A relatively new Peruvian phenomenon are strikes, or los paros. If the strike lasts a longer than a day or so, then it´s called la huelga. In any case, the people of Peru have only recently begun to implement strikes as a form of protest. Usually the strikes revolve around transportation, which can make getting from town to town difficult for locals and tourists alike. (Such a bitch when you´re trying to get to Maccu Pichu, ya know . . . )
Apparently, when the transportation strikes first began, the protesters would hide on the edges of highways and throw big rocks at passing traffic. But, after several busses were hit with rocks and subsequently fell off of sheer roadside cliffs, killing everyone on board, they´ve re-vamped their stategies. Now they block the roads with huge rocks or cut down giant eucalyptus trees to stop the flow of traffic. I´ve heard also about riots and fighting in the streets of Cusco on occasion.
So far, the strikes have not directly affected me, as I usually stay close home. The strangest thing of all about the strikes are that, believe it or not, they are actually scheduled events. This is very helpful and considerate of los paros in my opinion, because at least it gives people a chance to make alternative arrangements. Most of the time we find out the day before about an impending strike from Ulreke´s, the local ex-pat cafe.
One day when we went to Ulreke´s for breakfast, we noticed that there weren´t very many vendors set up in the market, which is usually packed. There was a military truck parked in the town square filled with soldiers in full riot gear, guns and sheilds ready. Although there were children scrambling all over the hood of the truck, there was an unsettledness in the air.
Ulreke, the cafe owner, came to take our order. She informed us in a very matter-of-fact way that the neighboring city of Calca was demanding Pisac´s solidarity in their strike over a land dispute with the jungle provinces. Any shop or vendor caught doing business by any of Calca´s protesters were promised to receive broken store windows and smashed stalls and merchandise. Ulreke just shrugged her shoulders and said, ¨If los paros show up, then we´ll just lock the doors and the shutters and we´ll have a party.¨
And about 25 Calca protesters did show up that day, brandishing broomsticks and chanting in the streets. No broken windows or looted market stalls to speak of – in fact, most of the vendors kept right on selling their food and wares.
Today there was supposed to be a strike, but it was cancelled. There´s talk that it may happen on Wednesday instead, but everyone just kind of shrugs their shoulders and says, ¨who knows?¨ I´ve noticed a bit of a lackadaisical attitude in local people and tourists alike regarding the strikes. The issue at stake this time is a bigger one: the people are angry about possible government privitization of water. With such a bigger issue looming on the table, it will be interesting to see if strike days remain business as usual.