Arrest and Release of Hugo Blanco — A Symptom of Intensifying Class Struggle; Mass Mobilizations Under Way in Peru

by George Saunders


Hugo Blanco was released — conditionally — from prison on Oct. 3, 2008, thanks to strong protests both locally and internationally. He had been arrested a day or two earlier. (See the articles about his arrest and release, elsewhere on the Labor Standard web site.)

As Hugo Blanco said in his statement after being released, this was an attempt to silence his voice and prevent his participation in a growing, nationwide movement of protest against the policies of the government of Peruvian President Alan García.

The concluding part of Blanco’s statement explained:

“…the heated attack on indigenous communities has put the entire countryside in turmoil, [and] various organizations across the country are inviting me to debate the attack and coordinate a defense. The prime minister has started calling me a ‘night owl’ and my activities are clearly upsetting them. I promise to continue in the five-century-old struggle against the oppression of our people, until I draw my last breath.”

(The quoted wording, which differs somewhat from the International Viewpoint version, is from a translation of Hugo Blanco’s Oct. 3 statement posted on a highly informative web site, Ukhampacha Bolivia, which carries articles from a varied range of viewpoints, but is focused mainly on Bolivia; see below for the full text of that translation.)

The context in which these events occur is illuminated in part by the news article reproduced below, after the full text of Blanco’s Oct. 3 statement.

Most significantly, the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers is calling for a nationwide strike on Oct. 7, 2008.

The mass mobilizations in Peru, at a time of deepening class struggle in many Latin American countries, especially Venezuela and Bolivia, will surely strengthen and reinforce the radicalization throughout the region.


My Arrest

by Hugo Blanco

Cuzco — October 3, 2008

[This translation was posted on the Internet at the following web site: http://www.ubnoticias.org/en/article/my-arrest]

First, I would like to express my profound gratitude to all the people and institutions who, upon hearing of my arrest, demanded my liberation. Every one of those was important. But among those that touched me most, I should mention the pronouncement made by my Canadian brothers and sisters with whose support I am able to continue publishing Lucha Indígena; the call from the Conacami (The Peruvian National Confederation of Communities Affected by Mining) with whom I share the anxious desire for a political project that emanates from the indigenous, campesino, and grassroots organizations; and the support of Wilbert Rozas, the mayor who instituted the indigenous communities’ municipal government and went immediately to Paruro after learning of my arrest. Thanks to this solidarity, I was quickly — though temporarily — released.

My connection to this case dates back to my childhood in Huanoquite, Paruro, Cuzco, when I first heard that the ranch owner Bartolomé Paz had branded his initials, BP, into the buttock of an indigenous campesino. Naturally, Mr. Paz was not arrested; this was simply not done to a respectable person such as he. It is very likely that this event marked me for life. Now, Rosendo Paz, who inherited the ranch, has snatched lands from the Markhura annex of the Tantarcalla indigenous community, and has even put up a corral on these lands into which he puts stolen cattle, according to denouncements made.

The community has documents that prove their ownership of the land. In 2006, some of this community’s residents came to the Cuzco Campesino Federation, of which they are members, to request that a Federation delegate be present for the members’ upcoming land distribution ceremony. I was assigned to the task by the Federation; I carried out my orders, immediately communicating this all to the local police station. The police did not object to my presence [at the land distribution ceremony].

Subsequently, the ranch owner ordered the Huanoquite police under his control to assault the community members, an order with which the police immediately complied. Since the community members had the imprudence to resist the attack, they were beaten — women and crying children included — until driven back to the town and then to the city of Cuzco.

I was not present when this incident took place but was called to testify. Naturally, those classified as criminals were not the aggressors, but rather the victims of aggression.

When, upon my arrest, I was told that I was being charged with “Violence and Resisting Authority,” I thought it had something to do with the incident during which I was not present. I was wrong, as the judge graciously clarified. The crime of “Violence and Resisting Authority” was for having presided over the land distribution ceremony, during which there was neither violence, nor any State authority present.

