May 13, 2021

The Colombia protests: How is the situation affecting the population and the coffee sector?

On April 28, 2021, tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets across Colombia. Their demonstrations were initially a response to a tax reform bill announced by the Colombian government, which was supposedly set to mitigate the economic disruption that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the country.

The reform has since been cancelled, but rather than abating, the protests have intensified for a number of reasons.

To find out more about what is happening in Colombia and how it affects the coffee industry, we asked our Colombian Instagram followers, including coffee farmers, roasters, baristas and café owners. Read on to find out more what they said and what you can do.

colombia protests

Why are Colombians protesting?

In recent years, Colombia has been affected by social inequality, poor implementation of the peace deal ratified in 2016, and police brutality, alongside a number of other issues which directly affect the population.

The Covid-19 pandemic also further exacerbated existing inequalities, causing unemployment rates to rise and disruption to the Colombian economy.

To deal with this, in early April, the Colombian government proposed a tax reform bill that was designed to mitigate the state’s economic losses caused by the pandemic. The country’s GDP had fallen by 6.8% in 2020 alone, with unemployment somewhere around 14% as of March 2020.

This reform would have had a significant effect on the Colombian population. It would have expanded value-added taxes on a wider pool of food products, basic goods, and services, removed certain income tax exemptions, and moved many middle-class earners into a higher tax bracket. 

In response, labour unions and federations organised a nationwide peaceful protest against the tax reform, which began on April 28. Colombian police responded almost immediately by violently clashing with protestors across the country.

In a little over two weeks since the first day of the protests, civilians have been injured, killed, arrested arbitrarily, sexually assaulted, and gone missing altogether. The numbers vary depending on the agency in question reporting, but they are increasing daily.

As of May 12, 41 people have been officially reported dead, with hundreds injured and arrested.

The proposed tax reform was withdrawn on May 2, but protests continue in response to widespread inequality, police brutality, and allegations of media censorship.

colombia protests

How has the situation affected the coffee sector?

The protests and responses to them have caused road blockades across the country. The supply of food and other supplies to cities and rural regions has been interrupted. This means that existing supply chain issues caused by the pandemic have been exacerbated.

Furthermore, several coffee-growing regions across Colombia are currently in the middle of their harvest season. However, blockades are stopping the transport of coffee from farms to ports – which are also closed.

So far, the blockade on exports has lasted around a week, according to Roberto Vélez of the Colombian Coffee Growers’ Federation (FNC). This is despite the fact that the price of Colombian coffee has reached an all-time high of USD 1.44 per pound through a 9% increase in coffee production in April

As a result of the blockades, which make transporting and exporting coffee impossible, many farmers have not been paid for their harvest. Juan Quintero, a coffee farmer from the Valle del Cauca region, says: “We don’t have a way to transport it and no security to sell it.”

Jhonatan Smith adds: “Exporters continue to stockpile the main harvest in the provinces of Cauca, Huila, and Nariño. There are delays in the movement of coffee due to road closures, as well as for the transport of coffee by courier. 

“The port of Buenaventura has been blocked [and there isn’t any coffee arriving], and while the internal price is high for producers, conditions are difficult for bean transport.”

The protests have not only affected coffee farmers, either. Roasteries have also been unable to send their coffee to customers across the country. 

Mauricio Londoño is a coffee farmer, and the founder of Pedaling Coffee, which organises bicycle tours through the coffee-growing regions of Valle del Cauca. He says: “We have not been able to transport our roasted coffee to [customers], either nationally or internationally. Roasters are at a standstill.” 

Even for farmers who sell coffee to local roasters, rather than exporting internationally, the blockades make any kind of shipping difficult.

A spokesperson from Kolombian Koffee, a specialty coffee roaster in Cali, adds: “We are in Cali, perhaps the most affected city in Colombia.

“For our own safety and that of our collaborators, all our production and sales operations are 100% halted, as well as our activity on social media networks.”

green coffee exports

Initiatives & raising awareness

Colombians have appealed to the international community on social media to draw attention to the crisis and ask for support. 

If you want to learn more about the crisis on social media, the hashtag “#soscolombia” is being used to discuss the protests and by parties looking to express their support for the Colombian people.

As this is a national crisis and violent action continues, the country needs first aid items, including gauze, disinfectants, bandages, and other medical supplies.

Hospitals in the country are already overloaded thanks to Covid-19. Infection rates are also likely to increase during the protests, making this a critical time for the Colombian healthcare system.

Here are some of the causes you can donate to:

  • The 2018 World AeroPress Champion Carolina Ibarra is receiving donations through Venmo from those living in the United States. The funds raised will go to support the Quindio Resiste collective.
  • The RedCondor collective is raising funds to support first aiders in the cities of Cali, Medellín, and Bogotá.

You can also reach out to anyone in Colombia that you partner with, buy from, or sell to, and ask how the situation is affecting them and what you can do to help.

Please note: we will be updating this list as we receive more information on initiatives from across the sector.

The humanitarian crisis taking place in Colombia is regarded as many as a critical turning point in the modern history of the country. The protests, violence, and economic fallout have affected industry all across the country, including the coffee sector. 

At present, it is uncertain what the future holds for Colombia as a country, let alone its national coffee sector. However, the crisis continues to affect coffee farmers, who despite the current high price of coffee are unable to sell their harvest. This could have serious financial consequences for their families and their wider communities.

If you work directly with a Colombian coffee farmer, show your support. Ask them what they need.

Did you find it interesting? Then read our article about Colombia’s changing coffee industry.

Photo credits: Tatiana Guerrero.

Perfect Daily Grind

Originally posted on PDG Español. Translated by Tati Calderón Cea. Translation edited by Ross Hindle. 

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