Peru: farmers strike over water

Peruvian agricultural producers ended three days of mobilizations on Jan. 17 after Enrique Málaga, president of the National Users Council of the Irrigation Districts of Peru (JNUDRP), met with Prime Minister Yehude Simón and Agriculture Minister Carlos Leyton. “The strike has been suspended in consideration of our having reached an agreement for approval of the General Law of Water, which we were demanding,” Málaga told the media. “This law is going to be promulgated next week.” Málaga indicated that the agreement also included the formation of a commission for the solution of small agricultural producers’ debt problems. (24 Horas Libre, Peru, Jan. 17; Univision, Jan. 17 from AFP)

JNUDRP, with a membership of 1.6 million, had begun an open-ended strike on Jan. 15, with campesinos using tree trunks, boulders and truck tires to block highways and railroads. In Zarumilla in the northern department of Tumbes, protesters held a sit-in at the international bridge between Peru and Ecuador, paralyzing commerce between the two countries. Picketers clashed with police at the Sullana-Talara highway in nearby Piura department; one protester, Alejandro Yarleque, was injured. In Chiclayo in Lambayeque department, about 500 producers marched peacefully near the Pan American highway.

In the south, a group of campesinos blocked the railroad to the Machu Picchu archeological site, in Cusco department, as well as the highway to Abancay in neighboring Apurímac department, reportedly leaving some 400 tourists stranded. In the coastal department of Ica, producers blocked the Pan American highway at km 329. Further south, about 10,000 producers observed the strike in Arequipa department. Some 1,000 protesters kept trucks from transporting food, although they let passenger vehicles and trucks carrying other cargos drive through.

In addition to passage of the General Law of Water, JNUDRP was demanding the repeal of legislative decrees 1081 (which creates a National Water Resources System) and 1083; JNUDRP members say these decrees, passed last year, promote privatization of water and are part of the package of laws required for the Free Trade Agreement (FTA, or TLC in Spanish) with the US. (Producers and others mounted major protests against the TLC in June 2006, June 2007 and February 2008; see Update, Feb. 25, 2008, where JNUDRP is referred to as the “National Council of Irrigation Users (JNUDR)”.) The government of President Alan García strenuously denied that the decrees would lead to privatization.

Water is a major issue in Peru because of its scarcity. Much of the country depends on glacial runoff for energy, and scientists predict that global warming will deplete this resource in 25 years. (Adital, Jan. 15; 24 Horas Libre, Jan. 15; Reuters, Jan. 15; Correo, Peru, Jan. 16; Coordinadora Nacional de Radio, Jan. 16)

Miners are planning to vote on Jan. 31 on a possible strike to protest the firing of 5,500 workers at units run by Gerdau SA, Renco Group Inc. and Volcan Compania Minera SAA; they also want to press for passage of legislation on pensions and profit-sharing. (Bloomberg, Jan. 13)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 18

See our last posts on Peru, the mineral cartel in Latin America and the regional struggles for control of water.