Strike stops half of Peru

The Miami Herald -- 15 May 2002

by Lucien O. Chauvin

LIMA - President Alejandro Toledo is facing growing opposition and sinking poll numbers less than 10 months after taking office.

A nationwide strike called Tuesday to protest the government's economic policies closed down half of the country's 24 departments. The strike was the latest and largest of more than 400 anti-government protests registered so far this year by the National Police.

The stoppage was originally called in the southern department of Arequipa to protest plans to privatize state-owned electric companies, but quickly spread across the country. Peru's principal labor unions and most opposition political parties supported the strike.

The day of nationwide protests declared by labor unions and regional activists on Tuesday was heeded in the country's southern provinces but practically ignored in the capital, where a few dozen people held small demonstrations, while most went about their business as usual.

More than 90,000 police officers were mobilized, including 22,000 officers in Lima alone, to maintain order during the strike. Access to the presidential palace and Congress was blocked.

''We do not want violence. We want the government to change its economic policies, which have failed and left the majority of Peruvians on the verge of absolute poverty,'' said Jerónimo López, president of the Arequipa Broad Front that called the strike.