Peru: Students, Workers, and Teachers in Defense of the Public University

In the past year, the government of Alan García has launched an offensive against public universities for privatization as well as for the criminalization of protest. The reduction of the budget, resistance to raising teachers’ salaries, the abandonment of infrastructure, added to the threat of a military intervention, with the justification of putting an end to groups sympathetic to the Shining Path, compose this neoliberal Molotov Cocktail. This has provoked a unanimous rejection in all of the university sectors: students, workers, and professors have responded with demonstrations to claim autonomy of the university, delineate their needs, and defend the public university.

It is midday in the Plaza May 2, located in the center of Lima. With approximately three thousand participants, the demonstration begins, and it will culminate in front of the Congress of the Republic, where a delegation will come together to deliver the claims of this day of protest.

Waving a blue flag and coordinating with other unions, we meet up with Luis Ruiz, president of the NFPUW (National Federation of Peruvian University Workers) and director of the workers union of the University of the Saint in Chimbote. Luis tells us that the universities are being taken over by the central government. “Law No. 037 is an emergency decree that has been enacted this year, cutting 75% of the budget of the public universities. This will create situations of neglect in the central aspects of academia, research, and in the implementation of laboratories and libraries.”

Ruiz also refers to the regulation approved by the Congress of the Republic that reforms the law to democratize the election of the principle university authorities by means of a universal and direct vote. Previously, they were elected by the University Assembly:

“This is an important advance, because it will break the mafias that corrupt and control the university assemblies. However, it excludes the workers and takes away our vote. For this we demand to be be reincorporated as electors.” Likewise, the president of the NFPUW demanded the raising of workers salaries, which have been frozen for 10 years, and the approval of a scale for workers’ pay incentives such as that made for those who work in public administration.

We are in the middle of the route to Congress, surrounded by a column of members of the national police who are containing the demonstration. We come upon Pedro Vera, director of the NFPUE (National Federation of Peruvian University Educators), who is chanting slogans with his right fist held high. Vera, with rousing voice, delineates the principal claims of his sector. “The repeal of emergency decree 037 issued by the Minister of Economy and Finances, which cuts the budget by 75% in two areas; in investments and in goods and services. The immediate authorization of 100% of the assets of the university educators with respect to that which the magistrates of Judicial Power perceive as the University Law 23733 and the last sentence of the Constitutional Tribunal (CT) stipulates”

When we are close to the Congress, we join together with a demonstration of families of the victims of the internal war, who have arrived in Lima from diverse towns in the Andes to demand the completion of the reparations promised by the State.

Allin Monteza, president of the FPS (Federation of Peruvian Students), explains that the youths are in the streets to protest the cutting of the budget of the public universities and demand its increase, dedicated to free and quality university education, the defense of the university autonomy, and of the means for paying for universities.

Faced with Alan García’s threats to position the army and the police at the universities to put an end to any supposed act of disorder, the student union holds a firm position: “We reject the authoritative attitude of President Alan García, who wants to take advantage of some isolated occurrences (referring to a march of thirty persons sympathetic to the Shining Path at the University of San Marcos) to intervene in the universities. We condemn this authoritarian and dictatorial intent that hopes to destabilize the public universities of the nation.”