Peru: An Upsurge of Strikes and Barricades
Revolutionary Worker #1203, June 15, 2003, posted
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 5 a month--and can barely live.
The government offered them an insulting 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
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
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 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
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 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
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
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.
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
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.
- Information on Peru
http://rwor.org - Revolutionary Worker Online
resource page on resisting the juggernaut of war and repression
Discuss revolutionary strategy and the RCP's Draft Programme