The violent protests in Peru seem unstoppable

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

In just over a month since the protests began, 49 people, including children and police officers, have been killed, the Associated Press reported Friday. The demonstrations are concentrated in the southern Andean region of Peru, particularly in the Puno region, Peru’s poorest region with the highest indigenous concentration, and in the cities of Ayacucho and Arequipa, among others, although more recently they have also taken place in the capital, Lima. this week. These are the areas where the call for Boluarte’s resignation is heard the most, among rural populations who saw in Castillo one of them – a “son of the soil” – intrude into the elite world of politics in Lima.

However, Castillo came inexperienced, unprepared and unwilling to compromise or form alliances. That is why his campaign promises more prosperity, better education and better health care for the rural poor remained largely unfulfilled. Just before a third attempt by the Peruvian Congress to impeach him, Castillo announced a own coup, a coup d’état, dissolving the government and establishing administration by decree. However, his ignominious tenure ended in his arrest; he is now in prison on multiple charges, including corruption.

The security forces of Boluarte and Peru, meanwhile, have been accused of using excessive force, resulting in the deaths and injuries of dozens of protesters.

Castillo squandered a chance for change in Lima

Castillo’s victory against Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former president and dictator Alberto Fujimori, marked a dramatic break from decades of right-wing rule by Lima’s elites in July 2021. But Castillo’s total lack of experience and political infrastructure, among other shortcomings, meant that despite his momentous election, he could not rule.

“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, a professor of Latin American social Sciences. at Tulane University, Vox said. “So they don’t have professionals, a workforce, that could be able to create or produce good government.”

Running on a Marxist platform, Castillo promised to nationalize the country’s massive mining industry, rewrite the Fujimori-era constitution, and impose higher taxes on the wealthy. Those promises, as well as Castillo’s own identity as a former schoolteacher, labor leader and campesino, garnered him support in the countryside and among the indigenous population, who make up about a quarter of Peru’s total population.

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

The stratification of Peruvian society and politics is remarkable, and an important aspect of the current turmoil. “Castillo took advantage of the complaint” in Peru, Arce said. “When we came out of the pandemic, poverty in Peru increased, many services collapsed, the health system [collapsed] – Castillo sort of stems from that complaint.

Castillo, though incompetent, politically disconnected, ill-equipped and possibly corrupt, was a powerful symbol for low-income, rural and indigenous peoples previously unrepresented at the highest levels of Peruvian politics. As Arce explained, Castillo didn’t perform particularly well in polls; he was not well liked, but Congress fared even worse.

Protesters who identified with Castillo and who already had serious, legitimate grievances against the Peruvian state and its elite are now involved in some of the bloodiest protests in Peru’s recent history. They have closed airports, blocked major roads and fought violently with the police. Meanwhile, Boluarte declared a state of emergency in December, in violation of Peruvians’ constitutional right to gather and travel freely throughout the country.

Right-wing critics of the protesters called them terrorists, recalling the deep national trauma of the Shining Path rebellion in the 1980s and 1990s. Maoist Shining Path insurgents killed an estimated 31,000 Peruvians, and their actions are still evoked in the Peruvian concept of terruqueo, as Simeon Tegel wrote in the Washington Post Thursday. Terruqueo, or berating an opponent by falsely accusing them of terrorism, has surfaced in recent protests – reportedly with racist overtones due to the protesters’ background, drawing a veil of impunity for using excessive force .

On Thursday, protesters attempted to take over the airport in the tourist city of Cusco, prompting officials to close the airport near the Macchu Picchu Inca citadel. Protesters in Puno set fire to a car with a police officer inside, set fire to a congressman’s house and stormed the airport there, while police fired tear gas and made live rounds at the protesters, according to the Washington Post.

Some groups, such as Amnesty International, have spoken out against Boluarte’s handling of the protests, singled out the national police and armed forces for using excessive force against the demonstrators, most recently on January 11, after at least 17 demonstrators 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 the human rights situation there.

Peru’s attorney general also opened an investigation into Boluarte and other top officials, charging them with “genocide, aggravated manslaughter and grievous bodily harm,” Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday. Castillo, meanwhile, pleads his case on Twitter from his cell in Barbadillo Prison.

Peruvian politics has been in crisis for some time now. That probably won’t change.

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

No Peruvian president has finished his term since 2016, and Boluarte is unlikely to complete the rest of Castillo’s, which is expected to expire in 2026. Boluarte has proposed postponing the election to 2024, which Congress agreed to, though protesters are demanding new elections for both the presidency and the legislature as soon as possible.

Boluarte has also managed to garner support from various small right-wing parties has the majority – another point of anger for the protesters who see her as moving to the right, despite being elected as the left. However, the legislature approved her government on Tuesday, an important 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 making headlines, they are concentrated outside the capital. While the protesters have the support of Peru’s largest federation of labor unions and largest indigenous association, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, it will be difficult to maintain momentum “unless they form alliances in Lima,” Arce said.

As for Peru’s political future, the end of Castillo’s presidency likely means the end of the left in Peru for now, Arce said. Boluarte’s critics argue, perhaps rightly, that although she was elected on a left-wing ticket, she has moved to the right since taking office, immediately distancing herself from Castillo after his attempted self-coup.

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

Leave a Comment