Farmers reach agreement with Colombia to end protest

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia’s farm leaders agreed yesterday to end a three-week protest that had turned violent, caused food shortages and put pressure on President Juan Manuel Santos just a few months before he must decide whether to seek a second term in office.

Thousands of farmers have been manning roadblocks on major highways, preventing supplies from reaching cities, and clashing with police in a national show of anger.

At least five people died in the protests.

The farmers are angry at the high price of fertilizers and at free-trade agreements with the United States and Europe that made it hard to compete with cheap imports.

The rural protests came at an already difficult time for Santos, under pressure over the slow pace of peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

With eight months to go before the presidential election, and a November deadline looming to announce if he is running again, Santos’ approval rating has slumped to 21 per cent in a Gallup opinion poll at just the wrong time for him.

The 62-year-old, Harvard-educated scion of one of Colombia’s most influential families, Santos has not yet said whether he will seek re-election. Analysts expect him to run, and say he would still be the favourite despite the recent problems.

The government signed accords with farm leaders in Cundinamarca, Boyaca, Narino and Huila provinces to cut fertilizer prices and provide cheap credit among other concessions.

Some of the biggest protests had come from those areas.

The Finance Ministry has said it will increase the size of the 2014 budget to fund the agriculture sector.

“The farm sector can’t take any more and the most important thing is that the popular revolution is what woke up the nation,” said Cesar Pachon, who led the protest, which echoed recent social protests in Brazil.

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