Thursday, 23 June 2011

Conflicts loom for Peru

Three die in Peru as conflicts loom for Humala
Source: Reuters, 22 June 2011.

Three people died when police clashed with students who set fire to government buildings in a remote province, officials said on Wednesday, a sign of social conflict looming for leftist President-elect Ollanta Humala.

The latest deaths added to the more than 90 people who have died in social conflicts in the past three and a half years, according to Peru's human rights agency.

Such conflicts have become more numerous and violent because an economic boom has failed to lift a third of Peruvians out of poverty, sowing frustration. In most cases, conflicts over water, pollution or natural resources have pitted poor towns or indigenous tribes against foreign mining and oil companies.

But this week's protest - in Huancavelica, Peru's poorest province, 276 miles south of Lima - was led by students who set alight government offices in a move intended to preserve funding for their meagerly financed state university.

"They set fire to almost all of the offices of the regional government," Maciste Diaz, president of the region, told Reuters.

"Today this issue is going to be dealt with by the cabinet of President Alan Garcia, to find a harmonious solution."

Garcia, who leaves office July 28, oversaw surging economic growth over the last five years. He has lined up $55 billion in foreign investment for extractive industries for the next decade, Peru's mining and oil industry association says. But many voters complain of being left behind by the boom and what they call Garcia's trickle-down economic model. Peruvians elected Humala, who has pledged to do more to fight poverty, on June 5.

Humala, a former army officer, has more credibility in the provinces than Garcia but will need to act quickly to meet the heightened expectations of the rural poor, analysts say.

Protesters have mobilized this month in six different towns, mostly to oppose mining or hydroelectric projects, and more than 200 towns nationwide have organized to have greater say over whether projects are built near their towns.

"There is a perception in the communities that the growth has not produced tangible improvements in their quality of life," said Rolando Luque of Peru's human rights office.