|This article originally appeared in
|Thousands storm presidential palace to decry conditions
Economic protest stings Fujimori
|By ERIC J. LYMAN
Special to the Chronicle
|LIMA, Peru -- Thousands of protesters swarmed Peru's White House on Wednesday, breaking down its doors, spray-painting its
walls and causing serious damage to the law-and-order image of Peru's iron-fisted president, Alberto Fujimori.
Protesting against worsening economic conditions, a crowd estimated at between 5,000 and 7,000 demonstrators turned violent,
crashing through a 15-foot gate guarding the courtyard of the presidential palace. They were repelled, but only after government troops
beat dozens of protesters and fired shots into the air. About 50 protesters broke through the wooden doors to the palace, destroying
furniture and spray-painting communist slogans on the wall.
"There was a moment when the military personnel were overwhelmed," said political commentator Jesus Gomez del Rios, who was
observing the protest from in front of the palace. "If someone had panicked and shot someone, this could have been a horrible disaster.
As it was, it won't be forgotten, least of all by the president."
Fujimori was in his palace office, but he was not threatened by the entry. As of late Wednesday, there was no official comment from
Fujimori or any of his spokesmen.
"This is a serious blow to Fujimori," said Angelo Parades, co-director of the polling firm La Opinion. "He has made his name as the man
who brought order to a country battered by years of terrorism, and now it looks like he's not in control. People will wonder, is it the
(guerrilla war-torn) 1980s again?"
That could be the implication: Police reported that demonstrators spray painted "PCP" -- the initials of the country's communist party -- in
red paint on the inside walls of the palace. The PCP is the quasi-political arm of the Shining Path, Peru's largest leftist rebel movement,
which still remains a threat though it was crippled when its leadership was captured in 1992.
Police said the graffiti was likely the work of a handful of infiltrators among the protesters. But with the scope of the protest -- smaller
protests took place at a half dozen other government buildings in Lima and in at least five major cities in the provinces -- it's clear that the
problems that sparked the protests are significant.
"These people don't make enough money to eat properly," said La Opinion's Parades. "There may have been a handful of left-wing
infiltrators, but you don't get that many people on the streets without some real problems motivating them."
Luis Chang-Ching, a congressman from Fujimori's ruling Cambio-90 party, said the protesters had "political intentions."
"The aim of this was to undermine the credibility of the president, to cause unrest," Chang-Ching said. "If they wanted to protest low
wages, they would have been taken more seriously if they remained orderly. I don't understand why they attacked the palace."
Victor Manuel Mamani, one of the protesters, said the violence was spurred by the economic situation in the country. The side of
Mamani's head was bloodied after he was hit by a police officer's mallet.
"The country is getting richer, and we're getting poorer," said Mamani, a 37-year-old textile worker. "The government is forgetting about
honest people who work hard for a living. (Fujimori) wants our support, but he does nothing for us."
United Nations statistics seem to bear out Mamani's thesis. In June, the United Nations released a report which showed that despite
rapid economic growth since 1994, a third of all Peruvians are unemployed, and as many as four in five are underemployed. More than
two out of five Peruvians live in poverty severe enough that it will significantly lower their life expectancy, the United Nations reported.
Economists said that Wednesday's violence proved that the government's economic policy wasn't helping the majority of Peruvians.
Even Chang-Ching, the congressman, said that a change in policy was called for. "It may be time for the government to concentrate on
another economic plan," he said.
It was too early to tell if the groundswell of discontent would force the government to stray from its pro-business, free-market policies, but
La Opinion's Parades said that such a change could be in the works.
"The country elected Fujimori because the country was a mess," he said. "Most Peruvians couldn't afford to live, and they were
threatened by violence. If something doesn't change soon, we may find that it took us eight years to return to where we were when we
Eric J. Lyman is a free-lance journalist based in Lima, Peru.
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|September 30, 1998