Peru: strikes, protests and “cold war”

Thousands of riders were stranded in Lima early on June 30 at the beginning of a 24-hour national strike by Peruvian urban transportation workers and owners. The strikers were protesting new regulations that were to take effect on July 1 and a new rate for fines that starts on July 21. In the southern Lima neighborhood of Villa El Salvador, a group of strikers hurled rocks at buses not honoring the strike call; police agents responded by shooting in the air, according to Radio Programas del PerĂș (RPP). In the north of the city some strikers stoned buses and burned tires; others used rocks to block the Carretera Central, which links Lima to the center of the country.

In Puno region, bordering Bolivia in the south, a group of strikers blocked various highways, but transportation was reportedly normal in neighboring Arequipa region. Omar Calderón, president of the Association of Urban Mass Transit Companies, said a total of 60,000 vehicles were idled nationwide. By the end of the strike on July 1, the police reported having arrested about 100 strikers in Lima. Motorcycle Taxi Drivers Confederation of Peru president Ricardo Alberga announced that his group planned another strike on July 7-9. (ADN, Spain, June 30 from EFE; Qué, Spain, July 1 from EFE)

A clash between campesinos and police on July 1 in San TomĂĄs, capital of Chumbivilcas province in Cuzco region in southern Peru, left one protester dead and a police agent seriously injured. The campesinos had been holding an open-ended strike since the week before to protest the granting of mining concessions, which now occupy 70% of the area, and a Water Resources Law which declares water a national resource and regulates its use. The confrontation started when the police tried to remove protesters blocking a highway leading to the town. The protesters threw stones at the agents, who fired their weapons, killing campesino Remigio Mendoza Ancalla. Police commissar Herbert Montes de Oca received head injuries; he was taken to the local hospital in a coma but required special medical attention in another facility. Some 1,000 protesters surrounded the hospital for about 10 hours, preventing Montes de Oca’s evacuation by helicopter until the government agreed to send a high-level delegation on July 4 to hear the campesinos’ demands. (La RepĂșblica, Lima, July 3; ADN, July 2; QuĂ©, July 2)

The government of President Alan GarcĂ­a is still shaken by a similar but much larger and deadlier confrontation on June 5 during protests over concessions and resources in Amazonian Peru; the incident, in Bagua province in the northern region of Amazonas, resulted in 24 deaths among the police and a disputed number of civilian deaths. In a June 30 session of Congress, 56 legislators supported a censure vote against Prime Minister Yehude Simon and Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanilla. This was a majority of the about 100 Congress members present, but it fell a little short of the 61 votes (out of 120) required to remove the cabinet.

President GarcĂ­a and his social democratic Peruvian Aprista Party (PAP) now claim they are engaged in what GarcĂ­a called, in a June 28 newspaper article, a “continental cold war,” presumably because of alleged interference in Peru by leftist and left-leaning governments like those in Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela. Confirmation seemed to come during the June 30 transportation strike when a Venezuelan national was arrested driving protesters and carrying metal spikes and homemade weapons in his car. He was released after 48 hours for lack of evidence; local media described him as a cabdriver who has lived in Lima for years with his Peruvian family. (Prensa Latina, July 4; QuĂ©, July 1 from EFE)

As of July 3 the Front in Defense of Life and Sovereignty, a coalition of social organizations and left-leaning parties, was planning a nationwide mobilization July 7-9 against the neoliberal economic model and for the cancellation of the nearly 100 decrees passed to implement a Free Trade Agreement (FTA, or TLC for its initials in Spanish) with the US. The protesters are also calling for the immediate resignation of Simon’s cabinet and the return of Alberto Pizango Chota, president of the Inter-Ethnic Association for Development of the Peruvian Forest (AIDESEP) and a leader of the indigenous protests in the Amazonian regions. (Prensa Latina, July 4; Adital, July 3)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 7

See our last post on Peru.