- Activist tears up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a protest against the APEC summit in Peru on 19 November 2008. (Photo: Ernesto Benavides for AFP)
Inter Press Service | 21 November 2008
Protest Against Bush and Alan García
By Ángel Páez
LIMA, Nov 21 (IPS) — A demonstration in the Peruvian capital by left-wing political movements against U.S. President George W. Bush’s visit to the country turned into a protest Friday by hundreds of laid-off workers and trade unions in conflict with local and foreign companies.
Bush arrived in Lima Friday, for the weekend’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
Percy Oré, head of the trade union representing workers at Topy Top, Peru’s second-largest textile exporter, said he was laid off for organising the company’s employees.
"Topy Top is one of the country’s leading garment exporters, and has amply benefited from the free trade agreement with the United States," Oré told IPS.
"However, alleging a supposed drop in production, it threw 60 workers out on the street in February, 28 in May, 17 in June and 10 in July, including me. The dismissals started after we organised the union. It’s no coincidence that many of those who were sacked belong to the union."
The peaceful demonstration in the Dos de Mayo plaza, which was completely surrounded by dozens of police in riot gear, is the other face of the 16th APEC summit.
The anti-Bush demonstration was convened by the Political and Social Coordinator (CPS), an umbrella of community organisations, labour and student groups, and leftist parties and movements.
The police, who were equipped with tear gas, rubber bullets, and anti-riot vehicles with water cannons, were ordered to keep the protesters from leaving the square and attempting to march to the government palace, 10 blocks away.
The CPS set up three symbolic tribunals to try Bush. The verdicts debated and decided by the participating organisations were read out, to the applause of the crowd.
Human rights violations committed by the U.S. military in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Guantanamo prison camp, and the country’s aggressive policies, were condemned, and Washington was blamed for the current global financial crisis.
Peruvian President Alan García was also found guilty of "selling the country out to U.S. imperialism and submitting to his master Bush."
Alexander Caballero, the head of the union of Swiss-based Nestle Co. workers, said he was taking part in the protest because the García administration preferred to defend the interests of foreign companies rather than the rights of Peruvian workers.
"We have been on strike for 23 days because Nestlé refuses to negotiate a fair wage hike," Caballero told IPS. "Our strike is legally recognised by the Labour Ministry. But we have reported to the Ministry that Nestlé has hired replacement workers, and that production has continued. The Ministry, however, does not want to take action against the company because it is a foreign firm.
"Nestlé is violating Peru’s labour laws, and the government isn’t doing anything," he complained. "We will continue our strike, although the company has already begun to lay off some of our leaders in reprisal."
President García has stressed in his speeches to foreign dignitaries and business leaders that despite the global crisis, the Peruvian economy is strong. And he calls those who criticise it "losers" and "failures."
"The number of chickens raised has climbed from 31 million a month in November 2007 to 36 million a month today, in November 2008. Who is eating them? Rich people in Lima?" he said in an interview with the El Comercio newspaper.
"Beer consumption has risen 17 percent in the last three months. Who is drinking it? Dionisio Romero and Pedro Brescia (two wealthy Peruvian businessmen)? National consumption of rice is up eight percent. Who is eating it? The people know all of this, I don’t have to be repeating it on TV," said the president.
But when it was pointed out to him that 77 percent of respondents in a recent survey by the Apoyo polling firm disapproved of his administration, he said "that’s something different. We are a nation of whiners, who have been spoiled by stories like that of Atahualpa, who sells his soul to the devil for ransom."
"García is a liar, a snake charmer, a snake oil salesman, an extraordinary pretender — and I know that because we used to be friends," businessman Ricardo Letts, a former left-wing congressman, told IPS. Letts is president of the Malpica Committee, an organisation named after former leftist Senator Carlos Malpica, who investigated corruption during García’s first term in office (1985-1990).
The Malpica Committee argues that García should resign, early elections should be held, and a constituent assembly should be set up to rewrite the constitution.
"President García has not only failed to live up to a single election pledge, but has dedicated himself to selling the country to the highest bidder," said Letts, in the Dos de Mayo square. "You can’t believe anything he says. That’s why he should step down. We’re calling for a popular uprising, which under the constitution is the right of a nation deceived by their leaders."
The head of the trade union of water and sewage workers (SUTOPEC), Juan Cancio, said his union represents those who provide services to the state company SEDAPAL by working for subcontractors.
"We work for SEDAPAL but we aren’t part of SEDAPAL. We are not on the payroll, which means we are deprived of many of our rights, even though we do the hardest, dirtiest work. We are discriminated against," Cancio told IPS.
During his election campaign, García promised to put an end to subcontracting, saying it was a system that violated workers’ rights. And on Jul. 21, 2006, just a few days before he was sworn in, he met with SUTOPEC leaders to promise that he would adopt a measure to that respect.
"But the subcontractors are still there," said Cancio. "We earn 500 soles a month (165 dollars) while workers on the SEDAPAL payroll earn up to 2,000 soles (665 dollars). García did not live up to his promise. Around 3,000 workers are caught in this horrid subcontracting trap."
A verdict against the APEC summit was also read out during the protest, "because it is an instrument of transnational corporations and imperialist countries to free up trade and investment," said the speakers, who said "APEC is hunger, APEC is unemployment, APEC is plunder."
Ronald Amaro, head of the union of workers in Star Print, a subcontractor for Topy Top, said the company used to make them work up to 36 hours in a row.
"We founded the union on Jan. 14 to demand an eight-hour workday, and we got it. But in retaliation, the company sacked 180 workers, including the leaders of the union," Amaro told IPS. "Now the workers don’t want to join, because they’re afraid of being laid off. There are 1,300 workers, and we are paid 550 soles (182 dollars) a month. It’s a pittance, but we need the money to survive."
But for others, Peru is a paradise for investors.
Peru has become an ideal place for investment, Bush told the local press here.
"We are a refuge for investors fleeing other countries," García, for his part, told foreign business leaders.