LIMA, PERU – Police in Peru opened fire Thursday on farm workers blocking a major highway to demand wage increases, killing one in the first labor dispute confronting the country’s new president, a union official said.
“Police came storming in to shoot. It was an act of violence,” said labor leader Walter Campos. He described the victim as a 19-year-old worker who was shot in the head.
President Francisco Sagasti, who took power just two weeks ago amid an acute political crisis, confirmed the death and called it a tragedy.
He vowed a probe of the events in the town of Viru where workers were blocking the Panamerican Highway, the country’s main motorway, which runs north-south through all of Peru.
Joined a strike and road blockades
Farm and factory workers in Viru on Thursday joined a strike and road blockades that were launched Monday in another region of Peru. They have cut off several stretches of the highway with branches, stones and burning tires.
The health ministry reported 44 people hurt in clashes Thursday in the two areas.
The workers want wage increases and the scrapping of an agricultural law they say limits their rights and income.
The law sets daily farm wages at $11 but does not specify a limit to the workday — just a minimum of four hours.
The strikers want at least $18 a day and other benefits.
Sagasti took over in the culmination of a crisis in which Peru had three presidents in one week.
Impeached by Congress
It started when then-president Martin Vizcarra was impeached by Congress early last month on charges of corruption.
He was popular and Peruvians were infuriated, taking to the streets in protest against the interim president, Manuel Merino. He resigned a few days later amid an uproar over a deadly police crackdown on those protests.
Congress then chose Sagasti to be president.