Colombian coffee farmers win campaign for a living wage, 2013


For increased government subsidies on coffee in order to receive a minimum of $360 per 125-kilogram sack of coffee beans.

Time period

25 February, 2013 to 8 March, 2013



Location City/State/Province

Departments of Antioquia, Huila, Risaralda, Quindio, and Tolima
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 1st segment

  • Merchants closed their shops in support of the coffee growers

Segment Length

2 days


El Movimiento por la la Dignidad Cafetera (MDC), Guillermo Gaviria Osorno


Not known

External allies

Merchants, cacao farmers, indigenous people

Involvement of social elites

Argentinean soccer player Diego Maradona


The Colombian government

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not Known

Campaigner violence

Not Known

Repressive Violence

The government sent police to use tear gas and physical force to repress the campaigners. Over fifty protesters were reported injured and one killed.


Economic Justice



Group characterization

Coffee growers

Groups in 1st Segment


Groups in 3rd Segment

Indigenous people

Groups in 5th Segment

Argentinean soccer player Diego Maradona

Segment Length

2 days

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

6 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


2 out of 3 points

Total points

9 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

The coffee growers succeeded in achieving their goal to receive increased subsidies from the government to offset their losses on the market. Many other sectors of society, including merchants, cacao farmers, and indigenous groups, supported the struggle and took action because they believed the struggles of the coffee growers to by a symptom of larger economic problems affecting them all.

Database Narrative

In 2012, Colombian coffee prices fell 35% on the international market while the Colombian peso appreciated 10%. A combination of crop disease, bad weather, and unfavorable currency rates forced growers in Colombia to sell their coffee at a loss. Many coffee growers then found themselves spending more on fertilizers and supplies than what they were making for their coffee. When this happened, they looked toward the fund established by the National Federation of Coffee Growers, known as Federacafé, as a source of capital that growers would pay into so that they would have support during difficult times. Instead of support, they found that the fund had been mismanaged and pillaged by corrupt officials for years.

On 25 February 2013, about 40,000 coffee growers organized protests and road blockades in the regions of Antioquia, Huila, Risaralda, Quindio, and Tolima. They demanded that the government provide increased subsidies to guarantee a minimum price for their coffee beans in the market. The Movement for the Dignity of Coffee Growers (el Movimiento por la Dignidad Cafetera – MDC) organized the campaign. At the time, growers received $288 per 125-kilogram sack of coffee, though the cost of production varied from $360 to $387 per sack. Their demand for increased subsidies to offset the lower prices they were receiving on international markets was a demand for a living wage.

Each roadblock had tarp shelters at its sides where protesters prepared food and slept. Farmers collected pots, cooking wood, and food to bring to their protests. In response, President Juan Manuel Santos sent out 15,000 police to violently repress the protesters. They used tear gas and physical force to attack the campaigners. Police tore down the camps, threw food on the ground, and spread toxic chemicals over the food to make them inedible. They injured more than fifty people and killed one.

Though the campaign’s demands explicitly expressed coffee growers’ interests, other groups offered their support. Many merchants closed their shops in solidarity on the first day. Cacao farmers, workers, indigenous people, and even business people are reported to have participated in support of the coffee growers.  On 1 March, the indigenous communities of Northern Cauca set up road blockades in support, explaining that “it’s not just the coffee; it is the agricultural sector and the whole economic model.” During the months of February and March, other groups like coal workers and truckers launched their own strikes with their specific set of demands.

On 2 March, the government announced that it would provide farmers with a subsidy increase of $33 or $52 per 125-kilogram sack of coffee depending on the size of the farmer’s land over the year 2013. The campaigners rejected this and continued their strike demanding a minimum price of $360 per sack, which would require a larger increase in subsidy than $33 or even $52. The government tried to disorganize and break apart the campaign during the first week. For example, they announced that they had negotiated with Federacafe and so the strike was over. This was not the case however, as the strike was organized by MDC. The government tried at other points to associate the strike organizers with guerilla rebel groups or the opposition party, neither of which was effective. 

On 7 March, the government agreed to provide a subsidy of up to $80 per 125-kilogram sack of coffee or $.29 per pound, which would amount to $450 million in government price supports for the year 2013. They also pledged to take additional measures to help fertilization and facilitate loan payments for coffee growers. They said that these measures were to take force as of 18 March.

On 8 March, Guillermo Gaviria Osorno, the leader of MDC, announced that coffee growers and the government had reached an agreement. The Colombian National Coffee Growers Federation also released a statement saying that organizers called off the strike. Gaviria Osorno praised the unity among coffee workers and expressed his hope that the subsidies would begin to be effective.


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Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Nick Palazzolo, 25/03/2013