Cusco, a city of 400,000 in south-eastern Peru, was totally paralysed on February 25. It was the first day of a 48-hour general strike initiated by trade unions and other civic groups.
The strike was supported by bus, taxi and truck drivers, as well as peasant and indigenous groups in provinces throughout the Cusco region. All vehicular traffic ceased in the downtown area and citizens walked freely through the streets ― an unusual sight in a South American city.
The strike “for regional dignity” was to protest at the failure of the national government of President Ollanta Humala to build promised mega-projects and against cutbacks in regional funding that have paralysed existing development projects.
Official statistics show 27% of Peru’s population live below the poverty line. In Cusco, tourism is the main source of income for many, including the huge “informal” economy of poor and unorganised workers.
The strike is particularly significant as Cusco voted overwhelmingly for Humala (70%) almost three years ago.
A street demonstration began in mid-morning along the Avenida del Sol, a major artery. Apparently initiated by a few unions, it was quickly joined by a broad range of groups, swelling to tens of thousands as they filed through city streets and into the Plaza de Armas, the central square.
As well as the colourful banners of the various groups, the Peruvian flag was prominently displayed along with the rainbow-coloured wiphala, the flag of the Andean indigenous peoples.
Most chants of the boisterous demonstrators were directed against Humala, such as “Backwards, backwards, backwards, Humala is incompetent” and “Down with the budget cuts”.
[Abridged from Life on the Left, where more of Richard Fidler's writings can be found.]