December 11, 2013
LATIN AMERICAFriday, September 13, 2013
Santos reshuffles Cabinet after crisis
New Agriculture and Interior ministers sworn-in following major agrarian strike
BOGOTá — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said the country is coming out of the crisis caused by an agrarian strike and that, during his last year in office, he hopes to reach a peace deal with FARC rebels and to start working on an agrarian reform.
The president referred to the strike during a swearing-in ceremony for four new ministers on Wednesday night. He said he expects to finish his term in office with this renewed Cabinet, which he has called “unity Cabinet for peace.”
“You are the brave ones taking office when the ship is in the middle of a storm, but that storm is already passing, so don’t worry,” Santos said.
The wave of protests started in June with a farmer strike in the Catatumbo region and became more serious last month with an agrarian strike that affected every corner of the country and prompted the Cabinet reshuffle.
Aurelio Iragorri is the country’s new Interior Minister. He replaces Fernando Carrillo who had faced questiones over his handling of the protests.
Rubén Lizarralde, meanwhile, replaces Francisco Estupiñán as head of Agriculture. During the swearing-in ceremony, Santos praised Lizarralde and said he was a “leader and an expert in agrarian issues.”
Both the opposition and the ruling party had criticized Estupiñán for not being “in touch” with protesters.
“The agrarian strike forces us to rethink the way in which we develop our country,” Santos said.
According to the president, “the country’s poverty and inequality” are concentrated in rural areas and, if Colombia wants to be a fair country, it has to face the need for reform “with determination, resources and political will.”
The other two ministers that took office were Mines and Energy Minister Amylkar Acosta and Environment Minister Luz Helena Sarmiento.
A fifth minister should have been sworn-in on Wednesday. Former Attorney General Alfonso Gómez Méndez should have assumed as Justice Minister, but the government didn’t explain his absence.
“Every Colombian dreams of peace. If we achieve (a deal) we will finish on a high note,” Santos said, in referrence to his last 11 months in office.
The government has been negotiating a peace deal with FARC since last November.
The pilots’ union for Avianca announced yesterday a work slowdown to demand an increase in what it calls substandard wages at Colombia’s principal airline.
The union said that starting today pilots will cause delays by halting radio calls about fuelling, mobile stairs and other issues.
Union president Jaime Alberto Hernández told reporters that passengers will experience “operational disorder”
He said pilots agreed in 2003 to givebacks when Avianca was passing through financial troubles but its pilots now average roughly half the monthly wage of a pilot in countries such as Brazil and Peru.
Avianca has a 153-plane fleet and about 100 destinations inside and outside of Colombia.
The company said it is adjusting flight schedules to account for expected delays.
Herald with Télam, AP, online media