Colombian President Manuel Santos deployed members of the country’s armed forces in an effort to quell violent protests that have paralyzed many cities including the capital of Bogotá.
“I’ve ordered the militarization of Bogotá and I will do the same of any other place where it is necessary,” Santos said on Friday in a televised address, according to El Tiempo.
Santos said he was putting as making as many as 50,000 troops available.
CNN reports that protesters clashed with riot police in Bogotá on Thursday, leaving two dead. CNN adds:
“The protests have their roots in a strike that started on August 19. Farmers from around Colombia are demanding government support and credits, saying they can’t compete against powerful agricultural businesses that benefit from free trade agreements.
“Farmers who traveled to the capital to protest were joined by labor unions and student groups in marches and protests throughout Bogota.
“Santos said those who staged acts of vandalism and attacked businesses are not legitimate farmers voicing their demands, but vandals taking advantage of the situation to loot and steal.”
“There is no protest, as fair as it may be, that justifies loss of life,” Santos said. “We won’t let these vandals get away with this … Patience has run out.”
Reuters reports that protesters have also been blocking roads to prevent trucks from reaching markets for 11 days. The BBC reports that earlier this week, the government tried to appease the farmers by announcing new measures, “including better prices for agricultural products and more access to loans – to ease the pressure on farmers.”
Essentially, the farmers are complaining that free trade agreements with the U.S. and the European Union have left them unable to compete with imports.
“The protesters were mostly peaceful with many dressed in typical farmer attire of woolen ponchos and brimmed hats.
“Then hundreds of masked activists rushed Bogota’s main square and pelted shop and bank windows with rocks, smashed bus stops and clashed with riot police who fired tear gas to disperse them.
“Santos had tried to ease tension earlier on Thursday, acknowledging that the agriculture sector had been ‘abandoned.’ But he called for peaceful dissent while talks about possible solutions continued.”