December 3, 2019 / 12:38 PM / 11 days ago

Talks between Colombia strike committee, government end without advances

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Talks between the Colombian government and the unions and student organizations that are planning major protests this week ended without advances on Tuesday, as the country prepares for its third national strike since late November.

Hundreds of thousands of Colombians have participated in protests against President Ivan Duque’s social and economic policies since Nov. 21, imperiling the government’s tax reform proposal and leading Duque to announce a “great national dialogue.”

Five people have died in connection with the demonstrations, including a young man killed by homemade explosives on Monday in the city of Medellin during a protest at a public university.

On Monday the government asked the unions and student groups that make up the National Strike Committee to call off the Wednesday protest and agreed to a parallel dialogue with them.

The committee rejected the request to halt the strike, continuing to demand the government meet only with them instead of including business groups and others in talks.

Diogenes Orjuela, the head of the Central Union of Workers (CUT), told Reuters early on Tuesday the strike would go ahead and that his organization would continue to seek dialogue without “conditions on our plan of action which we have through December 10.”

The CUT is the country’s main union, with more than 500,000 members.

The committee has made 13 demands of the government, including that it reject a rise in the pension age and a cut in the minimum wage for young people, both policies Duque denies ever supporting.

A meeting between the committee and the government ended without progress on Tuesday, with presidency official Diego Molano telling journalists that certain committee demands could not be met.

“What they have requested can’t be fulfilled, particularly if we only maintain the exclusive and independent negotiations,” Molano said, adding the committee’s demand that the ESMAD riot police not be present during demonstrations was also inviable.

The death last week of 18-year-old protestor Dilan Cruz has helped fuel anger at the ESMAD, protesters accuse of using excessive force during crowd dispersion efforts. Cruz was fatally injured on the third day of protests by an ESMAD projectile.

Orjuela told journalists following Tuesday’s meeting that the negotiations will move forward while protests continue.

Reporting by Oliver Griffin and Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota; Additional reporting and writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Matthew Lewis

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