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Latin America Monica Dispatch

Viva la Lucha de los Trabajadores y del Pueblo!

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Protesters fill the Plaza de Armas.
"Abajo! Ladrones!" ("Down with the robbers!") I heard as I ran towards the Plaza de Armas. The chanting and singing had awoken me, and as I happened upon the city center, thousands of others were taking up the yelling: "Uno! Dos! Tres! Salud otra vez! Atras, atras! Volviendo Inca Paz!" ("One! Two! Three! Health again! Back, back! Returning to the Peace of the Inca!") Women, men, and children marched in formation around the square and down the wide Avenida del Sol, carrying signs, megaphones, and whistles, and rattling cans while they shouted. Some student groups were dancing as they marched. A few effigies were burning in corners and in the street. It was a countrywide demonstration, with its center here in Cuzco!

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Protesters fill the Plaza de Armas.
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As I took pictures, I asked some of the students what people were striking about. "Against injustice," two girls explained to me. "Because the policies of President Fujimori are unfair. He wants to sell Machu Picchu." Another man gave an example, saying, "The price of fruits, or of gasoline, are very high, only within the last three days. People can't afford this." Another chant that people yelled together was "Chino! Escucha! La Culpa de Gobierno!" ("Chinese man! Listen! The Guilty One of the government!") [This is a reference to Fujimori being of Japanese descent.]

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This man lets his message be known: "On strike indefinitely!"
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In the El Sol newspaper, news of the strike figured prominently on the front page. In Lima protesters stoned buses and burned tires. Workers who were striking today would lose their day's wages, according to Labor Secretary Pedro Flores Polo. This "paro civico nacional," national civic shutdown, was being organized by the Confederacion General de Trabajadores del Peru (CGTP) and other political and social organizations, to reclaim some of the recent changes in the economic policies of the governor, including, for instance, the building of a hydroelectric dam near Cuzco. The CGTP was demanding: the creation of job support offices, support groups in regions with high poverty, decentralization, transparency in governmental dealings, and an end to corruption. Some of these demands, however, were "absolutely alien to lawful labor relations ... there is no possibility to positively attend to demands of this nature," said the Ministry of Labor.

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The center of a country-wide demonstration.
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President Alberto Fujimori had only ordered that military forces maintain the peace, but hadn't commented on any of the points about which the labor unions were striking. "The organizers of the strike have guaranteed that there will be no taking of private property," he explained, referring to a former protest, last year, that ended with the invasion of the patio of the Governor's Palace. As a precaution, in Lima, more than 20,000 police increased their patrols. Throughout the rest of the country, another 80,000 police were mobilized today, but in Cuzco, the soldiers and tanks that lined the streets were calm. People chanted, "Brother! Policeman! Join us in our struggle!"

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These people feel they definitely have a right to protest for what they believe in.
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In the main plaza and throughout most of the city, restaurants and shops remained closed during the day. However, the Minister of Education affirmed that classes were to continue as normal for all levels, and emergency and medical services continued as well.

In the Plaza de Armas, organizers were collecting petitions against the "privatization of Machu Picchu," referring to a hydroelectric dam nearby that is up for sale. Many of the groups that were striking handed out flyers with their demands printed up. While I heard chanting like:
"Machu Picchu se defende! El Pueblo se defende!"
and "El Pueblo mi formado, tambien es exploitado,"

Check out this San Francisco Chronicle article for more info on the protest! Strike revives Peru's downtrodden political opposition
I read some of these demands, such as those of the State Technical College of Luis Vallejos Santoni.

"We demand:

  • incrementing wages in accord with demonstrated educational quality
  • appointments for all contracted workers
  • construction of apartment flats for teachers
  • defense of the Central Hydroelectric Dam of Machu Picchu
  • creation of more job-search offices
  • for the democratic election of regional representatives"

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Patience and cheer in the middle of protest.
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There were also flyers being passed around mocking Fujimori, for instance, "Fujimori's government is ... Stupid, Corrupt, Mediocre, Thieving, Fraudulent, Authoritarian, Bureaucratic, and Perpetuates its Power." Anti-Fujimori sentiment ran high, and one woman pointed at me and cried, "China! Escucha!" However, the four lane Avenida del Sol had groups walking both ways, most of them singing and chanting, without any violence breaking out. In the Plaza de Armas, the overall mood was of patience and even cheer, as vendors sold sandwiches, Jellos, and drinks, and children scampered about.

The marching died out after about three hours, and towards the evening, some offices and buildings opened back up again. In the last nine years of President Fujimori's term as governor, this has been the only nationwide strike of this size.

Monica

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