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News ::
09 Jun 2003

By Andy McInerney
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the June 23, 2003
issue of Workers World newspaper


By Andy McInerney

Some 2 million Peruvian workers and peasants took to the streets in late
May to block President Alejandro Toledo's efforts to impose economic
austerity measures. The protests included strikes, road blockades in the
countryside, and street battles pitting students and workers against the

The demonstrations are the largest yet against the Toledo government.
They are an indication that the wave of protest that has swept Latin
America against Inter national Monetary Fund-backed regimes continues to

The backbone of the latest protests has been the 280,000-member
teachers' union SUTEP, which has been on strike since May 12. The
teachers are asking for a $60 raise over their monthly $200 salary--a
demand that the government claims it cannot meet within the bounds of an
IMF-imposed austerity plan. Toledo had promised to double teachers'
salaries during his electoral campaign in 2001.

"If the government doesn't change its policy of kneeling down before the
IMF, it's going to have to go," high school teacher Jorge Vargas told
Reuters on May 28.

At the end of May, health workers, judiciary workers and farmers joined
the teachers. The demands varied, but they were united by opposition to
Toledo's neoliberal policies of cutbacks, austerity and privatization.

On May 27, Toledo declared a nationwide state of emergency to combat the
protests. When strikers refused to call off their actions, troops opened
fire on them in several cities, injuring 95 and killing at least one
student. Street battles broke out in Lima, Huancayo, Puno, Bar ranca,
Chic layo, Arequipa and other cities around the country.

The declaration of a state of emergency provoked widespread anger. Mario
Huamán, leader of the country's largest labor federation, CGTP, told the
daily La Repu blica on June 1 that the federation would organize a
national protest on June 3 calling for lifting the state of emergency.
Students also called for actions on June 4.

Toledo was elected in 2001 after more than a decade of dictatorial rule
by Alberto Fujimori. Toledo's campaign was marked by classic electoral
demagogy: to the working people he flouted his Indi genous background--
no small factor in a country where the 82 percent Indigenous and mestizo
population has faced historic super-exploitation--and promised to create
a million jobs. To Wash ington and the Peruvian ruling class, he
emphasized his credentials as a U.S.-educated World Bank economist.

Since the election, he has been loyal only to the ruling class.

While Toledo may be a darling of Wall Street, his credibility on the
streets and shanties of Lima and other Peruvian working-class centers
has never been lower. Polls show his approval rate at less than 15
percent. Half of Peru's 27 million people earn less than $1.25 a day.
Unemployment stands at an official rate of 10 percent--unchanged from
when Toledo came into power.

The challenge facing Peru's workers and farmers is whether a class-
conscious leadership can develop to channel the defensive economic
struggles into a political offensive against the U.S.-backed Peru vian
elite. So far, former President Alan Garcia, Toledo's electoral opponent
in 2001, has made a big effort to channel the protests in another
direction--right into his APRA political party. The forces of the
Communist Party of Peru (PCP) and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Move
ment (MRTA) have yet to recover from the CIA-organized counter-
revolutionary offen sive of the 1990s--although the PCP has carried out
some actions in recent years.

Peruvian workers and peasants are not struggling in a vacuum, though. In
neighboring Colombia, powerful revolutionary insurgencies are
challenging the U.S.-backed regime. In Venezuela, workers are taking
advantage of the political space opened by President Hugo Chávez to
create organs of popular power. Working people in Argentina and Ecuador
have toppled governments in recent years; a sim ilar powerful movement
is building in Bolivia. Cuba remains a revolutionary bea con across
Latin America and the Caribbean.

These continent-wide battles magnify the power that the Peruvian
workers, peasants and students can bring to bear against Toledo's regime
as well as the stakes of the battles ahead.

- END -

(Copyright Workers World Service: Everyone is permitted to copy and
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allowed. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY,
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