[dropcap]C[/dropcap]olombians are bracing themselves for a one-day general strike on March 17, which threatens to shut down transportation and businesses across the country.
The strike was called by the country’s three biggest unions: the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), United Confederation of Workers (CUT) and Confederation of Workers of Colombia (CTC).
The unions announced they would take to the streets to demand “economic, social and political measures” and in order to draw attention to a deepening economic crisis which has forced the government of President Juan Manuel Santos to implement austerity measures and announce tax reform legislation. According to the unions, “regressive tax and pension reforms” are “hurting Colombian families.”
An estimated 2.5 million unionized workers are expected to march.
Ex-president Álvaro Uribe Vélez has also summoned a nationwide protest on April 2 against the Santos government’s peace process and which the opposition leader claims is a “consolidated handover to terrorism.”
Even though President Santos announced Wednesday that the March 23 deadline for a peace agreement with FARC could not be met, the peace negotiating teams in Havana are in the final stages of wrapping up the talks, and a final deal is expected within the next 30 days.
Yet despite the expectations of an historic deal ending more than a half-century of conflict, Colombians remain deeply polarized over a peace with FARC and one, which skeptics claim, has given too many concessions to an internationally recognized terrorist organization, while sidelining the needs of Colombians.
A devalued peso and monetary tightening to reduce high inflation have also stalled GDP growth.
Economic worries compounded by recent actions of FARC to conduct political rallies in municipalities, while showing their weapons, has caused public outrage.
And many Colombians who originally welcomed the talks when they began more than four years ago in Oslo have lost faith in the process when the government disclosed lenient sentences, including no jail time for guerrillas who confess their crimes.
The general strike and march called by Uribe and members of the opposition party Centro Democrático, will test the decidedness of President Santos to sign a peace deal with FARC and then sell this peace to Colombians with a low approval rating of 69 percent, according to a February Gallup poll.
The same poll showed that 57 percent of Colombians are pessimistic about the direction of the peace talks with FARC, compared with 44 percent in December last year.
And adding to the disruptions of the March 17 general strike, Bogotá’s main yellow cab companies announced that they will start a strike of their own from Monday 14 to Thursday 17 in response to Uber and the inaction by the national government to regulate the service.