A small display of people power occurred in the main plaza of Arequipa (Peru’s second city) today when security tried to shut down a band that had set up in front of the city’s looming catholic cathedral. Members of the band gestured to the watching crowd of 200+ people for support, and got it – cheers, shouts & claps were accompanied by a number of folks moving in to film security with their cameras. Security withdrew, and the band played on.
We chanced upon this spectacle whilst returning from a wander through some of Arequipa’s street markets. It may seem a small and rather insignificant victory, but in the context of Arequipa’s tightly controlled central (ie historic colonial) district, and even more controlled main square, a victory it was. We’d watched before in the square on several occassions when street performers had attempted to prerform, only to be dispacthed swiftly by security. This included one troop of 20 Brazilian capoeira dancers & musicians who lasted less than one song despite attracting a sizeable crowd – who didn’t protest.
Arequipa likes to keep the historic & touristic centre quiet, clean & tidy for it’s masters and (wealthier) visitors. CCTV and cops & security of various types are ever present. Locals of the non-white ethnicity are tolerated as long as they remain nice and quiet in the background. We’ve observed over the weeks how subdued indigenous & mestizo Peruvians tend to be when faced by authority, cowed & beaten down by centuries of oppression, repression & racism – nowhere more so than in Arequipa with its right-wing catholic colonial history. ‘Disrespect’ towards the church & its institutions/buildings is not tolerated. So to see this spontaneous defiance & solidarity was great! And we should point out that this performance/ gathering was not in any way disruptive, or threatening to anyone – just some good quality latin jazz rock for an hour on a mild Saturday lunchtime. The band, it turned out, were from Chile, but we’re not sure anyone knew that at the start. Cool music, thanks guys!