Peru: strikes, protests continue

Peruvian miners began an open-ended strike on Nov. 5, affecting copper, tin, iron and zinc mines owned by Southern Copper Corp., Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., Newmont Mining Corp., Doe Run Resources Corp, Cia. de Minas Buenaventura SA, Minsur SA, Shougang Hierroperu, Cia. Minera Raura SA and Cia Minera Santa Luisa. Copper prices have gone up 10% on the international market this year, in part because of reductions in output caused by strikes in Peru (including a five-day national walkout in May), Chile and Mexico. Peru is the world's largest producer of silver; it comes in third in copper, zinc and tin production and fifth in gold production.

The Labor Ministry declared the strike illegal, but the government moved quickly to meet some of the miners' demand. On Nov. 8 a congressional panel passed a bill raising miners' share of profits from 8% to 10%. Legislation is also pending for replacing the 12-hour shifts at many mines with eight-hour shifts and for moving 85,000 subcontracted workers to regular payrolls. "The strike achieved some progress in speeding up legislation," National Federation of Mine and Metal Workers spokesperson Cirilo Yarihuaman told the Bloomberg news service, announcing a suspension of the strike on Nov. 9. But the federation plans to vote on Nov. 23 to strike again if the laws aren't passed, he said.

The miners' strike followed strikes the week before by doctors, teachers and coca growers and overlapped a national day of action the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP) called for Nov. 8 to protest the neoliberal economic policies of President Alan Garcia, of the social democratic Aprista Party.

Marches in Lima, Arequipa and Cusco were backed by the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), the Campesino Confederation of Peru, the National Agrarian Confederation (CNA), Nationalist Party of Peru (PNP) of former presidential candidate Ollanta Humala, and all the parties on the left. The Lima march was the largest, with some 5,000 to 8,000 participants.

The protests coincided with the ratification of the Peru Free Trade Agreement (FTA) by the lower house of the US Congress, which the president greeted by flashing a "V" gesture for the cameras. "[T]he 'V' that President Garcia showed us this day wasn't the one for 'victory' but for 'vanquished,'" CGTP general secretary Mario Huaman announced at the protest in Lima. The government dismissed the protests as comparatively small. Huaman insisted that the day of action had been successful, and warned that opponents of neoliberalism are planning a national strike. (Bloomberg, Nov. 9, Prensa Latina, Nov. 9, 10; El Universal, Caracas, Nov. 8, some from AFP; El Comercio, Ecuador, Nov. 8)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 11

See our last post on Peru.