Chile’s truck drivers end nationwide strike
Following seven days of refusing to work, truckers in Chile have called off the strike led by the National Confederation of Cargo Transport (CNTC), the organization announced on its website.
According to CNTC President Sergio Pérez, the government has accepted all of the union’s demands except one – that of unemployment insurance for drivers affected by attacks on the road – and of the 13 bills that were being requested, 11 have already been deemed urgent to advance in congress.
"This commitment has to be completely fulfilled by the state, which must restore the rule of law in the nation," the CNTC executive said, referring to increased violence faced by Chile’s truck drivers – especially those operating in Chile’s south, where much of the country’s salmon sector is concentrated. An upsurge of attacks have included theft of their vehicles and cargoes, burning of the freighter trucks as well as increased activism from members of Chile’s Mapuche indigenous group, who are protesting widespread development in areas where they claim historical rights.
The trucker’s weeklong standoff – not only refusing to transport, but also blocking some of Chile’s main highway arteries – created port backlogs, with the price of food rising, supermarkets struggling to maintain stock, and gas stations undergoing fuel shortages in some regions of the country.
In terms of the salmon sector specifically, “we registered an impact on the transport of fresh salmon to the Metropolitan Region [home of capital Santiago, from where the product is flown internationally] due to roadblocks and we were beginning to see problems that may eventually affect exports to different markets due to the impossibility of arriving with cargo at the points of maritime and air shipment,” Arturo Clément, president of trade group SalmonChile, told local publication SalmonExpert.
Salmon producers had to scramble to find alternative solutions to get fish to market, including flying product to Santiago or moving salmon through neighboring Argentina. Sector observers believe it will now take some five days for exports to normalize, with importers in the U.S. having to look to other markets such as Canada to fulfill demand.
With space limitations at refrigerated warehouses, frozen fish suppliers were also affected, according to Francisco Muñoz, the economy minister for southern Chile’s Los Lagos region.
However, while supply to processing plants and product shipments were paralyzed, the issue of fish feed was largely unaffected given that shipments are maritime and there was stock in ports, Salmonexpert quoted Multiexport Foods general manager Andrés Lyon as saying.
The incident is definitely not the first time that salmon supply from Chile has been interrupted. National social protests and violence that erupted in Chile in October 2019, including mobilizations at the salmon-farming area of Quellón and at ports used to move harvested salmon, were estimated to have cost around CLP 500 million (USD 656,485, EUR 589,076) in delays.
While the trucks being torched on highways are the most visible, attention-grabbing signs of violence, roadways are not the only areas that have suffered attacks. Forestry companies, also located in the south, regularly report incidents, and in May this year salmon farmer Cermaq Chile’s administrative office at the Coipué center, in the Araucanía region, was completely burned to the ground.
The group that perpetrated the attack reportedly left some pamphlets on Cermaq premises, protesting against the construction of the Freire-Villarrica four-laned highway. The illustration on the pamphlet was designed similar to the symbol for the Mapuche indigenous people, and press reported that the group also asked for the release of indigenous prisoners, which they consider political prisoners, and an end to logging activity in the Araucanía region.
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