General strike shakes Peru

July 13, 2008

Tens of thousands of workers and peasants rallied across Peru on July 9 as part of a general strike called by the General Confederation of Workers (CGTP) against the neoliberal policies of the government of President Alan Garcia.

The protesters were demanding a general wage increase, a reduction in fuel prices, a reversal of the government's privatisation policies and an end to political repression and corruption by the government.

Left-wing political parties and left-nationalist leader Ollanta Humala, who nearly won the presidency in 2006, also supported the strike.

In order to control the protests, the government mobilised 100,000 police across the country and also brought the military out onto the streets. Clashes erupted in southern Peru as police moved to break up protests that were blocking major highways, arresting 216 people.

The strike unfolded peacefully in the capital, Lima, and most other areas — except in some rural areas such as Huancavelica where a local government building was set on fire and the city of Madre de Dios in the Amazon region, where a government building was also burnt.

In the regional city of Cuzco — heartland of the opposition to the Garcia government — more than 20,000 workers, students and peasants marched against the neoliberal policies of the government chanting, "Urgent, urgent, we need a new president".

The strike comes on the back of a nationwide miners strike on June 30 called by the Federation of Miners of Peru for better wages and against the reduction of mining royalties, as well as rolling strikes in the countryside against a new law that allows the government to privatise vast tracts of land and clear off some 7000 traditional indigenous and peasant communities.

"The government wants to liquidate us, to disappear the communities so they can hand over our land to the foreign investors, the big landowners and the mining companies … And with the free trade agreement everything is going to be worse … this government is a disgrace", Julio Pumayari, a community leader from Yupango, near Cuzco, told the July 9 Pagina 12.

The government tried to downplay the strike, describing it as a "failure", but with his approval rating sinking to 30%, Garcia is Latin America's least popular president.

According to Pagina 12, Efrain Yepez, general secretary of the Cuzco Defense Front said: "If the government doesn't listen we will radicalise our protests. We will go for an indefinite general strike."

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