Peru: An Upsurge of Strikes and Barricades

Revolutionary Worker #1203, June 15, 2003, posted at

All through May the people of Peru built a powerful wave of struggle--isolating the corrupt government and shaking the rotten system that holds them in misery.

Peru's President Toledo responded with bloody repression--imposing a fascistic "state of emergency" and unleashing his soldiers to kill people in the streets.

As we go to press, this powerful upsurge is still shaking the country.

The following report is based on mainstream press accounts.

Opening the Floodgates

This intense round of class struggle started on May 12, when Peru's 300,000 teachers launched a furious nationwide strike against their outrageous conditions. Teachers in Peru only make $175 a month--and can barely live.

The government offered them an insulting $30 raise--saying it could not afford any more. Education Minister Gerardo Ayzanoa said, "We can't turn Peru into a more risky country" for foreign investors by offering teachers more money.

So after marching and negotiating, the teachers shut down 52,000 schools.

Their bold action immediately won broad support. Day after day, many different sections of the people found ways to join the struggle. Hundreds of organizations of students and parents rallied to support the teachers. Other sections of the population went out on strike too and raised their own demands against the government.

In late May, many thousands of farmers and peasants started building barricades on the highways throughout Peru--including the roads leading into the major cities--and cut off food supplies to the capital, Lima.

Literally millions of people were involved in the anti-government resistance.

Fed Up!

The reasons for this explosion are very clear.

The people of Peru live in a bitter and enforced poverty. The government lies to them, while it energetically helps international capital rob the country and the population.

The government of President Alejandro Toledo came to power two years ago--promising to end the brutality and corruption of the previous Fujimori government. Toledo said his policies would produce a million new jobs a year and a rising living standard for the people.

But what the people have gotten is "Fujimorism without Fujimori"--especially in Toledo's pro-imperialist economic policies. Toledo has pressed ahead with the sale of the country's wealth to corporations (called "privatization"). Peru's farmers, for example, are now threatened with the privatization of the country's irrigation system--which would place them even more directly at the mercy of private profit.

Meanwhile "free trade" imports are lowering crop prices and bankrupting many farm families.

Toledo, who was a U.S.-trained advisor to the World Bank, demonstrates complete loyalty to international capitalism and eager obedience to the cruel demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Whenever the people demand wages to feed themselves, they are told Peru's money must go to pay off foreign loans.

The international capitalist press calls Peru a "success story"--while the people live with a growing fury over their intense poverty and the raw deceit of electoral promises.

Over half the people live on less than $9 a week. Homelessness, joblessness, and real hunger are common.

These strikes over wages also represent a revolt against the dictates of the IMF. One leader of the teachers said the current set-up "favors payments on the foreign debt and transnational corporations while the rest of the population lives in poverty."

Martial Law and the Bullets of Soldiers

In the last week of May, police tried to clear barricades from the main highway in the central Andes and were driven off by thousands of stone-throwing farmers.

At the same time, thousands of doctors and nurses walked out from hospitals and clinics, joining the strike wave. Students shut down the colleges, and even court workers struck.

President Toledo responded by ordering the army to move against the people.

On May 27, Toledo announced a state of emergency to "restore order." He declared all strikes illegal and ordered everyone back to work.

Toledo said the army and police had full authority to use force. Civil liberties were suspended. The police were given the power to arrest leaders of the movement and enter their homes without warrants. People were forbidden to travel within the country, and all demonstrations were banned.

The notoriously brutal army was given power to enforce this "state of emergency" in 12 of Peru's 24 departments. Lima, the capital, was patrolled by soldiers and armored cars in a heavy-handed fascist clampdown.

Voices from Peru's ruling class expressed approval--like Peruvian capitalist Samuel Gleiser who said, "It's the best showing by Toledo so far. He took the bull by the horns." And some forces within the broad mass movement urged the people to obey and return to work.

The day after Toledo's announcement, convoys of soldiers moved to clear the peasant barricades from the highways in over 60 places--especially on the coastal Pan-American Highway. The confrontations were intense.

Riot police attacked court workers in Lima. Over 20 people were injured as hospital workers and farmers fought troops in Barranca.

Hundreds of people were arrested across Peru.

That same day, in the mountain province of Puno, soldiers opened fire directly into thousands of protesting students from the National Highlands University--killing at least one student, 22-year-old Eddy Quilca Cruz. Some reports said that more died after dozens of people were taken to hospitals with gunshot wounds. Many had been shot in the back.

Defense Minister Loret de Mola defended the shootings in a "closed door" session of Peru's legislature. His "secret" speech made headlines because he reportedly announced that supporters of the Communist Party of Peru (PCP) were "a strong component, a strong influence" within the resistance movement.

The PCP (which the media calls "the Shining Path") has been waging a revolutionary people's war in Peru--to defeat Peru's army, overthrow the old rotten state, and liberate the people from semi-feudal conditions and foreign imperialist domination. This heroic people's war has continued in the face of serious setbacks a decade ago, when Chairman Gonzalo and other key leaders were captured by government forces.

The Confrontation

Despite the naked threat of military terror and the voices urging retreat, the struggle continued across Peru.

A day of mourning was declared for the murdered student. Thousands bravely marched in Puno to denounce the state of emergency. And it was clear that the political crisis was raging on.

A day of illegal mass marches was called for June 3 to support the strike demands and denounce the fascist "state of emergency."

Suddenly there was talk from Peru's ruling class of compromise--of "reshuffling" the cabinet, "finding" money to pay the teachers, and lifting the state of emergency--even talk of replacing Toledo to stabilize the country. But even the former U.S. ambassador to Peru, Dennis Jett, had to note that such measures might not calm the storm: "The idea that changing the Cabinet somehow makes a difference is sort of like the proverbial rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.''

On June 3, hundreds of thousands marched across Peru, including a powerful march of tens of thousands through downtown Lima. Teachers, students, farmers, and workers from many sectors of the economy openly defied the state of emergency. In some cities marchers were attacked by police. In Arequipa, Peru's second largest city, workers launched a general strike.

Meanwhile, the government had a plan to end the mass movement: they brought in Roman Catholic Bishop Luis Bambaren as a "mediator" and offered to raise the teachers' pay.

As we go to press, it is not yet clear whether the teachers' union will accept that agreement, or if such a settlement would end the wave of mass struggle.

In any case, the intense experiences of the last weeks have made several things quite clear:

From every corner of society, people have denounced the harsh domination of Peru by international capital, the slavishness of Peru's government, the empty talk of "reforms," and the brutality of the state.

Clearly the problems of the people go very deep. The liberation of the people requires a profound change in society--ending the domination of imperialism over Peru, and the domination of exploiting classes over the working people. The solution the people need is much more than wage increases.

Meanwhile, through all this, the Peruvian state has shown once again that its power rests on its brutal army and their guns. Despite all the chatter about "reform" and the merry-go-round of political faces, the misery of the people is enforced by bullets and bloodshed. And the end to that misery will require the defeat of that army and the state it serves.

And, above all, this powerful upsurge of Peru's people has revealed again their profound discontent--and their tremendous potential for revolutionary struggle and sacrifice.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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