Trip Start May 18, 2007
Trip End Jul 28, 2007

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Flag of Peru  ,
Friday, June 22, 2007

Paro is the Spanish word for work stoppage, aka, strike. Yesterday (Wednesday), all public transport stopped to protest against the increasing price of gas and the alleged oligopoly controlling high prices in the south of Peru.

Did this paro not happen last week as well, you ask? Why, yes, my perceptive friends. I believe I mentioned the strike last week as well. It turns out that the strike planned for last Wednesday did not really happen, but they certainly got organized for yesterday.

No taxis, buses, or other public vehicles. No private cars either - demonstrators were threatening to throw stones at them. So school was cancelled, as we had no means of going there this morning, and most stores, restaurants, and other businesses near the centre of town were either closed, or only partially open with their metal door or grate shut down.

I walked to the Casa de Avila, and then, with two friends, we headed towards the centre of town, where the demonstrations were occurring. We had decided to go to a restaurant on a side street, and only walk near the Plaza de Armas if it was safe. Rest assured that we walked on the quieter side of the Plaza, and as far away from the demonstrators as we could. We were several hundred meters away from any group of demonstrators, and were not at risk.

Large groups of people were assembled there, carrying red Che Guevara flags (yes, serious populist and communist sentiment here) and blowing whistles loudly as they marched around the plaza. Riot police, carrying shields, were lined up all around the Plaza. We did not linger, and walked straight to the restaurant.

After lunch, we walked back, and saw, in addition to the flags, a banner that read, "¡Afuera Yanquis!". Translated into English, that is, "Out, Yankees!", in other words, foreign interests, leave the country, implying that foreigners (Americans) are responsible for the price hike. It may be hard to believe for the more cynical amongst us, but in this case, the strike organizers do have it wrong! It has nothing to do with the Americans or other foreigners, and everything to do with local oligopolies, taxes imposed by the centralist government in Lima,  and a certain amount of corruption in all that.

We did not stick around, and came safely back to the Casa. I have to admit that while I did not feel threatened or in danger at all (I repeat, I was safe the whole time, and was not in danger - Mom, Dad, do I have to say it again?), it was still a bit unnerving to see that many agitated people in one spot, especially with the flags and banner. Somehow, seeing demonstrators carrying Che Guevara flags brings home the fact that he fought for the rights of these people, and chose quite violent ways to do so. For anyone who has not seen the movie "Motorcycle Diaries", I highly recommend it...

After getting home in the evening (on foot, no taxis around), I watched the news with Luis and Doris, and saw that things did get a bit rough after we had walked back from the Plaza. One TV crew from a right-wing newspaper was attacked and chased by the mob. No one was hurt, but it did show that tempers were flaring, and that violence was ready to erupt at a moment's notice.

Luis and Doris emphasized just how detrimental these strikes are. They are frequent, and paralyze entire regions of the country. Instead of simply going on a strike, and limiting transport in a non-violent way, the demonstrators, whipped up by a number of different unions, get violent and prevent ALL commerce from taking place, since people have no means of getting to work, and by forcing businesses to shut down for fear of looting. The demonstrators interviewed on TV were obviously people with little education, who live day-to-day with the proceeds of taxi driving or bus driving. Clearly not much of an income on which to raise 3, 4, 5 or more kids. At the same time, one can't help but think that these strikes don't actually resolve anything, and they completely fail to garner public opinion in favour of the strikers.

Based on the news last night, several other groups, including teachers, are threatening a general indefinite strike sometime in July to protest against who-knows-what. While I'm a strong believer in democracy, and everyone's democratic right to protest, I am not in favour of such general work stoppages, and the resulting interruption of all commerce and business activity. As Doris put it to me, "people in this country complain that there are no jobs for them, but give them work, and they often complain it's too hard". Obviously, this doesn't apply to all Peruanos, far from it; however, there is a strong "working class" that appears to prove that opinion right.

With 4 more years to go out of a 5 year term, the government of Allan García in Lima has its work cut out for it, if it wants to make Perú grow economically. The Peruvian economy has been growing well in recent years, with good stability, and a respectable growth rate especially compared to its neighbours. But that growth does presuppose continued foreign investments (from China, Chile, Argentina mainly), and a growing work force willing to do work instead of going on strike...

All extremely interesting, especially the fact that I cannot find much at all about the strike on the Internet. You'd almost think that censorship exists in this country...?
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