Worry, heartache, fear
Peru in August 2017. For two months now the Peruvian teachers have been on strike. The teacher walkout affects 8 million pupils. In Lima militant paedagogues tried to storm the Parliament building. Blood flowed and there were several with severe injuries. One could see the mood becoming more and more explosive.
But the situation gets worse. Peru’s doctors started an indefinite strike and then shortly afterwards the judicial system followed suit.
On Saturday 26th August Apurimac’s head of police inspects Diospi Suyana’s compound. In my bureau we play through several crisis scenarios. The police know full well that teachers, who are willing to resort to violence, want to misuse the President’s visit for their own political aims. Thus our anniversary celebration has become a victim of the tense political atmosphere. But the police force wants to help. It is planned to protect our “Festival of Faith” with over three hundred policemen.
Tuesday 29th August. My wife Martina, Doris Manco, head of the media centre, and I meet several ringleaders in the Catholic Church hall. We are sitting opposite five negotiating partners who represent 420 Curahuasi teachers.
“We want to celebrate a thanksgiving service and our event has absolutely nothing to do with politics,” we beseech them. The teachers remain at a distance. They want to make use of their right to strike and expect several thousand like-minded teachers from Southern Peru. That would totally destroy our anniversary. While enduring the slogans of the strike leaders, the taste in my mouth also turns bitter. I have now fully understood that, from a human perspective, our hands are completely tied. Would it not be better to cancel everything last minute? That would be a huge disappointment. Were all our preparations over the past few weeks in vain? And what about all the visitors who have arrived already from USA, Germany and the capital Lima? Anxious and frustrated the three of us leave the building just off the Plaza de Armas.
That evening we are sitting together with 40 missionaries and desperately search for a solution. But, as there is none, our last remaining hope is prayer. From 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning we want to start a 24 hour prayer time. In times of crisis our faith must prove that it can carry us through. What is more powerful: our trust in God or our doubts? Suddenly I am not so sure of the answer I would give right now. What should I then publish on our website? The best thing is to weigh every word on golden scales.
Wednesday 30th August. The President’s Palace sends a delegation of 10 persons to Curahuasi. We spend a long time talking about possible dangers. “Dr Klaus, how do you want to prevent that strikers disguise themselves and join the festive throng, only to riot once inside Diospi’s compound?” asks the head of security. “Since that is exactly what happened a couple of days ago in Tacna!” Neither I nor the military can answer that question. If there is a chance of riots the Head of State will definitely not come. The coronel of the police plans to protects the Hospital with three walls of defence from possible demonstrators. Tomorrow he will order his men to block the road between Abancay and Cusco. That will mean that hundreds of cars will have to wait for several hours.
During the course of the day the first TV-crews arrive from the capital. Perhaps it would have been better, if they had not come at all.
The prayer chain. It is my wife’s and my turn from 11 p.m. until midnight. We pray and hope or, to put it more directly, we worry ourselves into the night. I cannot sleep and toss and turn on my pillow. A bit of sleep would be very useful now, but how?
Thursday 31st August. The canopy roof above the amphitheatre looks impressive. Everything is ready for the 4,500 guests. Doris Manco calls me just after 7 a.m. She has heard from the police that 200 teachers coming from Southern Peru left at the crack of dawn this morning. Their destination: Curahuasi. And, they have reached their destination despite police checks.
Shortly afterwards and the next ominous phone call reaches me. Matthias Besold, our future head of administration, says: “The teachers have assembled above the amphitheatre with banners unfurled and are making quite a racket!”
It immediately dawns on me that from their vantage point they could easily bombard the amphitheatre with stones and that under these circumstances it is impossible for the Peruvian President to attend Diospi Suyana’s 10th anniversary celebrations.
The Palace’s vanguard is also concerned. They are in constant communication with Lima and the police. They know full well that several cars transporting strikers are on their way to Curahuasi.
15 minutes later 15 Peruvians and I join hands standing in the media centre and pray: “O God, please do something!”
The police are starting to lose control of the situation. Now three buses full of policemen drive up to the Hospital. Tough guys in full battle gear get out. The police general Arévolo tells me that 550 police are now deployed. At several places on the mountain slopes long rows of strikers are standing opposite armed police.
“Will the President come?” I ask the Palace’s Head of Coordination. He does not know and looks somberly towards to mountains. You cannot miss the strikers’ chants coming from the distance.
The police have stopped all traffic on the Panamericana. But on the mountains one can see further teachers with their banners approaching. Police are everywhere, guests nowhere. The amphitheatre is empty. Were the President and his ministers to come now the whole thing would descend into an absolute farce.
Nervousness is written over everyone’s face. Why is my throat parched like a desert? I wander over the Hospital grounds with my mind in complete turmoil. We have run out of options. We have no Plan B. Perhaps now would be the ideal moment to cancel everything.
I glance over to the media centre and see 20 colleagues with their eyes shut. Doris Manco is praying on behalf of everyone. The only solution to utter helplessness is a scream heavenwards.
Dr. Jens Haßfeld, Chris Welch, Oebele de Haan, my wife and I are standing anxiously above the helipad. Will the three helicopters land here as planned today? But at this moment the word “plan“ is totally misplaced here.
Our eyes are suddenly victim of tear-gas that the police have now used. The situation on the mountain slopes must have escalated.
We are receiving more and more phone-calls from guests who are stuck in long traffic jams. No one can get through to the amphitheatre anymore, neither strikers, nor celebrants. State of Emergency. It is over. Our anniversary celebration won’t take place. We have been soundly defeated.
I look into Doris Manco’s overtired eyes: “Even without a celebration the work of Diospi Suyana will continue!“/KDJ