School Teachers Riot

July 6th, 2007

By Stuart Starrs

I never would have thought I’d see teachers of young children rampaging through the streets like lunatics, throwing bricks at police while screaming obscenities. But that’s exactly what I saw today.

Teachers from across Peru, many without accreditation, took part in what ended up as violent protests across dozens of cities in Peru. People were injured, property destroyed and tourists scared away.

The protests are in response to the Government’s plans to reform education in Peru. The new laws will require that teachers be qualified to teach and have some form of education themselves. Random people taken off the street will no longer be allowed to teach, thus raising the standard of education of Peruvian children. This will be something that is phased in slowly, giving unqualified teachers the opportunity to educate themselves and gain some form of accredited diploma. The phasing in will give teachers three opportunities to pass a basic reading, writing and arithmetic exam. Fail three times and you might get fired, pass them and you are accredited by default.

The teachers union, SUTEP, says this is utterly unreasonable, going as far as to say it violates their human rights. The budget of S./1 billion to be invested in schools and children does not impress them either. Apparently, instead of the unfair law and unprecedented investment, the education budget should be spent educating all of the union’s members over the next 10 years, regardless of their teaching abilities.

So, it all came to a head today. Various protests have been taking place in various places over the past couple of days but today the indefinite strikes reached full pace.

In the centre of Lima, where I happened to be, I was crossing Av. Abancay behind police lines as the violent crowd surged forward – this was not very easy nor was it safe. This was the moment that the Lima protest turned violent. The crowd wanted to advance faster, the police wanted to maintain an orderly advance and held them back. The logical response – in the eyes of Peruvian school teachers – is to start throwing punches then kicking up pieces of the road and throwing them at and over the police. As the first pieces of stone whizzed passed my head, and grenades of tear-gas whizzed right back in response, screaming and shouting of slogans, obscenities and cries of police abuse by people scouring the ground for weapons, I knew it was time to pick up the pace and dive into a side-street to the relative safety of Lima’s central market where lunch in China town was waiting. Not having brought my camera out with me today I was happy to wait until I got home and borrow the photos you see here from various Peruvian news agencies who’s photographers I saw in the thick of it suffering the affects of the tear gas. and blows from flying asphalt.

In the provinces, the children’s role models were even worse. In Tacna school teachers ran amok blocking roads with stones and burning tires – even invading the airport causing all kinds of disruptions. In Huancavelica teachers set fire to peoples homes and businesses, fought pitched battles with police and ravaged government buildings destroying computer equipment, documents and offices. In Cusco tourists retreated to their hotels, sheltering from the manifestation who’s organisers refused to avoid tourist haunts such as the principle plaza.

All quite normal stuff as far as the average protest goes in Peru.

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