LIMA, Peru (CNN) -- For the first time since he took power nearly a
decade ago, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori faces a powerful national
strike Wednesday organized by leftist unions but supported by a broad
range of other groups, from opposition parties to business organizations.
"Who doesn't have a complaint with this government?" said Nora Loredo,
leader of women's organizations which planned to march through Lima on
Wednesday banging empty cooking pots.
She said that even the president of the National Society of Industries
powerful business group -- was supporting the strike.
"They are up to their necks too," she said as she prepared to join a
candlelight vigil with other women Tuesday night outside the National Palace.
The strike was called by the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers
(CGTP) to protest Fujimori's economic policies and the possibility that he
might run for a third term.
Police to guard workers
The government has responded by ordering 20,000 policemen into the
streets to protect workers who defy the strike call. It also put the armed
forces on alert for possible violence.
Fujimori labeled the strike organizers "communists" and Labor Minister
Pedro Flores declared the strike illegal.
"Only those who have full wallets have the luxury of not working," Flores
said, warning workers that they would forfeit their salaries if they did not
show up to their jobs.
Peru's unions have been weakened by anti-labor legislation under Fujimori.
But with the government's economic reforms doing little to generate jobs or
reduce poverty, organized labor has gained renewed energy.
Earlier inflation: 7,000 percent
When Fujimori took office in 1990, he inherited an economy coping with
hyperinflation of 7,000 percent. His free-market policies tamed the inflation,
while his success in putting down the long-running revolt by the Maoist
Shining Path rebels boosted consumer confidence and encouraged
investment from abroad. As a result, Peru's economy grew by a scorching
32 percent between 1993 and 1996.
But the policies have had a cost. Privatization of state industries has
of thousands of people unemployed. Much of the outside investment pouring
into Peru has gone into activities such as mining and oil, which rely heavily on
technology and do not generate large numbers of jobs.
In addition, a two-year recession -- exacerbated by massive damage done
by the El Nino weather phenomenon -- has hit retailers and manufacturers
hard, forcing more layoffs. According to private-sector surveys, more than
50 percent of the workforce now works in the informal economy.
Will Fujimori run again?
Even the moneyed classes now complain about Fujimori's policies. Vacant
signs dot offices in Lima's business and upscale shopping districts.
"Today there is agreement between bosses and workers that the economy is
not functioning for either of them," said political analyst Nicolas Lynch.
Fujimori has not said if he plans to run for a second re-election in April
2000. Although Peru's constitution allows presidents only one re-election,
his backers in Congress have approved a controversial law paving the way
for such a bid.
In recent months he has crisscrossed Peru, visiting even remote areas of
Andes and the Amazon jungle to deliver what sound like campaign
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.