Monday, July 09, 2007

Lots of Unrest in Peru

The last two weeks we have seen lots of strikes and protests, especially in the poorer southern part of the country, many of which have resulted in violent clashes with police trying to control them. And at least eight more major strikes are planned during the coming week, including teachers, health workers, municipal workers and others. Some are limited to a few days duration, but others are planned as actions of indefinite length until their demands are resolved.

There are many reasons for the increase in discontent. At the root of the problem is the extreme inequality of economic development across the country. Peru´s economy has seen an average growth rate of about 6% for more than 6 years, and is currently growing at about 8%. But almost all of that growth has been along the coast in the central and northern part of the country, where the government has made significant investments or worked to obtain private investment. As one commentator recently pointed out, the difference in economic wellbeing between Lima and Huancavelica (the poorest district) is the same as the difference between Norway and Nigeria.
A second reason is that the Garcia government is finally starting to implement a move toward decentralization of the government, responding to the decades-long demands of regional governments for more autonomy. But the regional governments are not accustomed to accepting responsibility for their own destiny and hence often blame the central government in Lima when things go bad.
Another factor is that the government has recently given more attention to the areas where protests have occurred, sending the prime minister or one of his cronies to have talks with the groups behind the protests. As one of the marchers said, with tires burning in the background blocking a highway, ¨The only signals this government seems to respond to are smoke signals.¨

I´m glad that I don´t have any travel plans for the immediate future, because many of these strikes will block major transportation routes. And one of the groups planning a four day strike starting July 16 is the airport workers union.

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