Peru gives army green light to intervene in Puno protests

Just weeks after a deadly intervention in Bagua, the Peruvian government authorized the army to send troops to Puno, where residents have launched a 72-hour strike to protest the recently enacted Water Law, reported daily El Comercio.

The authorization, valid for 10 days as of June 24, aims to provide back-up for police, “and guarantee the normal functioning of basic services and public and private establishments, but will in no way restrict the fundamental and constitutional rights of Puno citizens,” reported Peru’s Defense Ministry.

On June 23, the government had authorized to send military personnel to Apurimac, Cusco and Junin where social unrest has led to protests and marches, on demands that vary between the regions.

This month, President Alan Garcia’s government mishandled protests by indigenous groups in the Amazon, and an intervention by police and the army turned deadly, killing at least 34 people, including 24 police, the highest toll in the force’s history.

Protesters and farmers are demanding that the Peruvian government issue precise regulations for the new Water Law. Legislators approved the law in March, after eight years of debate. Under the new law, water is guaranteed as a human right and cannot be bought and used as private property, but the private sector can take part in the handling of water resources. The law rules out the possibility of privatizing water and sets priorities to ensure a more efficient use of resources.

The law calls for the creation of a national water authority and establishes responsibilities for the resources, including which entity will be responsible for water used in irrigation.

Peruvian farmers have held a number of strikes over the past several years due to fears that water for irrigation will be privatized. Authorities and legislators have assured them this is not the case, and therefore their production costs will not be subject to increases as a result.

According to the International Water and Sanitation Centre, or IRC, “The new water law is expected to increase waste water and industrial wastewater treatment control measures, and to increase the control over water used in industrial processes, improving the country’s environmental standards.”

Meanwhile, in Andahuaylas, the ongoing strike was suspended for three days after Premier Yehude Simon signed an agreement with the protestors.

“Thank God, this problem has been solved,” said Simon. “These communities are forgotten and these residents live in extreme poverty. Andahuaylas needs commitments, like highways that allow the quality of life to increase and people to move around more easily.”

Protesters blocked roads and a local airport near the central Andean city of Andahuaylas for almost two weeks, demanding that the government improve highways and raise wages for school teachers.

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