Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Peru Students Re-Emerge as Political Force ; with Less Than Two Weeks before a Presidential Runoff, Young People Are Shaking Things Up Again

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Peru Students Re-Emerge as Political Force ; with Less Than Two Weeks before a Presidential Runoff, Young People Are Shaking Things Up Again

Article excerpt

When Alejandra Alayza started college in 1993, there were few politically oriented students. The nation was just recovering from more than a decade of war with guerrilla groups, many of them recruited on campuses in the '80s.

In response, the government intervened at a number of universities, stationing tanks and soldiers on campuses through 1998, and stepping up intelligence-gathering among students to levels that many considered witch hunts.

All this, combined with a general apathy toward politics, produced a generation of university students who were disaffected, repulsed, or even outright fearful of engaging in politics.

Ms. Alayza, now president of the Catholic University's student federation, recalls living with a curfew and hearing bombs go off at night while in high school. "When a 14- or 15-year old lives in violence and this level of fear on a daily basis, her openness to proposals for change ... is more than reserved; it's fearful," she says. "That's the context in which this generation of university students and recent graduates has lived."

But on the night after last month's presidential elections, when suspicions mounted that the government might commit fraud to ensure President Alberto Fujimori a third five-year term, tens of thousands of students flooded the streets in Lima and the provinces demanding a fair vote count in the largest protests in Peru's recent history.

According to many analysts, these massive youth protests have heralded the rebirth of student activism in Peru.

"In the 1990s, the universities were totally apolitical," recalls Lima political analyst Carlos Tapia. "Whoever wanted to be political in the universities was accused of being a terrorist." He says last month's protests "represent the reconstruction of a new student movement, a protest movement against the lack of democracy."

In the past two years, various student groups have banded together in Lima on a number of occasions. The first big march protested the 1997 decision by a Fujimori-controlled Congress to fire three judges who had voted against Mr. Fujimori's right to run for a third consecutive term. …

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