Mass protest shuts Pan American Highway for 11 hours near Lima

pa_norteThe PanAmericana Norte, the northern half of Peru’s section of the Pan-American Highway, was shutdown on Thursday from 7am to 8pm by protesters opposed to new toll booths some 27km north of Lima centre, in the district of Puente Piedra. See great photos & text (in Spanish); good Al Jazeera vid; Ruptly video; timeline of events + pics + vid (in Spanish). This road is the major north-south coastal road in/out of Lima and along the entire Peruvian coastline!

pa_norteprotestThis was the second successive Thursday protest (5 January report in English), although people from nearby neighbourhoods have been protesting since last August. In fact it had been announced late on Wednesday that the toll would be suspended for 30 days, but this didn’t calm the peoples anger. Yesterday’s protest was led by the Mayor of Puente Piedra, and initially marchers shut down the north to south side of the Highway. Matters escalated with both sides of the Highway closed around 27km north of Lima centre, with police firing teargas & rubber bullets and baton charging protesters, who responded with rocks etc and barricaded parts of the Highway, trashing infrastructure & some bridges. Peruvian news coverage has been wide & mixed, generally condemning ‘violent’ protests whilst conceding the protesters have a point! Typical.

The toll booths were imposed in December by a private company Rutas de Lima, who have a contract with the city of Lima, part of the ongoing privatisation of everything. Local people in Puente Piedra (population 200,000+) and neighbouring districts, along with transport drivers, see this as another tax on the poor millions living in Lima’s outlying urban districts, who have to pay to go into & out of Lima in several locations (toll booths). There is also a general perception in Peru that all such private contracts are the result of corruption & patronage, based on a history of such practices!

Puente Piedra is one of 30 of the 43 districts of Lima that are considered ‘urban’. Over recent decades millions of people have come down to Lima looking for work/shelter, to escape the poverty & hunger of the Andean regions, and to seek security during the virtual civil war of the late 1970’s to early 90’s between the Peruvian state & the maoist peasant guerrila group Senero Luminosa (Shining Path), based in the Andes east of Lima. For many those dreams have been shattered by the poverty, pollution, corruption, racism, instability etc inherent in Lima. We’ve passed through these areas on coaches into Lima and seen the poverty & appalling housing situation, with thousands of people lining the roadsides attempting to get to/from work in Lima. One can appreciate why they don’t want to pay another tax to Peru’s already super-rich elites.

NB: The Pan-American Highway runs in theory from Alaska to Chile & Argentina. In south America it’s generally called the PanAmericana Sur but, confusingly, in Peru it has 2 parts/names – north of Lima to Ecuador it’s the PanAmericana Norte, and south of Lima to Chile its the PanAmericana Sur! (Info in Spanish)


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