colombian farmers are taking a hardline against the government saying that President Juan Manuel Santos backtracked on promises on subsidies and production costs made during a previous work stoppage in August of last year.

“The government has not abided by the agreements we reached eight months ago,” says Andres Gil, an organizer with the National Agrarian Coordinating Committee. “We are not going to agree to anything this time until we have assurances that they [government authorities] will follow through.”

The strike poses an electoral threat to President Santos, who is fighting for reelection in the May 25 vote. The last farmers’ strike eroded Mr. Santos’ popular support, with his approval ratings dropping to around 28 percent from about 50 percent. The president’s ratings never fully recovered and his opponents are making gains despite running lackluster campaigns.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote on May 25, the top two candidates will face each other in a runoff, an outcome that appears increasingly likely with Santos currently polling at 23 percent.


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