Date: Wed, 25 Aug 1999 22:30:56 -0500 (CDT)
From: Colombian Labor Monitor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Colombia's labor unions call for suspension of foreign debt
Colombia's labor unions call for suspension of foreign debt payments
Agence France Presse, 24 August 1999
BOGOTA -- Labor leaders here called Tuesday for the government to suspend payments on the country's foreign debt, as Colombia struggles to emerge from its worst recession in 70 years.
Union activists have made suspension of debt payments a condition for calling off a national strike planned for August 31.
"We are demanding that the government declare a moratorium because the debt payments consume 36 percent of our national budget," labor leader Luis Garzon told AFP.
The demands to break off debt payments came as Colombia attempts to rouse itself from economic stagnation that has led to the demise of more than 70 major companies and 3,600 small businesses in the first seven months of the year.
Colombia owes some 17 billion dollars foreign creditors, and experts estimate that that the government paid more than two billion dollars last year to meet its foreign debt obligations.
The country's gross domestic product grew by a mere 0.6 percent in 1998 and is likely to fall by between 0.5 and one percent this year because of a drastic fall in demand, analysts said.
Meanwhile, unemployment has soared to almost 20 percent.
The economic downturn led finance officials to announce in July that Colombia would seek three billion dollars in loans from the International Monetary Fund for a package to stimulate the economy.
Tuesday's national strike to protest the government's economic policies was likely to affect a broad range of sectors, from the oil and electric industries to airlines and telecommunications.
Police and military leaders have reinforced deployments to avoid attacks by leftist insurgent groups during the strike, officials said.
Colombian army soldiers on Monday took over the country's two main oil refineries ahead of the strike.
The soldiers, acting on orders from President Andres Pastrana, also took over sites that control the flow of crude along the country's oil lines.
Copyright 1999 Agence France Presse
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