BOGOTA – President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday increased to 50,000 the number of police officers and army troops deployed on roads across Colombia to deal with a truckers’ strike that has lasted nearly six weeks.
“I have ordered a doubling in the number of security forces personnel on roads to 50,000 men, who will provide security to those companies willing to work,” Santos said at the Casa de Nariño presidential palace.
Over the 38 days of the strike, there have been acts of violence across the country, the Defense Ministry said.
On Tuesday, Boyaca Gov. Cesar Andres Amaya Rodriguez was involved in an auto accident on a road partially blocked by protesters in the province, which is in central Colombia.
Hours later, officials confirmed that a demonstrator, identified as Luis Orlando Saenz, was killed in Duitama, a town in Boyaca, when he was apparently shot in the face.
Santos also ordered the seizure of motor vehicles used to block roads or prevent transportation services from operating.
Drivers joining the blockades will have their licenses cancelled, and truck owners or trucking companies participating in the obstruction of roads will have their registrations voided and could face fines of up to 400 million pesos ($163,500).
The government will open a logistics center to “facilitate the movement of cargo in coordination with companies and truckers willing to work,” Santos said.
The protests, launched after the government allegedly failed to address concerns related to the higher cost of fuel, tolls and freight, has left a total of 18 police officers injured and 75 people under arrest.
After 38 days, Colombians have started to feel the effects of the strike in the form of higher food prices in several regions and shortages of the traditional arepas (corn pancakes), a basic staple in many Colombians’ diets.
Santos urged truckers to submit “realistic proposals,” warning that their demands “cannot adversely affect the vast majority of Colombians and family budgets.”
Should the government accept the truckers’ proposal, “prices in the basic basket of essential goods will shoot up by 10 percent,” the president said.