Monday, May 5, 2008

Danger in the Region: Who’s Behind the Protests in Peru

By Nicole M. Ferrand.*
Thousands of farmers started open-ended violent strikes in eight Peruvian departments on Feb. 18, holding marches and blocking highways to demand “government measures to ease the impact of a free trade agreement (FTA, or TLC in Spanish) with the US.” At least 150 people were arrested and five have died so far. The government declared a state of emergency in the eight departments on February 19, and by the end of the day the organizers had suspended the strike and resumed negotiations with government officials. Also on February 19, teachers marched on Congress in Lima to protest a decree by social democratic president, Alan Garcia that teachers hired to work in public schools must have university degrees.[1]
Campesinos continued the strike through February 20 in the southern departments of Cusco, Arequipa and Ayacucho to protest the deaths in the preceding days. On February 20, US ambassador, Peter Michael McKinley spoke out in favor of the trade pact, which the US Congress approved in December. It will establish modern systems of trade regulation and design a discipline which will improve Peru’s competitiveness and promote its prosperity, he said. The protests continued two more days in Cusco, where local people called a 48-hour strike starting on Feb. 21 to protest a law allowing companies to set up businesses near archeological zones. Strikers blocked roads out of the city of Cusco, while some 500 marched in the downtown area. On February 21 protesters marched on the airport, causing some damage and leading the authorities to suspend flights for the duration of the strike. Hundreds of tourists were stranded.[2]
On February 22, Peruvian vice president Luis Giampietri blamed the protests on subversion by former presidential candidate, Ollanta Humala, and his Nationalist Peruvian Party (PNP). Prime Minister Jorge del Castillo has called for regional court systems to punish anyone that is caught blocking highways or protesting violently. Regional authorities have been warned that if protests continue, Cusco will not be accredited as one of the twelve venues for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) meetings. The president of the Chamber of Commerce, Tourism and Industry of Huancayo, Luis Torres Garay, said that his province has the necessary hotel infrastructure to become an alternative venue for APEC, replacing Cusco.[3]

APEC Peru 2008 will be a series of political meetings to be held in Peru between the 21 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Leaders from all countries will meet on November 22, 2008 in the capital city of Lima. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation is a forum for 21 Pacific Rim countries or regions (styled ‘member economies’) to discuss the regional economy, cooperation, trade and investment. The membership is claimed to account for approximately 41% of the world’s population, approximately 56% of world GDP and about 49% of world trade. The activities, including year-round meetings of the members’ ministers, are coordinated by the APEC Secretariat.[4]
The leader of Peru’s left-leaning Nationalist Party, Ollanta Humala has organized “The People’s Social Summit,” which is to take place from May 13 - 15, the same dates world leaders will come to Lima for the European Union-Latin America and Caribbean (EU-LAC) Summit. Over 60 world leaders are to come to Peru for the EU-LAC summit while another 20 will be present for the APEC summit to be held in Peru.[5]

It’s no coincidence that the protests coincided with the EU-LAC and the APEC summits. The recent violent clashes between some groups of farmers and the police are believed to have been promoted by Humala and financed by Chavez since both do not want economic prosperity in Peru and want to destabilize the country for their socialist plan. Economic growth could block their nationalistic campaign in the region and they are taking advantage of these world events to halt progress and gain international publicity. The demonstrations have been infiltrated by members of the terrorist group, “Shining Path,” as well as supporters of Chavez and Humala, all in an effort to block progress. The encounters have already cost the provinces involved millions of dollars since they survive on tourism and commerce and many roads are now impassable. It has been reported that money is being sent through Bolivia from Venezuela to actually pay people to carry out attacks against government facilities and to help organize Humala’s summit.

