Peruvians riot against privatisation
Peruvians rioted in Peru's second city of Arequipa last week in protest against the intention of the Government to privatise two regional electricity generating plants. The Government planned to sell the units to a Belgian company claiming that this would benefit the people of the city. The plan was met with strong resistance from the Peruvian people who no longer believe the promises of the Government and the companies which will profit from privatisation. Citizens know that privatisation leads to higher prices and sackings. The Government declared a state of emergency, banned protest actions and suspended Constitutional guarantees. Hundreds of troops took control of the city. The police used tear gas to disperse crowds and one canister killed a 25- year-old university student. The Peruvian Air Force flew up to 17 Americans out of Arequipa to Lima. Less than 12 months ago Alejandro Toledo was elected President following the disgrace of former President Alberto Fujimora who is now skulking in Japan rather than return to Peru to face corruption charges. The people of Arequipa are particularly angry because, they say that President Toledo campaigned on a promise not to auction off utilities and is now going back on his commitment. The Peruvian riots are a sign of the frustration across Latin America with the attempts of governments to privatise state industries. All that the people see is rising poverty and stagnant economies. "The response from Latin America, the grass-roots response, has been growing rage over the privatisation thrust", said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, which has studied privatisations. President Toledo claimed in a nationally televised address that privatisation would benefit the people of Arequipa. Few believed him. Protestors continued to defy the state of emergency by congregating in Arequipa's main square, while others blocked roads in southern Peru. Fearing the spread of protests, the Government ordered tanks and troops into the streets of Peru's capital city, Lima. Late reports indicate that the Toledo Government has been forced to put the sale on hold while a court rules on the privatisation. With his popularity at a record low, President Toledo has been forced to give a written guarantee to local leaders that the electricity generating plants will not be sold and that the state of emergency will be lifted within 48 hours. Several thousand cheering residents, who had feared higher prices, celebrated in Arequipa's main square. "This is the first time a government has had to admit it was wrong and has apologised ... to Arequipa", said the city's Mayor to a flag-waving crowd. "We've got the government to change its position on the privatisation of these companies," he said. A sympathy strike across southern Peru from the border with Chile to the border with Bolivia halted public transport for one day. Polls show only one in five Peruvians approve of Toledo, amid widespread frustration that he has failed to deliver promised new jobs. Slogans daubed on walls in Arequipa read "Toledo traitor".