Peru: protests against US trade accord rock country

Peruvian unionists, campesinos, leftists and nationalists came together to stage a massive one-day general strike on July 11 to protest the economic policies of President Alan Garcia of the social democratic Aprista party. The July 11 Day of National Struggle, called by the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP), Peru’s largest labor group, and backed by former nationalist presidential candidate Ollanta Humala, shut down much of the country.

The action coincided with the first day of a two-day strike that the Campesino Confederation of Peru (CCP) had called to protest a “free trade” accord (TLC) with the US; the Peruvian Congress ratified the accord in June 2006, and the US Congress is expected to pass it this year as part of a deal its leaders made with the government of US president George W. Bush. The protests also coincided with an open-ended strike that teachers started on July 5.

In Lima, protesters gathered in the Plaza Dos de Mayo on July 11 and marched to the Plaza San Martin, where CGTP general secretary Mario Huaman spoke, along with Humala, Luis Munoz and Robert Huaynalaya of the Only Union of Peruvian Education Workers (SUTEP), Javier Diez Canseco of the Socialist Party, and many others. The Spanish wire service EFE estimated attendance in the Lima protest at 7,000; Jose Coronado of the CCP put the number at 30,000, and Peruvian political analyst Raul Wiener said the mobilization was the largest one seen in Lima in 30 years. “Now say we’re a minority,” the marchers chanted, mocking claims from President Garcia’s government that TLC protesters were “little groups that oppose the country’s development” and that the protests were financed by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias.

More than 15,000 protesters gathered in the northern city of Piura. Roads were blocked around Iquitos in the Amazon region, and the Pan-American highway was blocked at several locations. Flights from Cusco were cancelled, and protesters blocked the train to the Machu Picchu ruins, which had just been declared one of the seven wonders of the world.

Violence broke out in the southern Puno region, where some strikers reportedly started fires and looted the Juliaca air terminal, which caused a sharp confrontation with the police. Some 5,000 strikers occupied the airport and blocked the runways, forcing the cancellation of flights. Injuries were reported in Tarma in the center of the country. A 12-year-old girl was reportedly killed during teachers’ protests in Abancay, apparently before the July 11 demonstration. (Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales, July 12; Servicio Informativo “Alai-amlatina,” July 12; El Diario-La Prensa, July 12 from EFE)

Confrontations between police and protesters continued on July 12, during the second day of the campesino strike, and by July 13 more than 100 protesters were in detention, including Diez Canseco, who was released that day. The CGTP called a new march on July 13 to protest police repression; the police broke up the march with tear gas. Protesters continued to block roads in Arequipa and Puno and on the Pan-American highway at Ica, near Lima. In the northern city of Trujillo, teachers disrupted a ceremony President Garcia was presiding over. As of July 13 the Chamber of Commerce of Peru estimated that the losses from the protests were running at $63 million a day.

An opinion poll published by the Public Opinion Institute of the Pontificia Catholic University of Peru on July 13 showed Garcia’s approval rating at 35%, down from 60% when he took office on June 28, 2006. (ED-LP, July 14 from EFE)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 15

See our last post on Peru.