Peru’s government ordered more than 32,000 police and over 6,000 soldiers to keep order around the country as a paro or series of coordinated strikes against the free-trade policies of President Alan García entered its second day July 8. The education and transportation sectors are those most affected. The Unitary Syndicate of Peruvian Education Workers (SUTEP) claimed 80% teacher participation in the strike in Lima and 100% in the provinces, while the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP) claimed widespread compliance with a transportation strike in the capital. Rallies were held in several locations around Lima, the largest being the Plaza Dos de Mayo. With bus lines halted, taxis and combis raised their prices.
The paro was strongest in Ayacucho region, where schools and train and bus service are completely shut down. In Cuzco, transportation is also grounded, and the armed forces have seized the airport. In Arequipa, protesters have thrown up roadblocks on the Pan-American Highway. (Dow Jones, Reuters, Peru.com, RPP, Lima, July 8)
As the strike got underway, President García announced that he will reshuffle his cabinet this weekend, purging figures associated with policies that have sparked weeks of angry protests and strikes. “I can say that this weekend we will have a new cabinet,” told reporters. Prime Minister Yehude Simon already said he would step down this week—a move that would require all other cabinet ministers to offer their resignations.
Simon sent mixed messages as his announced resignation approached. “I leave satisfied with having served the country,” said the minister, leaving under the cloud of a deadly wave of unrest. He left open the possibility of working in another position for the government: “I already have some proposals, two of which truly interest me.”
Simon, leader of the Humanist Party, offered an equivocal apology for the policy he promoted that sparked last month’s uprising in the Amazon region, which would have opened indigenous lands to corporate exploitation without the consent of the inhabitants. “It’s always good to consult the people’s will before presenting any project that they might think it could affect them,” he said. (El Comercio, Lima, Andina, Lima, July 7)
There is a sense of deja vu to the whole affair, as Simon became prime minister in a cabinet reshuffle to appease populist anger last year following the “Petrogate” scandal, involving revelations of kickbacks for oil exploration contracts. (Living in Peru, Oct. 15, 2008)
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