Some locals complain that the armed forces are not reacting strongly enough against the demonstrators, which is true. The answer: they are afraid to be accused of “human rights violations.” Peruvians are now watching the absurd trial against former President Alberto Fujimori, where witnesses, including armed forces personnel, are being accused of “murder” for simply doing their jobs. Peru was fighting the terrorist groups “Shining Path” and the MRTA, which over thirty years killed thousands of innocent people. The Fujimori regime effectively contained them but the left and their NGO’s were furious about this and now are taking revenge. Many of these witnesses are in jail and are being horribly mistreated by the prosecutors and the judges involved in the case. President Fujimori is not being spared any of this treatment and his prison regime is much worse than that of Shining Path leader, Abimael Guzman.

The judge, prosecutors, the majority of the media and some presidential hopefuls are desperate to pin down the former leader and put him away and don’t seem to mind destroying people’s lives in the process. They still see him as a threat to their personal agendas since recent polls reveal his popularity is soaring. Since they cannot find proof that the government “carried out acts of political violence (massacres, extrajudicial killings, and forced disappearances) in a systematic way and with a level of organization that could have only existed with approval from the highest levels of government,” they are becoming desperate. In order to convict Fujimori, the prosecutors must demonstrate that the Colina Group (a team of select army intelligence operatives belonging to the armed forces, created in the late ‘80s’) acted with the president’s imprimatur, that he either ordered its creation, approved of its actions, or, at the very least, knew of its existence as Commander in Chief of the Peruvian military. Many of the accused have declared that some abuses committed by the military “are isolated actions that do not reflect institutional behavior.” Witness after witness have revealed that they were bribed or promised lighter sentences if they accused Fujimori, stating that they never saw or heard him giving any orders and cannot involve him in the cases he is accused of. So it is not difficult to see why the police don’t want to act against the recent protests.

But there could be another reason for the lack of governmental resolve to stop the violence. It is said that current vice President Jorge del Castillo wants to run for President in the next elections in 2011 and that is why he wants to appear as a “moderate.”
The fact of the matter is that many sectors of the population seem to be aware of what is going on and are becoming extremely disturbed by these attacks which are costing small businesses money and are putting jobs at risk. Many locals are coming out loudly against the Nationalist leader, Humala and his supporter, Chavez. Unfortunately, the Garcia regime is taking a toll and recent polls reveal he is sliding as many people are voicing their disappointment at the lack of action.

Update –
The Minister of Defense Ántero Flores-Aráoz announced on February 27, that Cusco would not be one of the venues for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum summit because of certain violent sectors of the region and the silent attitude from the rest of the Cusqueñans. “Cusco has given up their title as one of the venues for APEC in November and the government has accepted this decision,” said the minister. He also announced that a venue to replace Cusco hasn’t been decided yet, but will be announced within the next few weeks. The Minister stated that the violent protests, acts of vandalism, roadway blockages, and the assault on the airport have caused them to take this precaution and exclude Cusco from APEC venues. “The violent protesters don’t wish APEC members to visit Cusco, while the rest of Cusco has been silent in all languages, that is to say, instead of expressing their protests against the violent acts, they’ve remained quiet and have therefore in a way accepted that violence. By being silent, they have become accomplices in this situation.”[6]

This is a sad but correct decision. Sad because Cusco is a beautiful place and the APEC summit would definitely benefit the region but it is the correct one. Now everyone will know the costs of having and/or allowing such behavior and the government has gained legitimacy among Peruvians.

*Nicole M. Ferrand is a research analyst and editor of “The Americas Report” of the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. ( She is a graduate of Columbia University in Economics and Political Science with a background in Law from Peruvian University, UNIFE and in Corporate Finance from Georgetown University.

[1] APEC and EU-LAC Peru 2008 Summits - Daily Updates. Living in Peru.
[2] APEC and EU-LAC Peru 2008 Summits - Daily Updates. Living in Peru
[3] APEC and EU-LAC Peru 2008 Summits - Daily Updates. Living in Peru.
[4] APEC and EU-LAC Peru 2008 Summits - Daily Updates. Living in Peru.
[5] APEC and EU-LAC Peru 2008 Summits - Daily Updates. Living in Peru
[6] APEC and EU-LAC Peru 2008 Summits - Daily Updates. Living in Peru

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