from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On July 8, thousands of Peruvians mobilized for the first day of a 48-hour national agricultural strike, called by the National Agrarian Confederation (CNA) and the Campesino Confederation of Peru to demand the repeal of a decree that makes it easier to sell campesino and indigenous land. The campesino mobilizations were strongest in the regions of Cusco, Puno, Ayachucho, Ucayali, Madre de Dios, Huanuco and Tacna. (Telam, Argentina, July 8; La Jornada, Mexico, July 10) The decree, D.L. 1015, was signed on May 20 by President Alan Garcia; it allows communally owned indigenous and campesino land to be sold to private investors with the vote of a simple majority of communal assembly members. The previous regulation, Law 26 505, required a two-thirds vote of the qualified members of each community in order for communal lands to be sold. (AIDESEP communique, July 8) The new regulations also apply to the approval of mining concessions on communal lands. (LJ, July 10 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

The Inter-Ethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Jungle (AIDESEP) warns that the new decree is a threat to more than 7,000 communities and hundreds of thousands of families in the Andean and Amazon regions of the country. “For campesino communities in Peru, communal lands are the material basis of life, an ancestral institution, a space of indigenous peoples’ social, economic and cultural identity, where life is organized on the basis of democracy and social justice criteria, and the practice of ancient forms of communal work on the land (minga, ayni),” AIDESEP said in a statement. (AIDESEP communique, July 8)

Campesinos blocked vehicle traffic on the streets of Yurimaguas in Loreto region, in the northern Amazon, and in Madre de Dios region, in the southern Amazon on the border with Brazil and Bolivia. In the Andes, campesinos blocked roads linking the city of Cusco with the cities of Puno and Abancay. The demonstrators also blocked the route of the train that takes tourists from Cusco to the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu, and dug trenches into the Valle del Ares route to prevent cars, buses and trucks from getting through. In Puno, in the southern Andes, demonstrators blocked urban and rural transport, cutting off the roads linking the region to Arequipa and Cusco.

The second day of the campesino strike, July 9, coincided with a 24-hour national general strike called by the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP) to protest the Garcia government’s economic policies and support the demands of the campesino and indigenous movements. The government had declared the CGTP’s strike illegal and accused the organizers of being politically motivated. (Telam, July 8) On July 7, the government published a resolution in the official newspaper, El Peruano, authorizing the intervention of the Armed Forces in support of the National Police during the July 8-10 protests. (La Republica, Lima, July 7)

Hundreds of thousands of Peruvians participated in the July 9 combined protest activities: the national strike, the Amazon and agrarian strikes and at least eight specific regional protests. CGTP general secretary Mario Huaman said workers in the retail vendor, textile, agroindustry, transport, crude oil, fishing and education sectors supported the national strike overwhelmingly. Mobilizations were strongest in the southern Andes and in the Amazon. A total of 216 people were reported arrested in incidents around the country, most of them for blocking roads in the southern regions, the country’s poorest area and a stronghold of opponents of Garcia’s government.

Campesinos mobilized and blockaded highways for a second consecutive day on July 9 in the southern regions of Arequipa, Tacna, Moquegua and Puno, joining other labor sectors and social movements. Schools, markets and malls were closed, and city streets were empty. In Arequipa, all traffic into and out of the city was blocked, and women staged a noisy protest by banging on pots and pans. In the city of Juliaca in Puno, stores were shut and there was no urban transport service. In the late morning, thousands of demonstrators marched through the city. In Santa Rosa, a district of Puno’s Melgar province, passengers stranded by a protest roadblock got out of their vehicles and joined the strikers in an impromptu soccer match.

In the central Andean region south and east of Lima, all commerce was shut down in the cities of Cusco and Huancavelica (capitals of the regions of the same names) and in the province of Apurimac in Apurimac region. In Huancavelica, soldiers fired their weapons in the air when some 100 protesters seized the region’s hydroelectric facility, according to Peruvian National Police director Octavio Salazar. (LR, July 10) A group of people trashed the Huancavelica regional offices of the government program “Juntos,” stealing three computers and burning files and documents. “Juntos” is the National Program of Direct Support to the Poorest, a cash assistance program created in April 2005. (LR, July 10; RPP Noticias, July 9)

Cusco was completely paralyzed, with near-total support for the strike: more than 90% of residents skipped work or school. Bus drivers observed the work stoppage and PeruRail again suspended its operations, preventing more than 1,500 tourists from reaching Machu Picchu. Regional organizers estimated that some 100,000 people mobilized in marches and protests in Cusco province (a subdivision of the region, equivalent to a county). (LR, July 10; LJ, July 10) The protests were peaceful; Cusco residents observed an agreement reached days earlier to allow the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings being held in the city July 9-11 to go on without disruption. (Andina Agencia Peruana de Noticias, July 7; LR, July 10)

In Ica region, protesters blocked the Panamerican South highway between kilometers 290 and 295 for six hours before police intervened and broke up the scene using tear gas bombs. The clash left five police agents hurt and 12 wounded. Demonstrators marched to the main plaza in the city of Ica, the regional capital. Traffic was also blocked in the towns of Chincha and Pisco, in Ica region.

