President Toledo declared a state of emergency to crack down on widespread strikes all over the country. Despite the extraordinary measures, protests are growing
Following weeks of strikes and protests that virtually paralyzed this country, Peru's President Aljeandro Toledo Wednesday declared a 30-day state of emergency and mobilized troops to crack down on demonstrators. Farmers, teachers and clerks went on strike after Toledo's decision to freeze salaries for one year as a way to comply with IMF requirements.
"Patience has a limit", Toledo said, and ordered 280,000 teachers on strike to come back to their classrooms. Also, the Peruvian president launched a military operation to forcibly remove farmers from highway roadblocks and teachers from the entrance to the National Congress. Unions, in turn, said they would go on with the protests until their demands are attended to.
The state of emergency gives Toledo's government the right to make strikers return to work and enables it to suspend the rights of free movement and assembly. It also allows police and the military to enter homes without warrants.
At the same time, the opposition leader and former President Alan Garcia said that Toledo was responsible for the critical situation. Despite posting South America's largest economical growth last year, income inequality damages the impoverished 60% of the Peruvian population. "We are not going to back down", said teachers-union President Nilver Lopez, who pledged more protests.
Toledo, a well-educated neoliberal economist, was elected two years ago on the basis of a deep reform program. He had also promised to fight poverty, but, as he admitted in his latest TV statement, he failed in improving the lot of millions living in poverty. His economy minister, Javier Silva Ruete, said that, if the government fulfilled people's demands, the economy could "go to hell".
To some Peruvians, the emergency measure seemed reminiscent of President Alberto Fujimori's decision in April 1992 to shut down Congress. That move began a downward spiral into authoritarian rule and rampant corruption led by Fujimori and his now-imprisoned spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos.
At the same time, observers do not hesitate to connect Peru's current crisis to similar situations still fresh in Latin American minds, such as the December 2001 turmoil in Argentina. In that country, then-President Fernando de la Rua took office amid an anti-corruption mood and bids for a social change. As de la Rua insisted on implementing austerity measures to comply with IMF requirements, he soon lost his popularity. Then, when the social crisis led to a chaotic situation, he tried to crack down, declaring a state of emergency. Spontaneous widespread protests ousted him in two days.
Something similar happened in Bolivia early this year. President Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada faced political turmoil when he tried to impose drastic austerity measures suggested by the IMF. Protesters occupied the country's capital, La Paz, for 48 hours, and Sanchez de Losada had to cease his unpopular measures.
During his visit to Buenos Aires for the inauguration of Argentina's new president, Toledo said to a PRAVDA.Ru correspondent and other reporters that governance in Latin America was directly connected to the problem of poverty. As a self-fulfilling prediction, the lack of success in fighting poverty has put him in a critical situation in which Peru's democracy has been placed on hold.
Photo: Tanks patrol Lima's streets.