Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Peru: discontent rages on

Kiraz Janicke

Social unrest intensified this week in Peru, with the blockade of an important highway by mine workers, as well as strikes and demonstrations in the southern regions of Cusco and Andahuaylas. The demands of the protestors ranged from wage rises for school teachers, repealing the Water Resources Law and revoking mining concessions to fixing roads and blocking the construction of the Salca-Pucará hydroelectric plant.

The protests occurred in the wake of massive mobilizations by indigenous communities in the Amazon that forced the Peruvian government to back-down and revoke legislation linked to the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement, that would have opened up vast swathes of indigenous lands to transnational oil and gas, mining and logging companies.

However, the indigenous victory did not come without bloodshed as President Alan Garcia’s administration sent police and troops on June 5 against demonstrators to break up road blockades near Bagua in the Amazon, leaving at least 34 dead and scores disappeared.

Garcia’s brutal response to the protests sparked national outrage and the latest Ipsos Apoyo poll shows his approval rating has dropped 9 percentage points to 21 percent since the Bagua massacre.

Garcia's Cabinet chief Yehude Simon offered to resign over the incident however, Garcia has refused to accept his resignation although discontent with the government continues to rage on around the country.

The financial collapse of the U.S.-owned Doe Run Peru mining company prompted more than 3000 workers to blockade the main highway linking Lima with the country’s interior on June 22 demanding that ongoing labor issues be resolved.

Union leaders representing workers at Doe Run’s smelter in La Oroya, located 185 kilometers east of Lima, agreed at a meeting on June 20 to declare an indefinite strike and block roads.

The secretary-general of the metalworkers union representing La Oroya workers, Roberto Guzman, has called for government intervention to reactivate the plant and save jobs.

Meanwhile thousands of campesinos from Canchis and other provinces converged in Cusco on June 22 threatening to take over the local airport and demanding the repeal of the Water Resources Law, which would facilitate privitisation of water, as well as the cancellation of mining concessions and the construction of the Salca-Pucará hydroelectric plant.

In Andahuaylas thousands of campesinos that have been on indefinite strike since June 11 have blockaded roads demanding that the Ayacucho-Andahuaylas-Abancay highway is fixed and are also calling for the repeal of the Water Resources Law.

More than 5000 coca-growers have also threatened to blockade highways in Tingo María, Aucayacu, Tocache, Progreso and Tarapoto from June 29.

The announcement was made by coca-grower leaders in Alto Huallaga, Rosa Obregón and Miguel Martínez, after the government re-initiated eradication of coca crops, which indigenous communities use as part of there tradional way of life.

Obregón said that the government had signed accords with the coca-growers to suspend eradication programs while integral development plans for the Huallaga were being discussed, but has violated the accords.

If the government doesn’t listen to their demands highways in Pucallpa, Puerto Inca, and Huánuco would also be blockaded he said.

The General Confederation of Peruvian Workers has also called a national day of protest involving regional strikes and street mobilizations for July 8 in solidarity with the protests in the south of the country and an end to persecution of social movement leaders in particular those from indigenous communities.

Although the government has agreed to dialogue with the protesters, it has also authorized the mobilization of the Armed Forces in the Apurímac, Cusco and Junín regions – zones with strong social conflict - for ten days.

While it lifted the state of emergency in Bagua (decreed on May 9), it remains in place in the cities of Quimbiri and La Convención, in Cusco.

“Don't threaten too much. Don't think that the state or the government is weak,” Simon told protesters before agreeing to hold talks with them on Tuesday.

However, Simon who has been described as a “political cadaver” faces questioning in congress over the Bagua massacre, with both the left Nationalist Party and rightwing supporters of former president Alberto Fujimori calling for a censure motion and his resignation.

Garcia’s hold on congress is also tenuous, as his party, APRA, lacks a majority, and up to now he has relied on support from other right-wing parties such as Lourdes Flores’ National Unity, and Fujimori supporters to push through his neoliberal free-trade agenda.

Garcia cannot run for re-election in 2011 and in the context of economic contraction and rising social discontent he will find it increasingly difficult to implement his neoliberal agenda as indigenous communities, workers, campesinos and the poor organize to defend their interests against those of rapacious transnational capital.

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