Monday, 13 July 2009

Peru: Social movement confidence grows

Karl Cosser, Lima

Street protests and blockades occurred throughout Peru on July 8, in the middle of a three day strike against the neoliberal policies of President Alan Garcia.

The protests follow on from the intense struggle for the Amazon — between indigenous communities and multinational corporations supported by the government. Although this struggle has been very hard on the indigenous communities, including an unknown death toll at the hands of security forces, it is a great example of what can be achieved with great effort and solidarity.

Through relentless struggle, the Garcia government’s decrees, which allowed oil and gas giants to exploit the resources in the Amazon on indigenous land, were repealed.

I witnessed an example of this struggle at a June 11 demonstration of about 15,000 in Lima in solidarity with the Amazon indigenous people. The protest included various unions, student groups and even a left-wing Christian group which considers Jesus Christ the first revolutionary.

There was a lot of energy and passion as we marched through the streets of Lima chanting “la selva no se vende” (the jungle is not for sale). Banners and graffiti on the way called Garcia an assassin for the massacre that occurred in Bagua, a town in the Amazon region.

The demonstration reached a fever pitch as it approached the police blockade several blocks from Congress and the presidential palace. The percussion from the Amazonian indigenous contingent grew more intense.

The police then violently repressed the demonstration, firing rubber bullets and tear gas at the crowd. They assaulted demonstrators with batons.

The attack was indiscriminate. Protesters as old as 70 were badly affected by tear gas, having difficulty breathing.

In self-defence, some demonstrators responded with sticks and stones, which the police threw back at the crowd. One molotov cocktail was thrown.

Most people ran from the repression — possibly remembering with fear the massacre in the Amazon.

However, once the tear gas cleared, many returned to the police barricades to continue the protest in solidarity with many other demonstrations and blockades occurring across Peru that day against the decrees.

Two days later, there was a “pro-democracy rally” in support of Garcia. The right-wing demonstration was escorted by police past Congress — facing no repression whatsoever.

The hypocrisy of “promoting democracy” by supporting such a brutally repressive government is ridiculously obvious.

The private media in Peru are supporting the government. It repeats police reports that the nine civilians and 11 police were killed at Bagua.

However, it has been independently reported that many more people are still missing and more than 150 civilians were injured — mostly by bullets.

One survivor of the Bagua massacre was treated for eight bullet wounds. He and many others were shot at while running away from police.

In the face of such repression, through relentless struggle involving many strikes, blockades and demonstrations, the movement forced the government to repeal the pro-corporate decrees.

This is an example to the rest of the world what can be achieved through people power — including for the struggles of Indigenous people in Australia.

The confidence gained by this victory is increasingly obvious as protests and blockades against other neoliberal polices continue across the country. The July 8 national day of protests and strikes is just the latest.

The demands of the July 8 demonstrations included: ending the criminalisation of social protests; the reinstatement of seven Congresspeople from left-nationalist Ollanta Humala’s Peruvian Nationalist Party suspended for staging a protest in Congress against the decrees; respect for the right of self-determination of indigenous communities; sacking Prime Minister Yehude Simon and the rest of the cabinet; and granting the demands of the transport workers’ union to repeal an increase in traffic fines.

In Lima, various contingents held their own protests, occupying several streets, before converging on the Dos de Mayo Plaza.

The various contingents included members of the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP), transport workers unions, the teachers union, an indigenous contingent, students and various social and political organisations.

The protest, about 8000-strong, was downplayed by the mainstream newspaper Peru 21. The paper featured an aerial photograph of the plaza on its front page taken after several contingents had already marched off.

The shot was almost certainly taken from the police helicopter that circled above the crowd, demonstrating the use of police resources for political propaganda.

Days before, masked police union members announced that they would go on strike, partially over the police deaths at Bagua. They refused to give a date for their strike for “security reasons”.

Unfortunately, the police turned up for work on July 8, along with the armed forces.

Protesters carried banners featuring caricatures of Garcia as a vampire with the victims of the Bagua massacre in his arms. There were many indigenous Tahuantinsuyu flags with the mosaic of colours representing the solidarity between the many indigenous groups of the Amazon.

After several speeches, including by Humala demanding the sacking of Garcia’s cabinet, protesters began marching towards central Lima.

Demonstrators were divided several times within just a few blocks by the extraordinary numbers of riot police armed with batons, shields, grappling hooks, tear gas bombs and guns. Police carried automatic weapons with live rounds and rubber bullets.

There were also water cannon trucks and mounted police — although the inability of the police to control the horses proved more entertaining than anything else for the demonstrators.

Protesters defended themselves against police attempts to break the demonstration up, managing to break through police lines a few times before the sheer numbers of police broke up the protest into several groups.

Towards the end of the protest, a small number of young people engaged in passive resistance. Police chased them through the streets of Lima, with the protesters outnumbered by 10-1.

Then, for no reason, police fired tear gas at the demonstrators. This affected everyone nearby, including shopkeepers with nothing to do with the protest.

By resorting to putting the military on the streets to repress protests, the Garcia government reveals itself to be on the ropes.

As it continues to deny people’s right to social protest, the protest movement continues to grow in strength — building on solidarity between unions, indigenous peoples, campesinos (peasants), students and many other sectors.

Republished from Green Left Weekly

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