Violent Peruvian agro strike sparks state of emergency in 7 provinces: 1 dead; 123 arrested

A top agro union boss called for a 48 hour “truce” Tuesday after violent clashes between police and protesters blockading Peru’s main highways left one person dead, another 123 arrested and prompted President Alan Garcia’s government to decree a state of emergency across seven provinces.

Enrique Málaga, president of the National Assembly of Users from Irrigation Districts in Peru, told Radio Programas it was time to take stock and summoned local leaders to Lima.

“It is in our interest for our leaders to come to Lima to be able to hold an assembly and make important decisions,” Málaga said. “The results of the first day of the strike have been 150 arrested, one dead and many affected, all of which will be evaluated this afternoon in the general assembly, where it will be decided whether to continue with the measure.”

President Alan Garcia’s Cabinet Chief, Jorge Del Castillo, announced a state of emergency late Monday in seven mostly coastal provinces extending from the Department of Lima, though Ancash and into Libertad, suspending constitutional liberties to give police greater leeway to quell demonstrations.

Peruvian media reported that stranded motorists had been attacked by vandals and robbed in several areas of the country.

“The State cannot stand for this situation of violence. We are declaring a state of emergency to defend public order and Peruvian families who wish to travel freely from one place to another,” Del Castillo said.

Police Col. Eduardo Arteta, chief of Peru’s national highway patrol, told Radio Programas that 123 protesters had been arrested and that 600 patrol officers were working with Peru’s army to clear the highways. Del Castillo said Tuesday that the government would seek the harshest penalty provided under Peruvian law for violently blocking roadways: four to eight years in prison.

Protesters set up roadblocks of tree trunks, rocks and burning tires along the length of the Pan American Highway north of the capital, Lima, and on several highland arteries. One protester was killed during a confrontation with police after he was reportedly struck by a tear gas cannister that knocked him down a 30-foot embankment.

Antolín Huáscar, president of the National Agrarian Confederation, CNA, told daily El Comercio that strikers are demanding, among other things, the restructuring the agriculture sector, compensation for farmers ahead of the implementation of the free trade agreement with the United States, and decreasing the price of fertilizers. Other demands include the rejection of water privatization and Law 840, known as the Law of the Jungle, which encourages private investment in deforested areas of Peru’s Amazon.

But Agriculture Minister Ismael Benavides said all of those points were covered in negotiation meetings last week that ended with signed accords, and that he did not understand the motivation behind the strike. “They have unnecessarily exposed thousands of Peruvians to delays, inconvenience and robberies,” he told Radio Programas.

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