Reuters | Tue Feb 19, 2008
Striking farmers shut access to Peru’s Machu Picchu
LIMA (Reuters) — Peruvian farmers upset over a free trade deal with the United States blocked rail service to the famous Inca ruins at Machu Picchu on Monday and paralyzed vast swaths of the Andean country by halting traffic on key highways.
The protests stranded thousands of travelers, including some 400 people who were stuck on the train to the ancient Incan citadel, Peru’s top tourist attraction.
The Pan-American highway, the major road on the Peruvian coast, was blocked north and south of the capital, Lima, travelers and police said. Farmers nationwide snarled traffic with tree trunks, rocks and sand.
"The government only listens to us when we strike," said Antolin Huascar, the head of a national farmers’ group. He said farmers would strike until the government agrees to meet with them about their demands.
Farmers are frustrated by rising fertilizer costs, want debt relief, and say a free trade deal with the United States will flood local markets with imports of subsidized U.S. agricultural goods.
Peru signed the free-trade agreement in December and plans to strike deals with China, Canada and Mexico soon.
Peru exports grapes and asparagus to the United States, and the government says the trade pact will give local farmers permanent access to the U.S. market.
President Alan Garcia is pushing free trade as a way to lift incomes in a country where some 12 million people live in poverty. Peru is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, expanding nearly 9 percent last year.
The South American country is a leading minerals exporter and most mines rely on railroads to get their metals to ports on the Pacific Ocean.