Friday, August 2, 2013

VOXXI: Peru’s Protests: Significant, but no sign of a “Peruvian Spring”

Peru's Protests: Significant, but no Sign of a "Peruvian Spring
W. Alejandro Sanchez
August 2, 2013
Originally published:

On July 28, Peru celebrated the 192nd anniversary of its independence. While the South American nation has enjoyed a fairly productive decade, with political stability and significant economic growth, a series of major protests in Lima preceded and marred the recent celebrations.
These were particularly embarrassing for President Ollanta Humala, since they occurred just days before he delivered his July 28 speech, which highlighted the accomplishments of his presidency.
Nevertheless, Peru is far from witnessing a “Peruvian Spring,” and though the protests are significant, they should not be compared to those that recently took place in Brazil and Turkey.

The protests in Peru

Approximately 8,000 citizens took part in the July 27 protests in downtown Lima (the Twitter hashtag #27J quickly went viral). For the most part, the discontent was directed at a new and unpopular law regarding the autonomy of Peruvian universities.
In addition, members of Peru’s main workers’ union, known as the Confederacion General de Trabajadores del Peru (CGTP), also joined to protest a law regarding civil servants (the Ley del Servicio Civil), which had been approved by the Peruvian Congress in early July.
This marked the third in a string of other major protests that took place on July 17 and July 22 (which also went viral, with the hashtags #17J and #22J, respectively). Protesters also took to the streets in response to Humala’s designated appointments, including the Constitutional Court and the Central Reserve Bank.
There is a widespread belief that these appointments were not based on merit and qualifications, but rather on personal preferences and friendships.
Though the earlier protests were generally peaceful, the July 27 protests took a violent turn. According to the Peruvian police, a group of fans from a local soccer team, Universitario de Deportes, jumpstarted the violence.
The protests by the Universitario fans were aimed at the management of their soccer club, and they allegedly began throwing stones and pieces of wood at the police, prompting the response of the law enforcement officials. Several videos have appeared on websites like YouTube showing the fight between the protesters and the police. Overall, the violence left over 15 people arrested and over 40 wounded.
The protests that have rocked Lima throughout July exemplify the distaste that segments of the Peruvian population feel for certain laws and initiatives recently passed by the Humala administration.
As a final example of discontent against the government, by the end of July, after the independence celebrations, Peruvian nurses carried out a protest in front of the Ministry of Health. A water-shooting police truck was utilized in order to disperse the protesters.

Don’t predict the future

The current internal situation in the Andean country cannot be easily summarized or interpreted. In spite of overall good economic performance, there are still sections of the population that have not benefited from Peru’s good fortunes.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to assume that these social movements are apolitical. Political groups like the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) and the supporters of former dictator Alberto Fujimori (labeled as the “fujimoristas”) are suspected of fomenting these protests in order to undermine Humala’s reputation and popularity.
And they seem to be working, as the president’s popularity has plummeted from a stable 50-55% at the beginning of the year down to around 39%.
According to Peru’s constitution, presidents cannot serve consecutive terms, so Humala cannot run for election in 2016. However, there are rumors that his wife, First Lady Nadine Heredia, will try running for the presidency.
If successful, this would represent a nepotism-type cycle of governments, similar to what happened in Argentina with the late President Nestor Kirchner and the subsequent presidency of his wife, current President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Certainly, it is in the best interest of Peruvian opposition parties to tarnish Humala’s image (and indirectly, his wife’s image) in order to have a shot at taking control of the country in three years.
Though protests against Humala will likely continue, Latin Americanist scholars should not assume that they will reach the magnitude of those in Brazil and Turkey.
Even at the domestic level, the July 27 protests cannot be compared to, for example, the protests that helped bring down the Fujimori dictatorship. Moreover, the 2009 protests in the northern city of Bagua left dozens of civilians and police dead (around 38 police officers were temporarily held hostage, nine of which were killed).
In spite of their ferocity, these protests did not spread to the rest of the country. On the other hand, the string of recent July 2013 protests, while large in scale, has not been nearly as violent.
Finally, it is critically important to highlight the perceivably less genuine interests of political opposition groups that wish to harness the discontent shown in these popular uprisings in order to increase their chances of gaining political power in the 2016 elections.
The recent protests in Peru are important, but their significance should not be exaggerated or compared to the major protests that have occurred in other countries in recent months.

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