Peru: Interior Minister Resigns after President Alejandro Toledo Suspends Privatization to Stop Escalating Riots

NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, June 21, 2002 | Go to article overview

Peru: Interior Minister Resigns after President Alejandro Toledo Suspends Privatization to Stop Escalating Riots


Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo reversed his stance and suspended the privatization of two state-run electric companies on June 20, after a state of emergency failed to quell spreading riots. His decision brought the resignation of Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi and jubilant celebrations in the southern cities of Arequipa and Tacna.

Vice President Raul Diez Canseco announced the president's decision in Arequipa, 1,000 km southeast of Lima, where he also read an open letter of apology from Toledo.

Toledo's decision followed an agreement between the presidential delegation sent to Arequipa and protest leaders. It called for freezing the sale of the electric companies until the courts rule on the sale's legality and lifting the state of emergency. It also called on Rospigliosi and Justice Minister Fernando Olivera to apologize to the people of Arequipa for offensive remarks made during the protests. Rospigliosi had said a minority of subversives had "terrorized" people to force them into the demonstrations.

While not referring to the apology in his letter of resignation, presented at a press conference hours after Diez Canseco announced the suspended sale, Rospigliosi said he did not agree with the president's response to the protests.

There is much speculation about what position Olivera will take, as well as how other ministers who energetically backed the privatization plan will react.

State of emergency fails to restore order

Toledo declared a state of emergency in the department of Arequipa on June 16, two days after riots broke out following the government announcement that it had sold the electric companies EGASA and EGESUR. In the clashes, one 23-year-old student, Edgard Pinto Quintanilla, was killed and at least 150 people were injured. One of them is on life support. Government estimates put material damages at more than US$100 million.

The state of emergency placed the region under military rule for 30 days, during which time public demonstrations and large meetings are outlawed and some constitutional rights suspended.

"The government is determined to protect democracy and will firmly and

energetically defend the rule of law," President Toledo said in a nationally televised address.

Protesters had gathered in the plaza in Arequipa on June 14 as the government announced in Lima that it had sold the companies to Tractebel, a Belgian-based company. The only firm to present a bid, Tractebel acquired EGASA in Arequipa and EGESUR in Tacna for US$167 million, slightly above the government-set base price of US$155 million.

After declaring the state of emergency, the government sent 1,700 police and soldiers to return order in Arequipa. Demonstrators had blocked roads and caused havoc at the airport, where they destroyed landing-strip lights and pelted the runway with rocks, forcing the cancellation of flights. The military imposed a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. While armored vehicles patrolled the Pan-American Highway, armed police mounted the highway's overhead pedestrian bridges.

The demonstrations spread to the neighboring department of Tacna, on the border with Chile, where rioters blocked the Pan-American Highway with burning tires. The news agency Agence France-Press reported that between 3,000 and 4,000 rioters took over the local state-owned television station, the national tax offices, and the departmental government offices. Rioters broke windows at a branch office of Telefonica, the Spanish firm that bought Peru's state telephone company in 1994.

Opponents call for cancellation of sale

Despite the state of emergency, protests continued in Arequipa, Tacna, Cuzco, and other cities. On June 17, Luis Saraya, president of the Frente Amplio Civico de Arequipa (FACA), called for citizens throughout Peru to participate in "civic and peaceful resistance" to the sales of EGASA and EGESUR. …

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