Peru: Cuzco unrest over airport plan

Protesters blocked the train line to the Inca archaeological site of Machu Picchu, stranding thousands of tourists during a 48-hour paro (civil strike) by residents of Peru's Cuzco region. British-owned PeruRail company announced that service was suspended July 13-4 because of the blockades. At issue is a planned new airport for the Cuzco area, that was suspended in March due to controversies surrounding the construction contract. The airport—slated for Chinchero Valley, to the north of Cuzco's capital in neighboring Urubamba province—has now been pushed back until 2020. Local residents were eager for the region's first intercontinental airport to boost tourism revenues, and as a symbol of autonomy from Lima. Constantino Sallo, president of the Defense Front for the Interests of Chinchero District, demanded the government set a timetable of between 90 and 120 days to break ground on the project.

Protests continue in the Cuzco area, and have merged with a strike by some 20,000 local teachers demanding higher wages and greater investment in education. Some 1,000 National Police troops have been mobilized to the region. Roads to the mineral complexes at Espinar and Chumbivilcas have also been blocked, provoking clashes with police. Damage to a wall around the airport construction site is reported, with the Fiscalía, Peru's highest judicial body, investigating.

Peru's Ministry of Transport and Communications  is still striking deals with local campesino communities to purchase lands for the airport. But there have been numerous reports of coercion and poor remuneration, and some local residents are bitterly opposed to the project. Cuzco region has also seen protests in recent years against rampant tourism development and the creeping privatization of archaeological sites. (TeleSur, July 13; Prensa Latina, El Comercio, July 17; Gestión, July 16; AP, La República, July 12; La República, June 27; BN Americas, May 19; Peru Reports, Jan. 31; Wayra Putucusi YouTube channel, Jan. 3)

The airport debacle is the second setback in planned development projects for the administration of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) following cancellation of the planned South Peruvian Gas Pipeline (Gasoducto Sur Peruano) due to insolvency of the scandal-mired Brazilian contractor Odebrecht. The new pipeline was to deliver gas from Cuzco's Camisea fields for domestic use across Peru's south. (La República, June 29)

Fallout from the Odebrecht scandal has meant legal trouble for two former presidents. Alejandro Toledo faces a warrant for his "preventative detention," although he remains at large in the US. PPK's predecessor Ollanta Humala was arrested earlier this month and is in detention, facing charges of illegally accepting money from Odebrecht to fund his 2012 campaign. (BBC News, July 14; Reuters, July 4)

civil strike

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