I understand. We are in a country in which Parliament, abdicating its responsibility, authorizes the government to legislate in its place when it comes to “Organized Crime.” Alan García has used this authorization to legislate against the calls of the organized population, thus criminalizing protest. Victims of this magical twist on language are the hundreds of prisoners or accused throughout Peru who demand their rights.

These comrades have the misfortune of not being well known, and for this reason have no one crying out in protest on their behalf, as I was fortunate enough to have and to which I owe my freedom. I therefore call on those voices of solidarity whose quick action pulled me out of prison, to join me in defending all victims of the criminalization of protest.

It seems that Conacami has already initiated this campaign, so let’s join it. I will hold on to the contact info of those who freed me with their voices in order to invite you to organize in defense of the other victims of repression.

In terms of my legal case, it is not over yet. The system gets used to letting Damocles’ sword hang in mid-air, so that it descends on the heads of those who protest, with the tacit threat that those who do not improve their behavior and shut their mouths, will soon feel the sword complete its fall.

The esteemed judge handed me an ambiguous document according to which I am supposed to show up in court on November 21, a date “which should be met irrevocably, the official orders for his detention remaining legally valid.” This is ambiguous because it does not say that I will be arrested should I not show. It simply says “the official orders for his detention remaining legally valid.” This thus leaves the interpretation of the phrase to the repressors to carry out depending on the political necessities.

It is this kind of document which is now the norm and which means: “If you shut up, nothing will happen to you, but if you continue protesting, you will end up in jail.”

How can they explain that two years after the event at hand, I was captured by surprise without having been notified that I was due in court, when in the course of those two years, I had already been subpoenaed, appeared, and testified in court on a separate matter?

The explanation is that two years ago, they were minimally bothered by my presence. But now, the heated attack on indigenous communities has put the entire countryside in turmoil, various organizations across the country are inviting me to debate the attack and coordinate a defense. The prime minister has started calling me a "night owl" and my activities are clearly upsetting them.

I promise to continue in the five-century-old struggle against the oppression of our people, until I draw my last breath.

October 3, 2008


Peru Mobilizing to Hold President to His Promises

by Milagros Salazar

LIMA, Oct 2 (IPS) — Social movements, trade unions, peasant farmers, and indigenous organizations are holding strikes and demonstrations to demand that Peruvian President Alan García fulfill the social commitments he has made, in writing and at negotiating tables.

“We are organizing throughout the length and breadth of the country to plan a day of repudiation and condemnation of a political program that lacks credibility, because the government does not keep its word and is ignoring our social demands,” the vice president of the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP), Olmedo Auris, told IPS.

The CGTP is preparing for a nationwide day of demonstrations against the government’s economic, political and social measures on Oct. 7, because in its view the administration is failing to respect 34 agreements signed by the authorities over the past two years, nearly all of them as a means of temporarily halting protests.

Public school teachers, construction workers, farmers, miners, and regional associations will join the strike action begun Sept. 15 by public sector medical personnel, who are demanding salary increases and a larger budget for the health sector.

Doctors signed an agreement with the government in January, in which the administration promised to address 15 demands. But the executive branch offered a “humiliating solution” when it proposed to spend only 3.4 million dollars on meeting them, since at least 103 million dollars are needed, the president of the Peruvian Medical Federation (FMP), Julio Vargas, told IPS.

When the government failed to come up with a satisfactory response, the FMP radicalized its protest and announced that it would empty five hospitals of medical personnel and hand them over to the authorities, after stabilizing patients and sending them home, and transferring the chronically ill to other hospitals.

“The government will ask the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute any doctor who abandons his or her patients, for the crime of endangering people’s lives,” Prime Minister Jorge del Castillo replied.

Tighter budget constraints, which will intensify next year in order to curb inflation in the context of the international financial crisis, have exacerbated public discontent and triggered a number of protests.

In addition to the demonstrations against the increased cost of living and the government’s economic policies, regional demands have resurfaced, such as those of the southern provinces of Moquegua and Tacna.

