Arequipa: peasant cooperatives march for land and water

As National Police marched in a parade at the Plaza de Armas in the southern Peruvian city of Arequipa for the Santa Rosa de Lima celebration Aug. 30, peasant cooperatives from the region rallied in the middle of the square and later held their own march to protest government plans to turn state lands over to Chilean agribusiness interests. At issue are some 475 hectares of state-owned lands at Valle de Majes that the government proposes to sell to Grupo Layconsa, which is already producing artichokes for export to the US at nearby Pampabajas. "We are the owners of our lands, not the Chileans," says protest leader Luis Calderón Lindo, asserting that Layconsa is controlled by Chilean investors.

Calderón is president of the Central de Cooperativas Agrarias del Pueblo de Arequipa (CECOOPA), an alliance of peasant cooperatives formed two years ago to demand access to the lands in question. Protest banners cited the 1969 General Law of Cooperatives, which holds that peasant cooperatives have first right to state lands—promulgated as part of the agrarian reform under the populist ruler Gen. Juan Velasco, whose face adorned many of the placards. Calderón charges that sale of the lands to Grupo Layconsa would violate this law. "Alan García is a traitor," says Calderón, refering to the current Peruvian president.

Most CECOOPA members are what Calderón calls "landless peasants," who work as farmhands or even in factories in the city of Arequipa. "We are stuggling for national sovereignty," he told the crowd. "It is up to us, because the corrupt government has surrendered."

Also at issue is control of water resources. The Condoroma dam on the Rio Apurímac in Cuzco region to the north diverts water through a tunnel under the mountains into the Rio Colca that flows through Arequipa region, and was built in 1969 as a part of the agrarian reform. Under the government's current plans, Grupo Layconsa would gain control of much of these waters, as well as investing in a second such water diversion now slated for a point further upstream on the Apurímac, the controversial Angostura dam and associated Lluta y Lluclla hydro-electric project on the Rio Colca. "We support the project, but we want that water for our cooperatives, not the Chileans," says Calderón.

The Lima daily La Republica reported Jan. 23 that the public Empresa de Generación Eléctrica de Arequipa (EGASA) contracted with the private Lahmeyer Agua y Energía to conduct technical studies on the 560-megawatt Lluta y Lluclla project. Government plans to privatize EGASA to a European company were halted following a general strike in Arequipa in 2002.

World War 4 Report on the scene in Arequipa

See our last posts on Peru, and regional struggles for control of water.

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