In protests billed as “anti-colonial” demonstrations, Peruvians hit the streets on Wednesday October 12 against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the related Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) in Lima and other cities.
The protests were organized by a united front group called Peruvians Against the TPP and were supported by both of Peru’s largest communist parties, the Peruvian Communist Party (Partido Comunista Peruano) and the Communist Party of Peru – Red Homeland (Partido Comunista del Perú – Patria Roja), as well as labor, indigenous, and other organizations.
The demonstrations were part of a broad campaign against TPP ratification that is now underway in Peru which combines the actions of protestors in the streets with the efforts of legislators in Congress. Together, they are facing off against the pro-TPP efforts of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former IMF and World Bank official. But it increasingly looks like the deciding vote on TPP ratification could be cast by the right-wing populist party led by Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former dictator Alberto Fujimori.
Multinational power grab
The demonstrators explained their opposition to the TPP and TISA in terms very similar to those being employed in other countries to express opposition to these and other so-called “free trade” agreements. They see such agreements as power grabs by multinational corporations, which negate national sovereignty and potentially harm the interests of ordinary workers and farmers. The treaties have been negotiated in secret without the input of ordinary citizens of Peru and other countries involved.
Beto Hallazi, from the organization “Peruvians Against the TPP” (Peruanos contra el TPP), told the press that the treaty will “harm our rights of access to health [care], to information via the Internet, to the exchange of seeds, and our national sovereignty.” A big issue for Peruvians, as well as others worried about the TPP, are the mechanisms of the Investor-State Dispute System (ISDS) – corporate-controlled arbitration tribunals which will have the power to override their country’s officials, legislatures, and courts to rule on disputes between governments and transnational corporations. The corporations can bring cases to these tribunals if they think that a government policy or law, in Peru or in any other country that is part of the TPP, might harm their future profits from investments in that country.
The cost of pharmaceuticals and medical devices is a major issue for opponents of this type of treaty worldwide. For this reason, numerous doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals, organized by the “Health Forum” (Foro Salud), participated in Wednesday’s protests in Lima. Foro Salud works for access to all aspects of health care for all Peruvians, no matter how poor. Their worry is that the TPP’s language protecting the patents of pharmaceuticals and medical devices is so extensive that it will become much harder to produce or obtain inexpensive generics in a world market where brand name products’ prices are increasing at a dizzying rate.
The TISA will make it easier to carry out the privatization of health, education, and other public services, meaning handing them over to foreign multinational monopoly corporations is of course also much easier. The TISA is also the focus of protests worldwide.
United left leads fight in the legislature
Currently, the TPP is being debated in the Foreign Relations Committee of the Peruvian Congress, and also will be taken up by the Andean Peoples Committee and the Environmental Committee.
At the legislative level, there is firm opposition to the TPP by the Broad Front (Frente Amplio), a coalition of left and left-center parties that includes the two communist parties and others. The Broad Front holds 20 seats in the 130-seat legislature. Verónika Mendoza, member of Congress, Broad Front leader, and candidate in this year’s presidential election, warned that the TPP is a threat to Peru’s own industries, and also pointed out that the U.S.-dominated Pacific Alliance – the group of conservative-ruled countries of which Peru is part – is an obstacle to progressive change in the region.
Under the TPP, she said that multinational corporations will be able to make a mockery of Peruvian national sovereignty. Mendoza represents a legislative district (Cuzco, the ancient Inca capital) in Southern Peru, where the population of mostly indigenous farmers may find themselves obliged to buy seeds from multinational agribusiness corporations instead of exchanging them locally as they have done for millennia.
Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is a conservative and a former official of both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund who supports neoliberal policies on economics and trade. He has supported the TPP, which was signed by his predecessor, Ollanta Humala, last November, and is pushing for its ratification in the Peruvian Congress, though he has expressed a wish that China could be included in the deal also.
Fujimori holds the balance
Kuczynski’s party, Peruvians for Change, will certainly vote to ratify the TPP, but it holds only 18 seats out of 130. The People’s Force Party, headed by Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former dictator Alberto Fujimori, has an absolute majority of 73 seats. The remaining 19 seats are held by smaller parties.
It is clear that the ratification, or not, of the TPP in the Peruvian Congress depends on the attitude taken by Fujimori and the People’s Force, which can be characterized as right-wing populist. But this party has not officially declared its intentions with respect to the TPP as yet. The Peruvian left sees both People’s Force and Peruvians for Change as basically neoliberal, right-wing, and pro-corporate in their stance, in spite of the demagogic populism of the latter. This would suggest that the TPP ratification has a good chance of passing in the coming weeks.
Yet there is some indication that the treaty might not be approved in some of the legislative committees through which it has to pass. And of course if the TPP is not ratified in the United States Congress, it may not go forward in the other participating countries either.
Besides Peru, the countries involved in the TPP negotiations are the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, and Vietnam. Opposition to the TPP has arisen in most of these countries. In the United States, President Obama has been promoting the TPP’s passage in Congress, but both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have expressed their opposition.