I am stuck inside today due to a strike. This makes it a good day to write a blog; especially a blog about a strike. For the next 48 hours the entire provencia (roughly equivalent to a county) of Urubamba is on strike. (Additionally the provencias of Calca and Pisac are striking as a show of support to Ururbamba. These three provencias comprise the entirety of the Sacred Valley) Due to the fact that both Machu Picchu and the Maras Salt Pools are within the provencia of Urubamba this strike will have a large negative impact on tourism and the roughly 2,000 tourists trying to visit these sites for the next couple of days. What exactly does it mean when an entire region is “on strike”?
-It means that NOBODY works and all the shops are closed.
-All the roads are blocked with rocks, branches, tires and whatever else people decide to drag into them.
-And lots of people marching around protesting.
What exactly are people protesting? This time (there are typically at least a couple strikes per year) there are 3 principal complaints.
1-electric bills are too high. ($0.21 per kWh when converted to US dollars)
2-There is a bus service that takes tourists up to Machu Picchu that is a privately owned monopoly that local residents want to be run by local municipalities so that they can benefit from the profits.
3- There is a large portion of land is owned by a local private luxury hotel (Tambo del Inka) and was sold to them from the municipality by a corrupt mayor under shady circumstances. The current municipal administration wants to retake possession of the portion of the land that is owned but not being used by the hotel.
The real irony of this great display of freedom and democracy is that anybody who doesn’t participate is fined severely. Is freedom of expression really free when you are forced to do it?
In all elections voting is mandatory: failure to vote is punished by a severe fine.
Every day that a child comes late to school, his or her parents are given a small fine.
Nearly every week, there are small local community improvement projects (digging sewer lines, installing power lines, etc.): once again, every household that does not send a representative is fined severely. (This is even the case when members of the family are severely ill or disabled.)
Nearly every single trade in existence (from the women who sell fruit and vegetables in the markets to taxi drivers) requires membership to a union that forces one to pays dues, attend very frequent meetings, and sponsor/organize massive religious festivals to various saints. As always, failure to participate results in fines and or loss of employment.
Such “mandatory expressions of freedom” as today’s strike remind one of the delicate balance between individual rights and the will of the majority. Everyone has their own views on the where that balance is, but this is pretty certain in any case: Liberty is not simple. Democracy is not simple. Freedom is not simple.