BUENOS AIRES, Argentina Farmers seething at export taxes on their crops resumed their blockades of rural highways on Saturday after talks failed to end a 17-day-old strike that has halted grain exports and emptied supermarket shelves of meat.
Eduardo Buzzi, a leader of one of four striking farm groups, said a failure to reach a breakthrough in talks that ended early Saturday has jeopardized their attendance at a second round called by the government for Monday.
"We went to negotiate, and it turned out that the dialogue consisted of talking in vague generalities," Buzzi told Argentine Radio 10. "As such we doubt there will be a meeting on Monday."
On Saturday, farmworkers restored highway blockades across several rural provinces including Entre Rios, Cordoba, Santa Fe and Chaco. The move came a day after they called a "truce" in the strike and temporarily lifted barricades to allow bargaining to begin on disputed tax hikes.
Adding new pressure on the government, the country's four big farm groups said the strike will continue until at least Wednesday. In a joint statement, they said they would decide at that point whether to extend the protest.
Small farmers complain that they have been unfairly hit by a March 11 presidential decree that hiked export taxes on soybeans from 35 percent to as much as 45 percent, and slapped new duties on other farm exports. President Cristina Fernandez says the measure is intended to help stem rising inflation.
For more than two weeks, the farmers have led road blockades that choked off the flow of farm goods to major cities, emptying supermarket shelves and virtually paralyzing exports of beef, soybeans and wheat from this agricultural powerhouse.
Recently, Fernandez sounded more conciliatory, defusing days of bitter recriminations by shaking hands with farm leaders at the Government House when they opened their first talks late Friday.
But negotiations ended after midnight Saturday without an agreement. Fernandez's top aide had told reporters the dialogue would continue on Monday.
"We have had our first encounter with Argentina's farm leadership. I believe the talks were highly useful," said Cabinet chief Alberto Fernandez, who is not related to the president. "We have been able to speak after 16 days of missed encounters and silence."
On March 13, the growers launched their strike, burning tires, marching through the capital and using trucks and tractors to erect highway barricades across the nation's agricultural heartland.
The hardline Agrarian Federation announced after the talks broke off Saturday that it would be among the first to restart the barricades.
"Those in favor of blockading the route, raise your hands!" shouted Alfredo De Angelis, a strike leader, to gathered farmers. They overwhelmingly signaled their willingness to resume the blockade in Entre Rios province northeast of Buenos Aires.