July 31, Abancay, Peru
Every time I ride into a town center in South America I see typical things like restaurants, town squares, cathedrals, hotels and teachers protesting. I haven't said much about the teacher protests because it just seems like a natural part of the scenery but I've met some of the protesters throughout South America and last night, here in Abancay, I met a group of them and took their pictures and talked with them for a little while.
Last October and November in Mexico's Oaxaca the protests reached epic levels when the teachers union hired thugs to cause problems with the Mexican Federal Police, who the teachers felt were brought in to threaten and intimidate them during their previously peaceful demonstrations. It made national news when the subsequent riots resulted in stores and properties being burned and destroyed, cars being overturned and several people were killed. That's why I skipped Oaxaca on my way south.
The protests throughout Argentina were in almost every city, even down in Tierra del Fuego and the rest of Patagonia, regardless of how cold it was. Teachers would set up camp in the middle of a divider of a main street, or part of a town square or any other visible location; the camps often looked like miniature shanty-towns with improvised heating devices such as burning barrels or improvised portable wood-burning stoves, and various temporary shelters. Their protest signs are often specific to the local names but the sign themes always referenced the teachers being hungry because they can't afford food, or telling government officials to stop lying to them (in response to various promises) or about the future of their country depending on a solid education, so it's about time that education is valued appropriately. The protests in Buenos Aires also reached riot proportion worthy of national news during my stay there and I always heard about them from friends back home. I noticed some protests in Chile but not as frequent as Argentina, and in my short trip through Uruguay I saw signs and stickers with similar themes, but no protests.
The day after I arrived in Peru I learned about the 2 previous weeks of protests, when roads were blocked and fires were set and more property destroyed, all in the name of teachers protesting. I could see the evidence as I rode from Puno to Cuzco where tires and other things were left burned on the side of the road. Boulders and other objects which had been used as road-blocks were pushed to the side of the road and some areas just before and after many of the small towns looked something like a war zone. When I told the folks in Cuzco which day I rode from Puno to Cuzco they were surprised I hadn't met with any problems but I saw no protesters, just the ugly aftermath of an angry group.
I saw a very large, peaceful march in Arequipa while I was there, which also seemed like part of the regular functions of a South American society, and now the group of teachers I met tonight. All of the protesters I've met during my trip, from the Veracruz farmers protesting in their underwear in Mexico city, to the teachers I spoke with tonight, have all been very friendly and just glad to share their issues with someone new. They usually seem particularly interested in sharing their issues with a gringo, probably in hopes that the issue will be heard by a larger group and may be taken more seriously. I just empathize with them and wish them the best.
In many of these protests, marches and demonstrations there are other government workers protesting with the teachers but the emphasis is always on the teachers. I guess now is where I could say something wise and insightful about the value of education, especially in a developing nation like Peru, but that would be too obvious; I'll just report what I've seen for now.