Peru: ‘State of emergency’ employed against strike of two million

Almost two million Peruvian workers and peasants are on indefinite strike, demanding higher wages and lower taxes.

Economic and social bankruptcy together with the failure of the governing elite to solve the most urgent problems facing the mass of the population have provoked an explosive strike by the working class and the most downtrodden, which has paralysed the country.

In all of the main regions of the country mass, violent protests have broken out. The ‘State of Emergency’ decreed by President Toledo has only enraged workers on strike. The workers have now broken with Toledo and his false promises to improve their living standards and to resist cuts. He swept to power two years ago on the basis of populist demagoguery, promising to oppose privatisation and to defend workers’ interests. Today the working people of Peru are furious at Toledo’s continuation of neo-liberal policies of privatisation and the looting of the natural resources of the country by the multi-national companies (with the blessing of the IMF and Washington).

Teachers, peasants, health workers, the judicial employees, social security employees, and building workers, across regions have joined the strike and protests.

In the early hours of the 28 May, the government decreed a ‘State of Emergency’. This means a suspension of all basic rights – including freedom to organise meetings and freedom to travel. The emergency is deemed to "last" for thirty days. The armed forces have been deployed onto the streets. In an abrupt declaration Toledo announced that this decree is, "to maintain a climate of social peace and stability".

Poverty for the masses

The previous bonapartist president, Fujimori, was a nightmare for the working class and poor of Peru. But Toledo has shown he is not fundamentally different. There is clear evidence of massive corruption in the institutions of government, parliament, the judicial system, in the armed forces and the church. 80% of the population are now opposed to Alejandro Toledo – the same proportion that is opposed to the parliamentary and judicial system.

54% of the population now live below the official poverty line. Poverty has driven more than 2.5 million workers out of the country in economically enforced emigration. At the same time 80% of the wealth of the country is concentrated into the hands of only 2% of the population. These are the main ingredients for the present social explosion, which is unprecedented in recent decades.

Poverty has not ceased to grow in recent years. In 1990, when Fujimori entered government, 10 million Peruvians lived below the poverty line. By the year 2000 this had grown to 14 million. Of these 24% live in ‘conditions of extreme poverty’. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Information (INEI), in 2001, poverty increased by 1.4% in relation to the previous year and by 7% in relation to 1997. At the same time extreme poverty grew 4.5% in relation to 2000 and by 1.3% in relation to 1997.

The situation facing the working class is graphically shown by the rise in unemployment and under-employment. According to official figures, 530,000 workers are unemployed and 2,821,000 under-employed. The World Bank estimates that 45% of the urban population is working in the ‘informal sector’ – that is to say street sellers – those selling clothes, food, imported goods etc in the streets whose income is not enough to satisfy their basic needs.

25% of Peruvian under-5 year olds suffer from chronic malnutrition – in the rural areas this figure rises to 40%!

The rural population has been hit hard. In the countryside 52% of houses do not have indoor toilets, 68% of schools have no drinking water, 95% lack toilets and 90% have no electricity supply. UNICEF estimated in 2000 that every year 100,000 students abandon primary schools and that in secondary education this figure goes up to 200,000. Two million children are forced into child labour to supplement the family income.

Production is bankrupt

The most brutal effects of the crisis of the productive system in the country are seen in agriculture and by the living conditions of peasants. No agricultural product is profitable apart from the coca leaves which are used to enrich the drug traffickers and which are also controlled by the state and the banks. According to the UN report on agriculture in 1993, agro-Peru is on the same level of development as Afghanistan and Haiti. At the same time, the natural resources of the country are estimated to be sufficient to feed 25 million people per year but food production is in total ruin. In 58.2% of cultivated lands the ‘chaki taclla’ is still used as the main farming tool. This is a wooden instrument developed in the epoch of the Incas and driven by foot power. Tractors are used in only 5% of cultivated land and the horse and the bull are still used in 36.6%.

Of the five million people who are estimated to live in the rural areas, 68% are poor (of which 67% live in conditions of extreme poverty).

No solution under capitalism

The capitalist class and the Peruvian political elite have imposed on the population brutal forms of exploitation (including under a succession of military dictatorships and liberal and populist governments). Peru, without doubt, is one of the clearest examples of the historical failure of the parasitical capitalist and landlord classes to develop the national economy and to raise the standard of living of the working class, the peasants and especially the indigenous peoples.

The most repeated promise in the election campaign of Toledo was, "the change". But this government has changed nothing and has now put the military on the streets to repress workers’ demands.

Under capitalism, governments in countries like Peru, which are run by rotten and corrupt political elites, have no prospect of implementing basic social and political reforms that will end the misery of the mass of the population.

While capitalism continues the poor, the working class and the peasants will continue suffering conditions of misery, living under the boot of the local political elite and imperialism.

For a workers’ and peasants’ government with a socialist programme

The current struggles in Peru have shown once again that the working class has the cohesion and strength to fight to change its conditions of life. There is little to loose but the chains of capitalism. The strike and mass protests are best ways to pose which class should be running society – a rich privileged minority or the majority of the poor who create the wealth.

Under enormous pressure and fearing its survival, the Toledo government may be forced to make some concessions to the strikers. But any reforms won will be only for a short time, as the ruling class will return to further attacks, including the use of military repression. To make a decisive and fundamental change, the heroic movement of the working class and the peasants of Peru need to struggle for an alliance to establish a government of workers and poor peasants with a socialist programme. Such a government would take control of production, nationalise the major national and international monopolies under democratic workers control and management, refuse to pay the foreign debts, and break with the IMF, imperialism and capitalism.

A socialist Peru, making an appeal to the working class and other oppressed peoples of the continent to finish with neo-liberal governments and capitalism, and to begin the construction of a Socialist Federation of Latin America, is the real answer to alternative to the crisis of capitalism and poverty.

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June 2003