Poll: Majority of Peruvians favor tourism development bill for archaeological sites

Sixty-six percent of Peruvians support proposed legislation to usher in the concession of hotels and restaurants adjacent to Peru’s archaeological ruins and historic sites to spur tourism, according to a national poll published in Sunday’s El Comercio newspaper.

Regional authorities in Cusco announced a general strike for Monday to protest the bill, which they contend will sell out Peru’s cultural patrimony to international conglomerates. Labor unions have threaten to block access to the city’s airport and Machu Picchu, the ancient citadel of the Inca Empire and the country’s top tourist attraction.

Cusco residents staged mostly peaceful protests to the bill two weeks ago.

Congress’ Permanent Oversight Committee gave the green light last Wednesday to put the controversial legislation to a vote after the bill was amended to address complaints from Cusco officials that it was draconian and that they were not consulted.

The new bill grants regional governments total discretionary power to determine where private concessions are offered. Under the proposed legislation, regional governments or municipalities would publish a list of sites they want to open to private investment, subject to final approval by the National Institute of Culture, INC.

The poll published Sunday showed that 40 percent of Peruvians are in favor of granting private concessions of archaeological sites, provided that the INC maintains fiscal oversight. Another 26 percent of respondents said support concept so long as local authorities decide which sites are opened for private development.

Twenty percent said they opposed the proposed law because it could harm national patrimony, and 14 percent said they had no opinion on the issue.

The poll, carried out by the Apoyo firm, surveyed 1,009 people Feb. 12-15 in 16 towns and cities throughout Peru and had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Cusco authorities are under mounting pressure to back down now that discretionary clause has been added to the bill. Regional presidents in departments like Amazonas, Lima, Piura and Huanuco have lauded the legislation. They say private concessions will help them restore lesser-known archaeological ruins and attract visitors to economically depressed areas in dire need of tourism revenue.

But Cusco’s regional president Hugo Gonzales said Saturday his administration will still “support in an organic manner” the protests planned by Cusco’s Regional Assembly and the Departmental Workers Federation.

“We do not want to stay at the margins of the protests or of the people’s struggle,” Gonzales was quoted as saying by El Comercio. “But they should be carried out with sensitivity, maturity and a lot of responsibility.”

President Alan Garcia on Saturday called the planned strike “insane.”

He and several of his Cabinet members have threatened to switch a ministers meeting of the Asian Pacific Economic Conference that was going to be held in Cusco in April to another city if the protests are carried out on Monday.

“What minister in the world is going to want to go where they shut down airports and stone tourists and blockade the road to Machu Picchu? What official, minister or businessman in the world is going to want to go to Cusco?” Garcia told reporters. “It is surprising how so unmarvelous these aggressive, ideological and backward groups are — capable of shutting down the airport to blackmail the authorities of Cusco and of the nation. That can’t be. It won’t be.”

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