On Wednesday [Oct. 1], protests broke out in both provinces over the distribution of the “canon minero,” the portion of the mining company taxes that is transferred to the provinces. The “canon” represents half of the total taxes paid by mining companies to the state.

The economy of both provinces depends on the mining tax transfers they receive for social spending, public works, and infrastructure, in compensation for the activities in their territories of the Southern Peru Copper Corporation, controlled by Mexican capital.

Since 2001 the two provinces have received over one billion dollars from the mining company’s activities in two places, Cuajone in Moquegua, and Toquepala in Tacna.

In the last three years, however, a distortion has occurred, because the criterion for distributing the transferred taxes according to the volume of earth moved for copper extraction has led to Tacna receiving close to 80 percent of the funds.

In June the province of Moquegua went on an indefinite strike that immobilized the south of the country, after giving the government several warnings about the distribution of the transferred taxes, and demanding that they be distributed in proportion to the company’s net income from its operations.

To defuse the conflict, Prime Minister del Castillo signed an agreement with provincial authorities and leaders, committing himself to draw up separate accounts for Southern Peru tax transfers to the provinces within 30 days, but without specifying what criteria would be used to ensure equitable distribution.

More than three months later, on Sept. 25, the government sent a draft law to parliament proposing that the tax transfers be distributed based on the value of the copper concentrate extracted from the mines.

This would entail a reduction of over 120 million dollars in Tacna’s receipts, the provincial authorities told IPS, saying they would hold demonstrations against the initiative on Thursday and Friday.

Moquegua, in turn, is unhappy about the delay and went on strike Wednesday and Thursday.

“The executive branch has sent the ball into parliament’s court, without honoring its word, and the only result is delay,” the head of the Moquegua Defense Front, Zenón Cuevas, told IPS.

The García administration has adopted two misguided strategies in handling social conflicts, Carlos Reyna, a sociologist at the Catholic University, told IPS. “On the one hand, it is postponing problems and signing agreements that it does not fulfill, instead of resolving the disputes. On the other, it has encouraged polarization by attacking representatives of social sectors.”

Del Castillo said on Tuesday that the protests in the south are due to manipulation by people with links to the radical leftwing party Patria Roja (Red Homeland), and he declared that “going on strike is irrational.”

“Every social sector has a satchel full of agreements that are very unlikely to be fulfilled, because the government insists on maintaining a neoliberal (free market) economic model that will not permit this to happen,” said Reyna.

Juan Manuel Figueroa, coordinating secretary for the presidency of the Council of Ministers, said that the agreements have not been fulfilled 100 percent because certain commitments undertaken by the provincial governments, such as the construction of roads, irrigation ditches, and other investments, have not been completed.

Discussion of the 2009 budget has fueled competition between different sectors that want to negotiate to obtain more resources for their demands, Reyna said.

According to the analyst, another new development is the attempt by social organizations to centralize conflicts through the CGTP, in order to exert nationwide pressure. Therefore, several provincial opposition groups are trying to persuade their members of the need to support the union-led demonstrations on Oct. 7.

The head of the Cuzco Regional Assembly, Efraín Yépez, told IPS that 16 provincial umbrella groups have confirmed they will take part in the strike, many of them from the south of the country and the jungle areas, where the centre-right García did not win a majority of votes in the 2006 elections.

Indigenous and peasant organizations in the Amazon jungle, which are demanding the repeal of dozens of decrees they regard as violating their collective rights, will begin an indefinite strike on Nov. 10.

“Our position is consistent, because we have never backed García,” said Yépez, who also said that the CGTP’s Political and Social Coordinating Committee, to which the provincial opposition groups belong, is promoting a proposal to hold a referendum to remove the president from office.

The decisions by their support bases on whether or not to call for a referendum, and on the legal and constitutional means to achieve it, will be taken at a People’s Assembly on Nov. 4, to be held in parallel with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which Peru is hosting.

“Social organizations should also assess whether a proposal to remove the president from power will help the legitimacy of their demands. They must be careful,” said Reyna.