‘General strike’ spreads across Peru

Riot police in Cuzco

As an indefinite teachers strike continues into its 12th day, farmers, miners and construction workers joined the protests, with one farmer shot dead by police.

The latest death brings the reported death toll to 4 over the last week in what has been described by some media as a general strike. The strike began when the teachers union struck against a new law requiring all teachers to sit regular competency exams (libcom.org coverge here). This was the catalyst for wider discontent to erupt, and miners, construction workers and campesinos (peasant farmers) joined the demonstrations.

With thousands taking to the streets in every major town and city, police have made mass arrests of around 100 union leaders and others whom the government labels “left-wing radicals.” In total over 300 arrests have been made since the start of the teachers strike on July 5th. Much of the anger has been directed at the President Alan Garcia, whose social democratic Aprista party won a narrow victory over the populist/nationalist Ollanta Humala in elections last summer. Humala has voiced support for the protests in a move seen by many as an attempt to re-ignite his own presidential ambitions.

The indefinite teachers strike has been bolstered by a 2-day strike by the Campesino Confederation of Peru (CCP) in protest at a free-trade accord with the US which was ratified by the Peruvian congress last summer but has yet to come into force. Against a backdrop of widespread poverty – half of Peru’s 27m people live on less than $1 a day - there is anger that the government is pursuing the free-trade deal whilst reneging on promises to ensure that workers and campesinos benefit from the country’s annual 8% economic growth. Despite this growth promised improvements to electricity, water and food provision have not materialised and President Garcia’s approval rating has plummeted to 35%, down from 60% when he was elected, although it is unclear whether Humala’s nationalist opposition has made any gains.

libcom round up:
:> In Lima, up to 30,000 protesters filled the Plaza San Martin in what one analyst described as one of the largest mobilisations in Lima in 30 years
:> While in the northern city of Piura 15,000 protesters gathered
:> In northern Trujillo – President Garcia’s heartland – striking teachers attempted to pelt him with eggs and clashed with his supporters
:> In the Amazonian city of Iquitos roads were blocked, while on the coast the Pan-American highway was blocked at multiple locations
:> The airport in the tourist centre of Cuzco was closed while nearby protesters blocked railway tracks of the train to Machu Picchu, recently declared one of the seven wonders of the world, and pelted a train with stones
:> In southern Juliaca violence flared as 5,000 protesters occupied the airport and blocked runways, causing flights to be cancelled
:> In nearby Puno roads were blocked, as they were in Arequipa, while an angry crowd of 1,000 took 9 police officers hostage for several hours demanding a swap for arrested demonstrators
:> In highland Andahuaylas around a thousand Quechua Andeans blocked roads and clashed with police