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Monday, 4 November, 2002, 08:38 GMT
Lima's revival hit by protests
A demonstration in Lima
There were 148 marches in September alone

Most businesses moved out of Lima's crime-ridden and polluted historic centre years ago.

But since 1996, the centre had been experiencing something of a renaissance.

Daily sales fall 12% when there are demonstrations

Salvador Ode, shopkeeper
Buildings and squares have been spruced up and shops and restaurants encouraged to return from the city's suburbs, where most had fled.

Many now wish they had stayed put.

Since the fall of Alberto Fujimori's government some two years ago, demonstrations have wound their way through Lima's historic centre on an almost daily basis, bringing traffic to a standstill and costing local businesses an estimated $65,000 (42,000) a day.

There have already been almost 1,000 marches this year. There were 148 in September alone.

The people who take part range from sacked government workers who want their jobs back to pensioners demanding more money.

Passing trade

"Daily sales fall 12% when there are demonstrations," says Salvador Ode, head of the local traders' association and owner of Casa Ode, a clothes shop.

Patricia Dias of Pro Lima
Patricia Dias: Marchers have rights

"Many shops want to close down, but they're loath to do so, firstly because of their debts and secondly because they don't want to lose their investments."

Even so, Mr Ode estimates that more than 75% of premises in Lima's historic centre now lie empty.

Mr Ode is one of the lucky ones.

His store is on the southwest side of the Plaza de Armas, central Lima's main square, so he at least gets some passing trade.

Looking for customers

On the other side of the Plaza lies Escribanos Passage.

Legally, they have the right to demonstrate whenever they want

Patricia Dias, Pro Lima

Some of Peru's smartest restaurants and cafes were invited to invest here four years ago.

Three have since closed down. Those that remain are struggling.

Jimena Bravo, owner of the Chocolat Cafe, spends most of her days looking hopefully for customers.

How much longer can this continue?

"That's the question," she replies, despondently.

The right to demonstrate

So why does the government not just ban the marches?

Boarded up shops in Lima
Many businesses have already left Lima

There are two reasons, both of them political.

Firstly, under the previous government of Alberto Fujimori, dissent was not tolerated.

The current president, Alejandro Toledo, does not want his democratic credentials besmirched by a crackdown.

"Legally, they have the right to demonstrate whenever they want," says Patricia Dias of Pro Lima, an arm of the municipal government charged with regenerating the capital's historic centre.

All protesters have to do is warn the local prefecture in advance.

Wooing the voters

The second reason is that on November 17, Peruvians go to the polls for local and regional elections.

No-one, least of all the incumbent mayor of Lima, Alberto Andrade, nor the president, whose party is expected to perform appallingly in the upcoming elections, is prepared to get on the wrong side of voters.

Salvador Ode, shopkeeper
Salvador Ode: It's more difficult than ever

Doing nothing is the surest way to achieve this.

For local businesses, it seems the best they can hope for is some sort of agreement with the demonstrators on limiting marches to certain days and particular times.

Conversations have already taken place. Ms Dias is confident an agreement will be reached soon.

But for many businesses in Lima's historic centre, the damage has already been done.

"In the 57 years that we have been here," says Mr Ode, "the situation is more difficult now than ever before.

"They have every right to demonstrate and make their point. But they can't trample on our rights and prevent us from working.

"We understand their situation, but they also have to understand ours."

See also:

04 Oct 02 | Business
10 Sep 02 | Americas
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