Peruvian president 'deplores' two deaths in farm workers protest, vows to sanction police

LIMA (Reuters) - Peru’s President Francisco Sagasti has vowed tough action against police after two people, including a teenager, were killed during protests by farm workers over a new controversial agrarian law.

FILE PHOTO: Police stand guard to prevent protests from workers from agricultural export companies over an agreement to reform the sector and address their complaints over poor pay, in Villacuri, Peru December 29, 2020. REUTERS/Sebastian Castaneda

The two victims died on Wednesday after officers reportedly used live firearms against a protest blocking the main coastal road through La Libertad, a farming community 600 kilometres (370 miles) north of the capital Lima.

“We deplore and reject what happened in La Libertad,” said President Francisco Sagasti on his Twitter account on Thursday. “We condemn those who incite violence. We will sanction the police officers who violated the ban on the use of firearms.”

A hospital report said one, a 16-year-old boy, died from a gunshot injury. The local prosecutor said he had been taking part in the protest but his family said he was simply passing by. The second person’s identity and their cause of death has not yet been confirmed.

A photograph widely published in local media showed a man identified by the interior ministry as a police officer pointing a pistol.

It sparked fresh calls for police reform in the wake of anti-government protests earlier this month in which at least two people were killed and 200 injured amid widespread allegations and reports of police violence.

Sagasti also called for fresh dialogue between political parties and the three branches of government on reform of Peru’s key agricultural sector, saying the new law passed on Tuesday night “does not satisfy any of the parties involved.”

The new law increased the base salaries of farm workers that had been as low as as 39 soles ($11) daily by 30% but workers’ groups say the salary and benefits provisions are still not enough. They also claim the law upholds what they say are unjustified benefits enjoyed by powerful agricultural conglomerates.

“We continue to be discriminated (with the new law) in terms of benefit payments,” Juan Antonio Herrera, the national leader of the agricultural workers’ union, told Reuters. “In Peru, even those who sell candy pay taxes, why do large companies that have grown for 20 years continue to enjoy tax exemptions?”

Agricultural producers, on the other hand, have criticized the new law saying it would put jobs at risk in the sector.

Agro-exports of products, including blueberries, grapes and avocadoes have become the second largest generator of foreign exchange for Peru in recent years after mining.

Reporting by Maria Cervantes; Writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Aurora Ellis