Reasons for the Just Strike of he Cane Harvesters of the Geographic Valley of the Cauca River, Colombia,

(Translated by Steve Cagan, a CSN volunteer translator)

Reasons for the Just Strike of he Cane Harvesters of the Geographic Valley of the Cauca River, Colombia, That Respond to the Fallacies of the President of ASOCAÑA
SINALCORTEROS Cali, September 17, 2008
The National Harvesters’ Union (SINALCORTEROS) presents the reasons why the ethanol industry in the geographical valley of the Cauca River is another source of disagreement between the industrial oligopoly of sugar and the workers and farmers of the region.
1.The production of ethanol in the region, in the way it is currently carried out, responds to an imposition by the countries of the North, who need to resolve their energy deficit through local oligopolies that profit from the increasing monoculture of sugar cane, to the clear detriment of the workers, indigenous communities, farmers and consumers, sacrificing food self-sufficiency, and with tricky arguments about the supposed environmental benefits. That, together with other important factors like financial speculation, opening markets and concentration in the business chains, will aggravate the problem of hunger that Colombians and more than 925vmillion human beings in the world are suffering.
2. The fact that the Colombian government should have established a business that exclusively benefits one group of families indicates the political and economic power of this oligopoly, which enjoys all the advantages, to the detriment of the work, the life and the production of the immense majority of Colombians.
3. Whoever studies the domestic and international prices of sugar for the period ebwteen 1991 and 2007 will find that the domestic price of this commodity is three times higher within Colombia than in the rest of the world, which amounts to a subsidy by Colombian consumers to the sugar mills which in this way are compensated for their losses in exports of a product for which there is a surplus in supply.
4.This subsidy has been increased substantially with the fuel-grade alcohol business since 2005: ethanol is exempt from the value added tax (16%), the excess tax on gasoline (12%) and the global tax, all of which amounts to approximately 153 million dollars annually that do not enter into the treasury of the State and that the sugar refiners are saving. Further, the government defined the territories where agro-fuels are planted as  exemption from tariffs for capital goods, fixing the price, guaranteed purchases and credits from the Agro Ingreso Seguro [Colombian government program, supposedly to provide credits for farmers affected by free trade agreements‑SC], which are charged at the DTF [a measure of interest‑SC] less 2%, outline a business that is “armored” like no other legal activity in the country.
5. None of these benefits has gotten to the workers or the farmers. Quite the contrary, life and working conditions for the harvesters are increasingly bad, which requires that we struggle for just demands that are similar to those of colonial times, under conditions of slavery.  Things have also gone very badly for the sugar cane growers organized in PROCAÑA, owners of the farms that supply the sugar mills. Today they get 30% less for the primary materials that are dedicated to ethanol.
6. Consumers have not benefited from this policy either. In September, 2008, for example, the income for the ethanol producer was $5,038 [Colombian pesos—about $2.50 USD—SC] per gallon, while the gasoline producer was paid $4,068. That is, the government lied to the country one more time in promising that ethanol would be cheaper than gasoline, and instead fixed on a formula designed to line the pockets of the sugar-alcohol industry. The gasoline that we Colombians consume is among the most expensive in the world.

7.  Ethanol was the salvation of the sugar processors in the face of the terrible negotiations of the FTA in the United States. This allowed them to stop exporting a great quantity of sugar at a loss in the international markets, to the extent that sugar cane production was replaced by production for fuel-grade alcohol. Therefore, between 2005 and 2006theydid not produce 268,000 tons of sugar, so that the processors made a profit because they did not export at a loss and in addition because the national government guarantees them a profit with the high price of ethanol in the domestic market.
How much have the processors made by this process?
In 2006, they did not export……………                        254,077 tons of sugar
Exporting this, they would have gotten…..                        175,968 million pesos
Replacing this with ethanol, they got……                        347,764 million pesos
The difference is the profit………..                                    171,796 million pesos [about 85.8 million dollars—SC]

This figure represents the increase in the net profits of the processors, which went from 167,216 million pesos in 2005 to 333,022 million pesos [a little over 165 million dollars‑SC] in 2006.
To take just one example, the five processors that produce ethanol, among them the Ardila Lulie group, had these profits:
Net profits of the processors, 2005-2006.Millions of pesos.
  Processor   2005   2006   
  INCAUCA   17,269   49,580   
  PROVIDENCIA   21,958   44,129   
  RISARALDA   16,436   27,635   
  MAYAGUEZ   24,807   39,320   
  MANUELITA   28,648   42,871  
The figures were developed by the Centro de Estudios de Tranajo [Center for Studies on Work], CEDETRABAJO, from official sources.
Even if it is true that the profits of the processors diminished in the year for 2007, their worth increased significantly: Incauca’s worth increased 4.1%, and that of Mayagüez 10.7%, to mention just some cases.
A business as lucrative as that of the affiliates of ASOCAÑA demonstrates the inconceivable inequality of the much-touted ”profound democracy.” The reality for the great majority of the Colombian people, among them the sugar harvesters, is that of people who have not even the most minimal conditions of social justice.
Our modest petition demands that labor rights recognized for workers in civilized countries be respected. Ignoring them bares the profound antidemocracy  of the Colombian government, sustained by fraud and brutal repression against those who generate the social wealth of the department and the country.
The people of Colombia and the world need to know this reality in order to demand that the processors and the government recognize the union organization that is demanding collective bargaining on the list of demands and guarantees of employment stability. This is the only way to reestablish peace in the relations in agro-industrial  production in the geographical valley of the Cauca River
National Cane Harvesters’ Union (SINACORTEROS), affiliated with the CUT (CentralLabor Federation)
Calle 19A No. 10-81
Tells: 310-409-3377, 315-519-5342

Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621

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