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Privatized highway toll sparks mass protest in Peru

 

Privatized highway toll sparks mass protest in Peru

By Cesar Uco
17 January 2017

Peruvian police unleashed violent repression last week against protests that broke out in Lima, the country’s capital, over a privatized toll road scheme imposed upon the main highway linking impoverished northern working class districts with the city center.

The northern Lima district of Puente Piedra was the center of the clashes over the new toll collection program introduced on the Pan American Highway. Residents of the area have no alternative but to pay the toll to travel even the shortest distance in and out of their neighborhood, with the money going to private corporations that effectively own the road.

The new tolls raise to 10 soles, or US$3.03, the roundtrip fee for traveling one kilometer on the road where, the protesters charge, the construction project has not even been completed. Ten soles correspond to two and a half times the hourly minimum wage. Transportation workers and inhabitants of Puente Piedra had been protesting against the toll hike since last August, but they were ignored by the authorities.

The latest weeklong protests began January 5, when hundreds of demonstrators blocked the highway, destroyed toll booths, burned tires and clashed with riot police. January 12 saw a far bigger demonstration, with some 5,000 protesters taking to the streets carrying signs reading “No to tolls” and “Down with corruption.” They confronted an army of 2,000 police backed by armored cars and using multiple volleys of teargas and rubber bullets against the crowd.

Witnesses reported that an unknown individual among the protesters hurled a Molotov cocktail (a bottle filled with gasoline and a lighted cloth) at the police. It was widely believed that the action was carried out by an undercover police provocateur to provide the pretext for the repression. The cops waited until protesters, most of them younger people, came within a few yards of their lines to open fire with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets to maximize the injuries inflicted upon the crowd.

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