Peru: Unions Protest Economic Policies of President Alejandro Toledo

Article excerpt

After nine months in office, Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo is facing growing opposition to his economic policies. Although dismissed by the government as a "bust," a general strike on May 14 underlined public frustration with Toledo's inability to satisfy the hopes of those who voted for him.

In a televised address on May 12, Toledo called for patience. "I am convinced that the majority of Peruvians don't want strikes or blocked roads. They want peace and jobs. Let me get to work, for God's sake," he said. "Our commitment was to work to resolve the country's problems in five years, not nine months."

Critics say that Toledo, a 56-year-old former business professor who had never held elected office before taking power last July, has done little to fulfill his campaign promises of creating jobs and returning prosperity. He has failed to convince many Peruvians that his government is steering the country out of the political and economic crisis (see NotiSur-2001-11-09).

Giovanna Penaflor, director of the Imasen polling firm, said Toledo's efforts to bring the economy back to life after four years of stagnation are seen as wavering and indecisive. "There is a growing sense of remoteness on the part of the people with respect to the authorities," she said. "There is also a sensation of a lack of leadership, a lack of a defined direction in the management of the government."

Toledo has initiated various job-creation and affordable-housing programs, but his approval rating continues to slide. Two opinion polls published in early May found that only 23% of Peruvians approve of the job Toledo is doing. When he took office, he had a 59.9% approval rating.

Prime Minister Roberto Danino said the government is convinced that the policies "that we are carrying out are what the country needs to achieve sustained growth." He said the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that Peru will have the highest growth rate in the region, between 3.7% and 4.1%, this year, and he said that improvement should be felt by the population as the economy improves.

Danino blames the lack of public approval on the high level of poverty in the country. At present more than half the population survives on US$1.25 a day and many rural communities still lack electricity, running water, or functioning schools. Un- and underemployment top 50%, and only the mining industry is showing real health as the economy battles back to growth. The vast majority of small businesses operate informally--unregulated and without paying taxes.

Strike called to protest privatization

The Coordinadora Nacional de Frentes Regionales del Peru called the May 14 strike in the southern cities of Arequipa and Tacna to protest privatization of utility companies Empresa de Generacion Electrica de Arequipa (EGASA) and the Empresa de Generacion Electrica del Sur (EGESUR). Several national unions and groups in other regions then scheduled their own demonstrations for the same date. Danino called the strike "illegal" and "unacceptable."

The May 14 strike was only the latest in what have become almost daily protests against government policy. On April 25, the main labor organization (Confederacion General de Trabajadores del Peru, CGTP) staged a 24-hour strike against the government's neoliberal economic policies and its privatization plans as well as to demand that labor rights be restored.

CGTP secretary-general Juan Jose Gorriti said businesses are continuing to fire workers using laws enacted during the government of former President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000). He demanded that workers fired during the Fujimori regime be returned to their jobs. He also called for the resignation of Finance and Economy Minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who, he says, is a lackey of the IMF and World Bank.

Kuczynski has become a popular target for the opposition in recent months because of the privatization plans and efforts to cut public spending. …