Peru’s violent protests show no signs of stopping

Peru’s violent protests show no signs of stopping

Protests in Peru over the arrest of former president Pedro Castillo have become increasingly violent, leading to many deaths, and show no real signs of abating. Despite unprecedented political violence and calls for her resignation, Castillo’s successor and former vice 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 Peru’s southern Andean region, particularly in the Puno region, Peru’s poorest and with the highest concentration of indigenous people, and in the cities of Ayacucho and Arequipa, among others, although they have also occurred in the capital Lima recently. this week. These are the areas where the calls for Boluarte’s resignation are loudest, among rural populations who saw in Castillo one of their own – a “son of the soil” – penetrating the elite world of politics in Lima.

However, Castillo came to office inexperienced, unprepared and unwilling to compromise or make alliances. For this reason, his campaign promises of greater prosperity, improved education and health care for the rural poor have remained largely unfulfilled. Shortly before a third attempt by Peru’s congress to impeach him, Castillo announced an autogolpe, a self-coup, dissolving the government and establishing rule by decree. However, his ignominious tenure ended with his arrest; he is now in prison on multiple charges including corruption.

Boluarte and Peru’s security forces, meanwhile, have been accused of using excessive force that resulted in the deaths and injuries of dozens of protesters.

Castillo missed an opportunity for change in Lima

Castillo’s victory against Keiko Fujimori, 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 Castillo’s total lack of experience and political infrastructure— s, among other failures, meant that despite his important election, he could not govern.

“Castillo’s party has never been in government, they have no experience, so if you think that Castillo represents the left in Peru, the left has never been in power,” Moisés Arce, a professor of Latin American social sciences. at Tulane University, told Vox. “So they don’t have professionals, a workforce, that might be able to create or produce a 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, as well as Castillo’s own identity as a former schoolteacher, union leader and campesino, garnered him support in rural areas and among the indigenous population, which represents about a quarter of Peru’s total population.

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

The stratification of Peruvian society and politics is worth noting and a significant aspect of the current unrest. “Castillo exploited the complaint” in Peru, Arce said. “Coming out of the pandemic, poverty in Peru increased, many services collapsed, the health system [collapsed] — Castillo somehow gets out of that complaint.”

Castillo, though incompetent, politically unconnected, ill-equipped and possibly corrupt, was a powerful symbol for low-income, rural and indigenous people who had previously lacked 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 the congress turned out even worse.

Protesters who identified with Castillo and who already had serious, legitimate grievances with 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 main roads and clashed violently with the police. Meanwhile, Boluarte imposed a state of emergency in December, which violates the constitutional rights of Peruvians to assemble and move freely within the country.

Right-leaning critics of the protesters have labeled them terrorists, evoking the deep national trauma of the Shining Path uprising of the 1980s and 1990s. Shining Path Maoist 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 on Thursday. Terruqueo, or smearing an opponent by falsely accusing them of terrorism, has erupted in recent protests – allegedly with racist overtones due to the backgrounds of the demonstrators, providing a veil of impunity for the use of excessive force.

On Thursday, protesters tried to occupy the airport in the tourist city of Cusco, prompting officials to close the airport near the Macchu Picchu Inca citadel. Protesters in Puno torched a car with a police officer inside, set a congressman’s house on fire and attacked the airport there, as police fired tear gas and live rounds against demonstrators, according to the Washington Post.

Some groups such as Amnesty International have spoken out against Boluarte’s handling of the protests, singling out the National Police and the Armed Forces for excessive use of force against protesters, most recently on January 11, after at least 17 protesters were killed in the town of Juliaca in Puno region. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also sent a delegation to Peru on Wednesday to monitor human rights conditions there.

Peru’s attorney general also opened an investigation into Boluarte and other top officials, accusing them of “genocide, qualified killing and grievous bodily harm,” Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday. Castillo, meanwhile, is pleading his case on Twitter from his jail cell at Barbadillo Prison.

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

Peru is no stranger to political turmoil; Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s most popular dictator and leader, began his term as a democratically elected president. He took power in a similar fashion to how Castillo tried to return 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.

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

Boluarte has also managed to cobble together support from several small right-wing parties that together hold a majority – another point of anger for protesters who see him as moving to the right despite being elected as a leftist. However, the legislature approved her government on Tuesday, a significant vote of confidence despite the turmoil.

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

As for Peru’s political future, the end of Castillo’s presidency will likely also mean the end of the Left in Peru for now, Arce said. Boluarte’s critics argue, perhaps rightly, that although she was elected on a leftist ticket, she has drifted to the right since taking office and immediately distanced herself from Castillo after his coup attempt.

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

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