Saturday, July 21, 2007

Peruvian President Alan Garcia has won over skeptical business leaders and investors during his first year in office, but angry street protests show he has failed to meet the demands of the poor. Teachers, peasant farmers and trade unionists have all taken to the streets of the South American country in recent weeks in sometimes violent protests to press demands ranging from more roads, better education and cheaper fertilizers.

"He's not governing for poor people, he's governing for the rich. We want him to implement the responsible change he's promised, and if he can't do it, he should go," teacher Elma Suarez, 35, said during a protest in the capital, Lima.

A center-leftist, Garcia began his second term as president last July by vowing to grow the economy and fight poverty. But his approval rating has slumped from 63 percent in August to 42 percent in June, a poll by Ipsos Apoyo showed. Although teachers ended a two-week strike and returned to work on Friday, three people have been killed and dozens injured in this month's protests, showing clearly that his honeymoon period has come to an end.

Garcia's first term as president in 1985-90 was dismal. His government defaulted on its debts, and hyperinflation and price controls wrecked the economy. That record had many businesses and foreign investors fearing another crisis when he was elected this time. But he has promised "responsible change," soothing financial markets by backing a free trade deal with the United States, waxing lyrical about foreign investment and warning of the evils of inflation.

Peru's economy is booming. It expanded by 8 percent last year, driven by strong mining exports, and similar growth is expected for 2007. In sharp contrast with Garcia's first presidency, the country's foreign reserves are at record levels.

Still, nearly half of Peru's 27 million people live in poverty and many lack basic services such as clean drinking water and electricity. Ollanta Humala, the left-wing candidate beaten by Garcia in last year's run-off election, has joined the protests and warned on Thursday that they could turn more radical. "The people are showing their massive disapproval of Alan Garcia's government," he said.

In an effort to cool the protests, Garcia announced measures this week to keep down the price of basic foods such as bread by scrapping duties on wheat and fertilizer imports. However, Economy Minister Luis Carranza admits that millions of poor Peruvians want quicker progress.

"There is an issue with expectations, impatience, of longing for very quick results, which are happening little by little, but they want them to be faster," he told a local radio station last week. "It's a politically complicated situation in the short term but ... social and political pressures will tend to ease in the medium term due to the good progress of the economy," he said.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

LatinAmerica Press published an article on the Congressional debate on the age of consent.

Debating age of consent

Leslie Josephs. Jul 19, 2007

Peru lawmakers lower age of consent, but harsh government criticism takes the bill back to the floor.

After Peru’s celebrated 15-year-old chess whiz Emilio Córdova fell in love with a 29-year-old Brazilian woman and brought her home, Peruvians were not cheering his latest checkmate. Shouts of “provecho, provecho!” — “enjoy, enjoy!” — greeted him at the airport.

Peruvian sex columnist Esther Vargas cited in her column in the Peru21 newspaper an headline from the Argentine daily Clarín that read: “The young chess player in love returned to Lima and was treated as a hero.”
But had their romance blossomed on Peruvian soil, his girlfriend would be thrown in jail.

Lawmakers are now trying to lower the age of consent in the country — from 18 to 14 — a move that has sparked a fierce debate among different nongovernmental organizations, government offices and Peruvians themselves.

On June 22, Peru's Congress voted 70-10 to lower the age of consent to 14. The bill was written by Congressman Alejandro Rebaza, a member of the ruling Aprista party. But President Alan García was not so keen on the idea, and even though the bill breezed through the unicameral congress, the president broke with his party, urging lawmakers to hold another round of debates.

Government opposition
“I’m the father of four daughters and it doesn’t seem to me that at 14 they were able to give consent, which means a rational, responsible acceptance, measuring the consequences of an adult proposition,” García said after the vote.

But the prominent women's organization Manuela Ramos has repeatedly stated that lowering the age of consent is absolutely necessary to give responsible adolescents sexual freedom. It’s time to face reality, the Lima-based organization says. Its position is that the “reality” here is that Peruvians start having sexual relations early and that they are not necessarily linked to sexual violence.

Rosina Guerrero, who heads the reproductive rights department at the Center for the Promotion and Defense of Sexual and Reproductive Rights, known as Promsex, says that not approving the law would put adolescents' health at risk.

Some couples, when one member is a minor, may be afraid to go to health centers for pregnancy tests, sexually transmitted disease testing, or to obtain contraceptives, fearing that his or her partner will be arrested.

Some cheered the law’s passage — despite García’s intervention — because it would stop innocent youths from being thrown in jail for having consensual sex with a minor, treated as statutory rape under the law.
“The law will stop a 20-year-old person who makes love to a 17-year-old from becoming a criminal,” said Peruvian psychoanalyst Roberto Lerner.
Such is the case of Ivestsi Lozano. Last year, the then-19-year-old from the jungle city of Pucallpa fell in love with a 16-year-old boy, and the two fled to Tacna in southern Peru. She is currently facing 30 years in prison for statutory rape.

Nevertheless, women’s and children’s defense offices both in and outside of the government have harshly criticized the measure, saying it only invites rape and sexual abuse.

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