Peru’s violent protests show no signs of stopping

Peru’s violent protests show no signs of stopping

Peru’s violent protests show no signs of stopping

Protests in Peru linked to the arrest of former President Pedro Castillo have turned increasingly violent, claiming many lives, and show no real signs of abating. Despite unprecedented political violence and calls for his resignation, Castillo’s successor and former vice president, President Dina Boluarte, on Sunday refused to step down, saying, “My commitment is with Peru.”

In just over a month since the protests began, 49 people, including children and police officers, have been killed, The Associated Press reported on Friday. The protests are concentrated in the Andean region of southern Peru, particularly in the region of Puno, the poorest in Peru and which has the highest concentration of indigenous people, and in the cities of Ayacucho and Arequipa, between others, although they also occurred in the capital Lima as recently as this week. These are the areas where calls for Boluarte’s resignation resonate the most, among the rural populations who saw in Castillo one of their own—a “son of the soil”—to penetrate the political elite of Lima.

However, Castillo entered the office inexperienced, unprepared, and unwilling to compromise or make alliances. For this reason, his campaign promises greater prosperity, better education and health care for the rural poor. have gone largely unnoticed. Just before a third attempt by the Peruvian Congress to impeach him, Castillo announced a autogolpe, a self-coup, dissolving the government and establishing governance by decree. However, his ignominious tenure ended with his arrest; he is now in prison on several counts, including bribery.

Boluarte and Peruvian security forces, meanwhile, have been accused of using excessive force resulting in the death and injury of dozens of protesters.

Castillo wasted an opportunity for change in Lima

Castillo’s victory over Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former president and dictator Alberto Fujimori, represented a dramatic break with decades of right-wing rule by Lima’s elites in July 2021. But the complete lack of experience and Castillo’s political infrastructure, among other failures, meant that despite being elected capital, he could not govern.

“Castillo’s party has never been in government, they don’t have the experience, so if you think Castillo represents the left in Peru, the left has never been in power,” said Moisés Arce, professor of Latin American social sciences. at Tulane University, told Vox. “So they don’t have the professionals, the manpower, that could be able to create or produce good government.”

Castillo ran on a Marxist platform, promising to nationalize the country’s massive mining industry, rewrite the Fujimori-era constitution and impose higher taxes on the wealthy. These promises, along with Castillo’s own identity as a former schoolteacher, labor leader and campesino, have won him support in rural areas and among the indigenous population, which makes up about a quarter of Peru’s total population.

“If there was a moment to create redistribution, bigger social programs for the poor, expand health care, you name it — it was Castillo,” Arce said, indicating the conditions for change were there, but Castillo failed to meet the moment due to “a total lack of preparation.”

The stratification of Peruvian society and politics is remarkable and is an important aspect of the current unrest. “Castillo tapped into the grievance” in Peru, Arce said. “Coming out of the pandemic, poverty in Peru increased, many services collapsed, the health system [collapsed] – Castillo somehow emerges from this grievance.

Castillo, though incompetent, politically unconnected, ill-equipped, and possibly corrupt, was a powerful symbol for low-income, rural, and indigenous people who had no previous representation at the highest levels of Peruvian politics. As Arce explained, Castillo did not perform particularly well in public opinion polls; he was not well liked, but Congress fared even worse.

Protesters who identified with Castillo and who already had serious and legitimate grievances with the Peruvian state and its elite are now engaged in some of the bloodiest protests in Peru’s recent history. They closed airports, blocked major roads and clashed violently with police. Meanwhile, Boluarte imposed a state of emergency in December that undermines the constitutional rights of Peruvians to gather and move freely around the country.

Right-wing critics of the protesters called them terrorists, evoking the deep national trauma of the Shining Path insurgency of the 1980s and 1990s. Maoist Shining Path insurgents killed an estimated 31,000 Peruvians, and their actions are still discussed the Peruvian concept of terruqueo, as Simeon Tegel wrote in The Washington Post on Thursday. Terruqueo, or smearing an opponent by falsely accusing them of terrorism, has bubbled up in recent protests – allegedly with racist overtones due to the protesters’ backgrounds, providing a veil of impunity for excessive use of force.

Protesters attempted to take control of the airport in the tourist town of Cusco on Thursday, prompting authorities to close the airport near the Inca citadel of Macchu Picchu. Protesters in Puno torched a car with a police officer inside, torched the home of a congressman and stormed the airport there, while police used tear gas and live ammunition against protesters, according to the Washington Post.

Some groups like Amnesty International have spoken out against Boluarte’s handling of protests, pointing the finger at the national police and armed forces for using excessive force against protesters, most recently on January 11, after at least 17 protesters were killed in the town of Juliaca in the Puno region. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also sent a delegation to Peru on Wednesday to observe human rights conditions there.

Peru’s attorney general has also opened an investigation into Boluarte and other senior officials, accusing them of “genocide, aggravated homicide and serious bodily harm”, Agence France-Presse reported on Tuesday. Castillo, meanwhile, plead his case on Twitter from his cell in Barbadillo prison.

Peruvian politics have long been in crisis. This is unlikely to change.

Peru is no stranger to political upheaval; Alberto Fujimori, a dictator and Peru’s best-known leader, began his term as democratically elected president. He took power the same way Castillo tried to do in December. Fujimori ruled Peru from 1990 to 2000, after which he fled to Japan; he is currently in prison for human rights abuses committed while in power.

Since 2016, no Peruvian president has completed his term, and Boluarte is unlikely to complete the rest of Castillo’s, which is expected to end in 2026. Boluarte has proposed delaying elections until 2024, which the congress agreed, although protesters are demanding new elections for both the presidency and the legislature as soon as possible.

Boluarte has also managed to muster the support of several smaller right-wing parties which, together, hold the majority – another point of anger for protesters who see her as moving to the right despite being elected as a leftist. However, the legislature approved his government on Tuesday, a significant vote of confidence despite the unrest.

Ultimately, what happens next depends on what happens in Lima, Arce said. And while the protests are violent, dramatic and grabbing headlines, they are concentrated outside the capital. Although, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, the protesters have the support of Peru’s largest trade union federation and its largest indigenous association, it will be difficult to maintain the momentum “unless they make alliances in Lima,” Arce said.

In terms of Peru’s political future, the end of Castillo’s presidency also likely means the end of the left in Peru for now, Arce said. Boluarte’s critics argue, perhaps correctly, that although she was elected on a left-wing list, she has shifted to the right since taking office and immediately distanced herself from Castillo after her self-hit attempt.

“You can’t really predict things in Peru,” Arce said, “but I think Castillo, in a way, delegitimized any meaning of what the left is or what the left should be. “

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