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Cablegate: Peru's Season of Protest

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PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHPE #2319/01 1872123
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 062123Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY LIMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6082
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION PRIORITY 1707
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA PRIORITY 4837
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES PRIORITY 2962
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0526
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ JUL 4352
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO PRIORITY 9228
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 1323
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO PRIORITY 1369
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL PRIORITY 4422
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY

UNCLAS LIMA 002319

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EMIN ELAB EINV ENRG PGOV ECON PE
SUBJECT: PERU'S SEASON OF PROTEST

1. (U) Comment: Widespread protests across different regions
of Peru have led some political observers -- like Peru
Nationalist Party President Ollanta Humala -- to suggest the
GOP may be losing control in the countryside (see septel),
and President Garcia has made several public appeals for
calm. A closer look at the unrest, however, shows that the
protests represent localized reactions to specific
grievances. For its part, the GOP has shown itself capable
of resolving many localized protests before they can coalesce
into broader national discontent. Analysts are still
searching for an explanation for why so many protests have
broken out in such a short time, but for now the GOP appears
more than capable of meeting the demands of Peru's winter of
discontent. End Comment.

-------------------
Protests Everywhere
-------------------

2. (U) Sixteen of Peru's 24 departments are experiencing
some form of strike or demonstration, and the office of the
Ombudsman says that there were 35 active social conflicts in
June, a sharp increase from May, when only five conflicts
were reported. Regional presidents of Puno, Ancash, and
Ucayali have lead marches, the national teacher's union has
declared an indefinite strike, and on-again, off-again
cocalero protests have continued for more than one month in
the provinces of Cusco, San Martin, and Huanuco. At the
Casaplaca mines, 92 kilometers east of Lima, five persons
have died in the past two weeks after a strike against the
company turned violent. In Ucayali, a jungle region on the
border with Brazil, the regional government declared a state
of emergency after protesters blocked all forms of
transportation into the city of Pucallpa. Additional
demonstrations have broken out in other parts of Peru to
demand, among other things, stronger environmental
protections, the construction of an inter-oceanic highway,
and the removal of local mayors.

-------------------------------
The Hard Hand and the Soft Hand
-------------------------------

3. (U) The GOB has taken different approaches to the
protests, sometimes surprising demonstrators by supporting
their demands. At the Casaplaca mines, for example, Minister
of Labor Susan Pinilla joined with strikers to demand the
company rehire more than 100 workers fired for trying to
organize a union. President Garcia and Prime Minister
Castillo also publicly supported the miners. Pinilla said
that if an investigation revealed workers had been fired
unjustly, she would fine the company 69,000 soles
(approximately 23,000 dollars) and would seek to revoke the
company's mining license. Although the strike against
Casaplaca continues, Pinilla's response has lowered tensions.

4. (U) In Ucayali, residents blocked roads for four days to
protest the central government's plans to eliminate tax
exemptions for the Amazon regions. In response, Minister of
Commerce and Trade Mercedes Araoz visited the province July 4
and opened talks with regional authorities. Araoz agreed to
postpone the elimination of tax exemptions until governmental
infrastructure projects are completed. The road blockages
have lifted.

5. (U) The teacher's union and the cocaleros have not fared
as well. SUTEP, the teacher's union, declared an indefinite
strike on June 18 to protest low salaries and the
government's plans for mandatory teacher testing. The GOP
refused to negotiate with SUTEP, declared the strike illegal,
and threatened to fire any teachers who took part in the
strike. Press reports estimated that less than 15 per cent
of teachers joined the protests nationwide, and rumors
surfaced that SUTEP president Luis Munoz would be forced out
by teachers unhappy with the union's growing unpopularity.

6. (U) The government also took a hard line against
cocaleros emboldened by concessions made by former
Agriculture Minister Jose Salazar. Garcia fired Salazar May
22 after the minister entered into unauthorized talks with
cocalero leaders. The new agriculture minister, Ismael
Benavides, vowed that coca cultivation would not dominate the
ministry of agriculture's agenda. Garcia also warned
cocaleros that continued protest would be met with a firm
response and that counter-narcotics efforts, including
eradication, would continue. Garcia said there "would be no
treaty in the fight against drugs."

------------------------
The Causes of the Unrest
------------------------

7. (U) Analysts offer different explanations for the unrest.
Percy Medina of the NGO Transparancia said July is the
traditional protest season in Peru, as is the one-year
anniversary of a government. Medina says the GOP has done a
remarkable job of containing unrest while retaining
popularity, although he doubts the GOP's "band aid" response
to solving problems will be effective in the long run. David
Lovaton of the NGO Institute for Legal Defense says the
government's willingness to negotiate with persons breaking
the law -- including regional officials -- encourages
demonstrations and undermines the rule of law. Mario Human,
secretary general of Peru's largest union, says the problems

SIPDIS
found at Casaplaca are repeated at every medium and small
mining concern in Peru and represent a primary cause of labor
unrest.

8. (U) Comment: Not all of the protests have ended, and
others are likely to flare in the coming weeks. As Lovaton
notes, the willingness of Peruvian citizens to take to the
streets to resolve complaints is a troubling sign in a nation
trying to develop the rule of law. The poorly trained,
corrupt, and largely outnumbered national police, moreover,
cannot be counted on to contain every protest. Nevertheless,
even though the underlying problems sparking unrest may not
have been resolved, the Garcia administration has generally
proven deft at managing conflict once it emerges. What is
striking about the latest round of demonstrations is their
dissimilarity, which has given the GOP room to maneuver and
prevented any kind of nationwide protest movement from
emerging. End Comment.
STRUBLE

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