By Luis Noé Ochoa, EL TIEMPO, June 5, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Some years ago, when the Government and the governors and the mayors thought a little bit more about the campesinos, today was a day that was different in the country and in the towns: Campesino Day.
If you could do it, wear a new shirt, trim your mustache, and the men and women would both go to town. In some towns there was a free veal dish prepared in the Colombian way in the main park. And they enjoyed the bandoleros—the ones that played the bandola, not the bandidoleros, the bandits—and the musicians. “And pour yourself a drink, misiá Poviana, have a drink. It’s good for you. . .”
And sometimes there were prizes and raffles where you could win tools. It wasn’t much, but the workers could see that they had been taken into account. “Oh, for the good old days,” is what the quarantined old folks might say; many of them having come from our beautiful countryside.
Now, not many are remembering the campesinos on this day. An editorial in this newspaper from last June 2 talks about how 11 percent of Colombians, according to Colombia’s Information Agency (DANE), live in rural areas. They are good people, unassuming, who work from dawn to dusk to produce, accepting their losses, to send us what ends up on our tables. We thank you very much.
As a friend in Boyacá told me, carrying potatoes in his hands, the government doesn’t give a bean about us. We get what we need from the potatoes. Of course it was very important that Juan Manuel Santos not only signed the peace agreement, but also included the subject of Complete Rural Reform in the text, and there has been some development. The rural housing plan was another great achievement. To be fair, Santos worked for the country people.
And this government implemented the program, “Harvest, and sell at a fixed price”. But, the fixed price is not enough. As the editorial said, we lack good roads to get the produce to market. And we lack technical assistance, which could be taught in the same rural schools where they prepare students for high school. But why aren’t they teaching agriculture yet? It’s wonderful that they now teach English, but students also need to learn how to raise and market chicken, fish, coffee, potatoes . . .
And they should bring health and technology. Because there are regions where many campesinos get sick and go to the doctor and, whether it’s the distance, or the paperwork, they end up being attended by St. Peter.
After this pandemic we need a countryside that is strengthened, with credit at low cost, as the leaders say while they’re eating grilled meat, cheap in the countryside, so expensive here; I wish we had an “orgasmic” countryside, as one ranch manager said. That is to say,without any chemicals, profitable, attractive, not just the rich man eats chicken, but also the poor people.
Everybody has victimized the campesinos. Displaced, exploited, subjected to extortions, used as human shields. And they still produce. It’s time to pay them. The government ought to go out to the countryside so that the campesinos don’t come to the city. That is the motto. That is the only way we will have peace. Do a survey to find out who are the majority of the street vendors, working in the informal sector, so poor, in the most depressed parts of the cities.
Can we imagine in the near future, when the world needs healthy food, a Colombia with a booming agricultural sector? Not because the campesino is struggling to survive, but rather is being treated as an equal, where secure agricultural income is not just for a few.
They need supplies at fair prices. And they need to avoid the middlemen. The middlemen ought not to impose the prices. It’s humiliating and unjust that the people who work the hardest are the ones who don’t get paid, because when the product reaches the final consumer it has already passed through five hands. We need to build collection centers for a lot of the produce, as they do for coffee. The country’s future is in the countryside.
“Good morning, campesino, good morning/ wherever you are, I send/ my greetings and my wish that your life/ gives you everything that you give to me.” That hymn by the maestro Jorge Violas should be heard tomorrow in every town (vereda) in the country. May God pay you all!