BOGOTA, Sept 2 Sixteen members of Colombia's
Cabinet presented their resignations to President Juan Manuel
Santos on Monday, a decision that paves the way for changes he
may want to make after a protest in the farming sector turned
violent last week.
The Cabinet also offered its full support to Santos,
according to a statement read by the president's secretary
general, Aurelio Iragorri. Santos has yet to respond to the
The joint resignations, a protocol before a Cabinet shuffle,
came just days after Santos was forced to send troops to patrol
the streets of Bogota following violent protests that caused
havoc across the capital, killing two people and leaving parts
of the city in shambles.
The two-week labor dispute, in which farmers blocked roads
to snarl transportation across cities across the country, put
pressure on Santos before the November deadline for deciding
whether to run for a second term. The agriculture sector has
complained that free-trade accords with the United States and
Europe have made it impossible to compete with cheaper imports.
Some sectors have called for Agriculture Minister Francisco
Estupinan to leave the Cabinet because of his handling of the
farm protest, which continues, even though partial agreements
have allowed many roads to be cleared of barricades.
The violent disturbances last week came in the middle of a
contentious national debate over government peace negotiations
with Marxist rebels, known as the FARC, or the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia, which have dragged on for a year.
Santos has bet his legacy on bringing an end to five decades
of bloodshed with the FARC and also hopes to start talks soon
with the smaller rebel group, the National Liberation Army.
While Colombians are enthusiastic at the prospect of an end
to the conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people since
it began, they have become impatient at the slow pace of talks
while the fighting continues and the perception that Santos has
ceded too much to the drug-funded rebels.
Santos' approval ratings have fallen to below 50 percent in
July from a high of 74 percent when he took office in 2010.
Still, the shuffle, the second since he took office, would
give Santos a freer hand to strengthen his team leading into the
presidential election next year. Although he has not confirmed
whether he will run in May, he has said he wants his policies to
extend into the next administration.