In Lima, the strike’s main impact was a reduction in public transportation and the blocking of traffic by hundreds of workers marching from different points of the capital to a rally in the central Plaza 2 de Mayo. The government deployed soldiers to assist police in keeping control of streets, airports and strategic services such as water and electricity.

In the Andean region northeast of Lima, commerce was shut down in the cities of Huanuco (capital of Huanuco region) and Huaraz (capital of Ancash region). More than 40,000 people marched through the streets of Huaraz, demanding the resignation of regional president (governor) Cesar Alvarez.

In the city of Trujillo, capital of La Libertad region on Peru’s northern coast, students, workers and professors from the National University of Trujillo burned tires near the university campus. Later some 12,000 people marched through the city. Blockades and demonstrations also took place farther north in the coastal city of Chiclayo, capital of Lambayeque region.

In the region of Tumbes, bordering with Ecuador on the northern coast, more than 5,000 members of the Association of the Board of Users of the Special Trade Treatment Zone of San Pedro de Tacna, a coalition of 45 associations of small business owners, mobilized to demand that import taxes be reduced from 8% to 4% and that more merchandise be allowed to enter the country. Also in Tumbes, a clash broke out between construction workers trying to seize the Tumbes bridge and police agents determined to stop them. Police used tear gas bombs against the crowd; from the demonstrators’ side, bottles, rocks and sticks were thrown at police.

The northern Amazon city of Iquitos, capital of Loreto region, was paralyzed as thousands of protesters converged in a march that covered more than 20 blocks. Participants included indigenous communities, labor unions, social movements and political parties.

The biggest conflict took place in Madre de Dios region, in the southern Amazon, where the campesino strike had begun on July 7 to protest Decree 1015. In Puerto Maldonado, the regional capital, demonstrators marched to the offices of the regional government to demand that regional governor Santos Kaway Komor participate in the mobilization. But the governor was not present, and the crowd grew angry. Police intervened with tear gas bombs, triggering a fire that quickly consumed the building.

In the resulting fray, at least 21 police agents were reported injured by rocks and arrows, and firefighters were allegedly blocked from reaching the scene. An unspecified number of local residents were also injured. As gas tanks inside the government building exploded, the crowd fled in panic; thieves then looted the offices, and robbed a cash machine at a Banco de la Nacion branch down the block. Correspondents for the Lima daily La Republica said the fire was started by members of the Native Federation of Madre de Dios. But in the afternoon, the regional Defense Front held a press conference denying that demonstrators were responsible for the fire and the vandalism, blaming it instead on infiltrators, possibly sent by the government. Luis Zegarra, leader of the Defense Front, told La Republica that after three days of striking, local residents felt indignant because the regional government appeared to be ignoring their demands. Still, he said, “the people of Madre de Dios are peaceful.” (LR, July 10; LJ, July 10 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

The strike was called to protest the high cost of living and the government’s failure to keep its promises. Peru has experienced a nearly 10% economic growth rate recently, but that growth has come with what Huaman called an “incessant rise in the cost of living.” Workers are demanding an overall salary increase to compensate for the inflation, and want the government to change “the neoliberal economic policy that attacks the interests of the poorest people.” The recent economic growth has been concentrated in the capital and coast regions, while the Amazon and Andes regions have been left behind.

The strike also served to channel the discontent of specific sectors and regions. In Ayacucho, the Front to Defend the People’s Interests marched to demand the expulsion, on sovereignty grounds, of 200 US soldiers who have been stationed in the area since June, allegedly carrying out civic activities. (LJ, July 10 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)


This story first appeared July 13 in Weekly News Update on the Americas.

See also:

by April Howard, Toward Freedom
World War 4 Report, January 2007

From our Daily Report:

Peru general strike: land struggle or “conspiracy”?
WW4 Report, July 11, 2008


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Aug. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution