Peru president vows action after deaths at farm workers protest

Three people die during clashes between police and protesting farm workers, who are demanding higher wages.

Agricultural workers in Peru say the salary and benefits provisions included in a new law do not meet their demands [Gian Mazco/AFP]

Peru’s President Francisco Sagasti has promised to take action against police “who violated the ban on the use of firearms” after three people, including a 16-year-old boy, died this week during protests by farmworkers against a contentious new agricultural law.

Authorities said clashes broke out Wednesday between demonstrators and police, who dispersed a roadblock on the country’s main coastal road through La Libertad, a farming community about 600km (370 miles) north of the capital Lima.

The country’s Ombudsman’s Office said two protesters died of gunshot wounds at the blockade Wednesday, while a 56-year-old man with cancer died on a vehicle stranded by the protest.

Television images showed police using tear gas and birdshot against the demonstrators.

Officials said 28 protesters and 15 police officers were injured, while 45 workers were arrested, the AFP news agency said.

“We deplore and reject what happened in La Libertad,” President Francisco Sagasti tweeted on Thursday. “We condemn those who incite violence. We will sanction the police officers who violated the ban on the use of firearms.”

Peru’s Congress passed the agricultural reform bill on Tuesday.

It raises the base salaries of farmworkers that had been as low as 39 soles ($11) daily by 30 percent, but workers’ groups say the salary and benefits provisions are still not enough.

They had been demanding that agricultural-export companies increase their daily wage from $11 to $18.

The workers also say the law upholds what they say are unjustified benefits enjoyed by powerful agricultural conglomerates.

Agricultural workers clash with riot police during a protest demanding higher incomes in Viru, 510km (317 miles) north of Lima, on December 30, 2020 [Gian Mazco/AFP]

“We continue to be discriminated [against by the new law] in terms of benefit payments,” Juan Antonio Herrera, the national leader of the agricultural workers’ union, told the Reuters news agency.

“In Peru, even those who sell candy pay taxes, why do large companies that have grown for 20 years continue to enjoy tax exemptions?”

Business leaders are also unhappy with the legislation, however, saying higher wages will affect some 2,000 companies and 200,000 jobs.

Sagasti on Thursday called for fresh dialogue between political parties and the three branches of government, saying the new law “does not satisfy any of the parties involved”.

Source: News Agencies