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Cablegate: Peru Faces a "Tornado of Protests

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PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHPE #2400/01 1941648
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 131648Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY LIMA
TO RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6146
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION PRIORITY 1718
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA PRIORITY 4872
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 7458
RUEHWN/AMEMBASSY BRIDGETOWN PRIORITY 0563
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES PRIORITY 2981
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0554
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 1342
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO PRIORITY 1382

C O N F I D E N T I A L LIMA 002400

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/12/2027
TAGS: ECON ELAB PE PGOV PHUM PINR PREL
SUBJECT: PERU FACES A "TORNADO OF PROTESTS"

REF: LIMA 2319

Classified By: A/POL David Boyle, for Reasons 1.4 (c,d)

1. (SBU) Summary: Peru is facing, in the words of one local
commentator, a "tornado of protests," as organized labor,
teachers, regional officials, and others have taken to the
streets to call attention to a wide variety of grievances.
Government officials and political analysts cite different
causes for the unusually high-number of strikes, including
the desire to share in Peru's economic growth, the lack of
political legitimacy of local governments, and the influence
of Bolivarian agitators. In public, the GOP has taken a
businesslike approach, recognizing the public's right of free
expression, but insisting law and order must be preserved.
In private, senior ministers remain confident that the
protests will burn out before National Day celebrations begin
July 28. An analysis of the demonstrations bears out this
conclusion but also suggests that the protest season may
carry into August. End Summary

-----------------------
A Long List of Protests
-----------------------

2. (C) So far this month, a variety of groups have taken to
the streets to air grievances ranging from complaints over
mandatory teacher testing, to corrupt local government, to
subcontracting in the mining industry. The Office of the
Ombudsman reported 75 ongoing conflicts in 16 of Peru's 24
provinces, with 35 of the conflicts "active." Ombudsman
Beatriz Merino told the Ambassador July 9 that the number of
conflicts has actually doubled over the past year. A Lima
paper published a schedule that listed 11 major strikes for
the week of July 8 alone.

3. (C) The number and variety of the demonstrations is
alarming, and three persons have died in strike-related
violence in the past week. A look at three of the larger
strikes, however, suggests the protests may not have legs.
Peru's largest labor union, the General Central of Peruvian
Workers (CGTP), announced a general strike in support of
workers at the Casapalca mines near Lima, and more than 5,000
protesters marched through downtown Lima June 11 in a
demonstration that was largely peaceful. CGTP sources told
poloff that the union had been caught off guard by Minister
of Labor Pinella's quick action in meeting with Casapalca
miners and by the GOP's willingness to support the miner's
demands, but decided to go ahead with the march anyway.
Prime Minister Jorge del Castillo told the Ambassador July 9
that he expected the CGTP would be unable to maintain the
strike.

4. (SBU) The far-left teacher's union SUTEP (the United
Syndicate of Peruvian Educational Workers) continued an
indefinite strike, now in its third week, that was supported
by the CGTP. SUTEP protests took place throughout Peru, and
more than 3,000 teachers marched in the province of Tumbes.
The teachers have received widespread condemnation in the
Lima press, and most schools have continued classes without
interruption. CGTP leaders told poloff they felt obliged to
support a besieged union, but at the same time, they admit an
internal power struggle has broken out within SUTEP, with a
regional faction lead by Robert Huayanlaya -- who reportedly
has ties to terrorists -- seeking a more confrontational
approach with the government.

5. (C) In the province of Ucayali, thousands of protesters
blocked access to the regional capital for four days during
the week of July 2 to protest a proposal by the central
government to eliminate tax breaks for jungle regions. Talks
chaired by Minister of Commerce Mercedes Aaroz on July 4 were
successful, and the roads and airport in the capital are
open, although stragglers still roam the streets. Castillo
told the Ambassador that the "Ucayali Defense Front"
responsible for organizing the protest was really the local
Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber turned to local communist
groups to bring bodies into the street.

--------------------------
Three Reasons for Protests
--------------------------

6. (C) Ombudsman Beatriz Merino told the Ambassador July 10
that the inability of local governments to deliver basic
services combined with the razor-thin plurality that brought
many to power has robbed regional officials of political
legitimacy and allowed popular movements to gain ascendancy.
(Comment: In the November 2006 regional elections, no
president received more than 50 per cent of the popular vote;
12 won with less than 30 percent. End Comment) Merino says
the pace of protests will pick up again in August when
regional authorities begin debating budget priorities.

7. (SBU) A second explanation cites rising expectations
created by Peru's economic growth as the reason for popular
discontent. Political analyst Carlos Reyna says Peruvians
were willing to accept privation during the fight against
terrorism, but economic expansion and the fall of Fujimori
has motivated regional organizations and unions to seek a
larger share of wealth. Political commentator Eduard Ballon
says the protests represent a fundamental challenge to the
Garcia administration to show that the benefits of open
markets can be distributed fairly throughout the society.

8. (SBU) Finally, a number of public and private leaders see
the hand of Chavez behind some of the well-organized and
well-coordinated demonstrations taking place. These
observers note that protests cost money, and civil society
organizations do not have the resources to support sustained
public actions. For many in Peru, it is no accident that the
volume of strikes has increased at the same time the
government of Venezuela has shown increasing interest in
creating ties with Peruvian radicals (see septel).

-----------------------------
Comment: The Good and the Bad
-----------------------------

9. (C) In public and private, the GOP has maintained an even
keel in the face of vociferous street protests, allowing
demonstrations to go forward while ensuring security forces
maintain law and order. The government has mobilized 15,000
police, and President Garcia announced July 10 that the
government would use the military to protect key
infrastructure installations. Garcia remains largely
popular, though his poll numbers continue to fall, and the
popularity of the Congress has plunged. The protests may, in
an odd way, reflect the GOP's strength: radicals resisted
pushing ex-president Toledo too hard for fear he would fall.
Garcia has proven a far more formidable adversary. Post
agrees with Castillo's assessment that the current protests
are likely to run out of stream as the end of the month
approaches.

10. (SBU) But the protest cycle could resume in August, and
images of loud, threatening demonstrations taking place
throughout Peru carry a cost. The protests have put
international investors on edge, and popular mobilizations
provide extremists the opportunity over time to turn local
discontent into a national movement. No evidence has emerged
of overall coordination or management of the protests, but
the danger exists that simmering discontent could flare at
any time into popular outrage. End Comment.
STRUBLE

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