Peru farmers launch indefinite strike to protest water laws, Machu Picchu railway cut off and dozens of roads blocked

Peru farmers demanding the repeal of laws they say privatize the administration of water for irrigation and farming launched a nationwide indefinite strike Thursday, snarling traffic on major highways, and halting trains to Machu Picchu, the Andean country’s top tourist attraction.

Thousands of protesters, led by Peru’s National Water Users Board of Irrigation Districts, piled tree branches and stones onto major highways and roads across Peru to protest new waters laws they claim will drive up their irrigation costs while facilitating access to this precious and fast diminishing resource for corporate and industrial farmers.

Protesters in the Andean city of Cuzco blocked off PeruRail’s Cuzco-Machu Picchu route, leaving approximately 400 tourists stranded.

Last year, two water laws were passed by legislative decree, creating two public agencies to oversee water management and distribution. Then, on Thursday, with 76 votes in favor, none in disfavor and eight abstentions, Congress approved Peru’s National Water Law.

If small farmers fear these public agencies will be privatized, and their access to water will be reduced, the government assures that the new legislation is aimed at securing Peru’s water supply in the long term.

“It’s completely false that water will be privatized,” Premier Yehude Simon told daily Correo. He warned Malaga that he does not intend on negotiating. “It’s not very honest to tell the campesinos that (water) will be privatized, it’s a bad way of conducting politics.”

But for Malaga, who said that the nationwide strike has been a success and is backed by more than seven million farmers across Peru, “the decree privatizes water.”

“I’m not trying to be theatrical,” Malaga told daily El Comercio, in response to Simon’s comments. “In this type of debate, we aspire for something else, and what it’s about is resolving problems. If the authorities are there to solve problems and the agrarian leaders to make suggestions, I believe that we can sit down to talk (and) find alternatives.”

In Peru, water is a dire issue. The country’s glaciers, which feed hydroelectric plants and provide drinking water to Lima, the world’s second largest desert city after Cairo, Egypt, are in the process of accelerated meltdown due to global warming.

According to a scientific report prepared by The Andean Community and presented in May to the EU-Latin American Summit, fast-melting glaciers threaten to deprive 40 million people of water for human consumption, hydroelectric generation and agriculture by 2020, with the capital cities of Lima, Quito and La Paz among the hardest hit populations. The report predicts that economic losses from extreme weather shifts and disasters, including floods, droughts, freezing downpours of hail and landslides, could reach $30 billion by 2025 — the equivalent of 4.5 percent of Andean Community nations’ GDP — potentially blocking development in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Colombia.

Peru has historically suffered from its lack of a national water management plan, and in recent years, it has been at the core of social unrest among farmers in competition with the mining and metallurgic industries. Pollution from those sectors, as well as the massive use of agrochemicals, are another cause for concern.

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