Hundreds of protesters clashed with police in Lima, Peru, on Thursday following the passage of a controversial bill that critics claim will undermine autonomy at universities and weaken the strength of public-sector workers.
The legislation was approved Tuesday by Peru’s Congress on a 59-45 vote with three abstentions. A separate piece of legislation dealing with reforms to the public sector is still pending lawmakers’ approval.
Among the changes spearheaded by President Ollanta Humala are annual performance assessments for civil servants and university lecturers. It sounds straightforward, but protesters believe that Humala’s plan to streamline universities and the public workforce could eliminate thousands of jobs. This sparked major demonstrations in the capital, as well as smaller protests in other Peruvian cities.
“This fight taking place is because of the state because the state wants to apply laws for privatization. In our case as students the privatization of the university,” said one protester in a statement to the BBC.
Al-Jazeera reports that the protests turned violent when students attempted to move through the center of Lima as police used water cannons and tear gas to subdue them.
“The protesters threw sticks and police beat them up from their horses and walked over people. It’s because they came to protest against something important,” said another protester.
Leading trade unions helped lead the protests, claiming that they had been shut out of the legislative process.
“This government has refused to negotiate with us. It has talked to politicians, businessmen, but it has treated the workers as second class citizens,” said the Peruvian Workers Confederation in an official statement.
The protests are another major test for President Humala, who faced criticism last year over the development of gold mining operations that indigenous communities claimed polluted their lands and undermined their sovereignty. Those protesting the Conga development say that the mine will pollute fresh drinking water.
The current protests lack the size of recent student demonstrations in Brazil, but follow a similar pattern of opposing government action that erodes the strength of the public sector.
It remains to be seen whether the Peruvian demonstrations will have an impact on Peru’s Congress, but protesters hope to follow the recent success of the Brazilian demonstrations, which won a reversal from government officials who had proposed an increase in bus fares.
“I’m going to meet with the leaders of the peaceful protests,” said Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. “I want institutions that are more transparent, more resistant to wrongdoing.”
In the televised announcement, Rousseff announced new plan for public transportation and reiterated her previous plan for Congress to invest all oil revenue royalties in education.
President Humala has not announced any similar plans in Peru.
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