MASS STRIKES and protests rocked the South American country of Peru as anger exploded against the government's International Monetary Fund (IMF) backed policies. Hundreds of thousands of teachers have been on strike for four weeks demanding higher wages. They have been joined on strike and in demonstrations by students, small-scale farmers, health workers and others.
Just over a week ago President Alejandro Toledo declared a state of emergency. Troops were sent onto the streets and clashes left scores of workers injured and one student dead.
But the attempt at repression failed. Teachers stayed out on strike and tens of thousands of workers marched, in total defiance of the state of emergency. This forced the government to broker a deal with teachers' leaders who are now consulting their members on it. The teachers' specific grievance was that Toledo had not honoured an election promise to raise their wages.
The deal under discussion would see teachers get an immediate 15 percent rise, with a pledge that salaries would be doubled by 2006. Toledo was elected after the popular uprising which forced former president Alberto Fujimori out nearly three years ago. Fujimori ruled for over a decade and created a near dictatorship, with savage repression and worsening economic conditions. The former World Bank adviser Toledo pledged to create one million jobs a year but official unemployment figures stand at over 10 percent.
Over half of Peru's 27 million people live on less than 75p a day. Toledo has made things worse by agreeing to impose strict spending limits in a deal with the IMF aimed at ensuring world bankers continue to get debt payments.
Fewer than one in seven Peruvians now support Toledo's government. The protests in defiance of the state of emergency, and the fact that the government has offered concessions, shows that the power of mass protest that toppled the dictator Fujimori can also derail Toledo and his IMF backers.