Peru Protests: Why Peru is in Turmoil



CNN

Peru is witnessing some of the worst violence in decades, which erupted last month after the overthrow of former President Pedro Castillo, as demonstrators opposed to the current government called for political change in the country.

In December, a state of emergency was imposed, airports and highways became the site of some clashes, and hundreds of foreign tourists were stranded in the country in the chaos.

So far, dozens of people have died in clashes with security forces, and human rights groups allege that authorities have used excessive force against the protests, including with firearms. The military said the protesters used explosives and weapons, according to Reuters.

Over the weekend, the Peruvian government extended the state of emergency for 30 days in the capital Lima, the regions of Cusco and Puno and the constitutional province of Callao. The state of emergency suspends many constitutional rights such as freedom of movement and assembly.

The post of Peru’s new president, Dina Boulwart, seems as beleaguered as her predecessor’s. In January, the Peruvian attorney general’s office launched an investigation into Bouluart’s handling of the unrest, and several of its ministers resigned.

Castillo’s removal accelerated long-simmering political tensions in the country.

The demonstrators are calling for new elections, Boulwart’s resignation, a change in the constitution and the release of Castillo, who is currently in pre-trial detention.

A former teacher and union leader who had never held elected office before becoming president, Castillo was himself from rural Peru and styled himself as a man of the people. Many of his supporters hailed from poor areas, hoping that Castillo would bring better prospects to the country’s rural and indigenous people.

While the protests took place across the country, the worst violence was in the rural and indigenous areas of the south, which have long been at odds with the country’s white elites and coastal mestizo, a person of mixed ancestry.

The public also views Peru’s legislature with skepticism. A president and members of Congress are not allowed consecutive terms, per Peruvian law, and critics have noted their lack of political experience.

Peruvian politics has been dysfunctional for years, with Pollarte becoming its sixth president since 2018.

It descended into political turmoil again in December when Castillo tried to dissolve Congress and install an emergency government.

Castillo, whose short time in office was after several corruption investigations, was impeached and removed from office. He is currently charged with the crimes of rebellion and conspiracy, which he has denied.

His supporters took to the streets in the days following his dismissal, calling for his release in what some called a “patriotic revolt”.

Bulwart attends the swearing-in ceremony in Lima, Peru on December 7.

Injuries resulting from demonstrators’ clashes with police further fueled fear and anger on both sides.

After the holiday lull, demonstrations resumed in early January. At least 17 people have died in anti-government protests in the southern city of Juliaca, in the Puno region – where the majority of the indigenous Aymara people live.

The head of the forensic medicine department in Juliaca told CNN en Español that an autopsy on the bodies of 17 of the dead found gunshot wounds.

Days later, police said, a police officer was burned to death by “unidentified persons” while on patrol in the area.

Bulwart struggled to appease the protesters. In mid-December, then-Minister of Defense Otarola declared a state of emergency, deploying troops to the streets.

The ensuing violence left hundreds injured, and the country’s ombudsman said at least 49 people have died since the protests began.

In January, Peru’s attorney general launched an investigation into Poulwart, Otarola and other key ministers for an alleged crime of “genocide, parole and grievous injury” in connection with the bloodshed. Polwart said it will cooperate with the investigation.

The attorney general’s office also said it would investigate former Prime Minister Pedro Angulo and former Interior Minister Cesar Cervantes, both of whom served under Boulwart for just a few weeks, for their involvement in handling the protests.

Several senior ministers have resigned since the protests began. The country’s former labor minister Eduardo García Permesa tendered his resignation on Thursday, calling on Peru’s president to apologize and hold general elections, according to a message posted on his Twitter account. The former Minister of the Interior, Victor Rojas Herrera, and the Minister of Women and Vulnerable Population, Grecia Rojas Ortiz, resigned the next day.

Despite mounting political pressure, Boulwart said she had no intention of leaving office.

In a televised address Friday on Peruvian state television, Boulwart told the nation: “I will not resign, my commitment is with Peru, not with that little group that makes the country bleed.”

The bloodshed in Peru has captured the world’s attention. On January 10, the European Union issued a statement condemning the violence and calling for dialogue in the country. The next day, a monitoring mission of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was sent to Peru.

“We remain deeply concerned about the ongoing violence in Peru and saddened by the injuries and deaths. All Peruvians deserve to live in peace and enjoy their hard-won democracy.” All parties and the government’s stated commitments to address the challenges sweeping the country.

The Organization of American States will meet on January 18 to “analyze the situation in Peru.”

Castillo emerged from obscurity to be elected in July 2021 by a narrow margin in the runoff, and was seen as part of a “pink tide” of new leftist leaders in Latin America.

Supporters of ousted President Pedro Castillo clash with police forces in the city of Juliaca in the Peruvian Andes on January 7, 2023.

Although his platform promises to rewrite the constitution and increase wealth redistribution, in his short presidency Castillo has struggled to make those pledges amid high inflation in Peru, his lack of political experience and a strong conservative opposition in Congress.

His government became mired in chaos, with scores of ministers appointed, replaced, sacked or resigned from office in just over a year. Castillo himself faced several corruption investigations and two failed impeachment attempts before he was ousted.

Castillo has repeatedly denied the allegations against him and reiterated his desire to cooperate with any corruption investigation. He said the allegations were the result of a witch-hunt against him and his family by groups that failed to accept his election victory.

His arrest infuriated many leaders of the Latin American left, who denounced his removal and alleged that Castillo had been the victim of “undemocratic harassment” since his election in 2021.

After his family was granted asylum in Mexico, Peru ordered Mexico’s ambassador to leave the country within 72 hours. The Peruvian Foreign Ministry said the decision was made after Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador made remarks about Peru, calling it “an unacceptable interference in internal affairs, in clear violation of the principle of non-interference.”

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