Ms Duaa Ayaz is a graduate of Economics and Social Sciences. She is currently working as a freelance writer on Fiverr. Her sphere of interest includes international relations, geopolitics, foreign policy, security, and socio-economic issues of Pakistan and the world.
Situation in Peru
“Carajo!” chants a middle-aged campesino in the Andean town of Sicuani proclaiming his solidarity with the former president Pedro Castillo, who is being held in pre-trial detention after brazenly “breaching constitutional order”.
On December 7th, the farmer-and-teacher-turned-left-wing leader allegedly attempted a self-coup and tried to dissolve the legislature so as to preclude his impeachment for the third time. However, his inability to succeed resulted in his ouster—in accordance with Article 117 of the Peruvian Constitution—and subsequent replacement by vice president Dina Boluarte, who assumed power as Peru’s sixth president in five years.
At the moment, the capital, Lima, is ensnared by violent protests in condemnation of the former president’s removal. The pro-Castillo demonstrators deem the ouster ‘undemocratic’ and are demanding early elections besides the removal of Peru’s first female president who, they claim, hadn’t acceded to the presidency via popular vote.
Although the former vice president is ready to submit her own proposal for early elections, Peru’s heavily splintered Congress is unable to reach a consensus in accepting the ‘ideal’ proposal. On 1st February, the beleaguered president tweeted, “I regret that Congress has not reached the necessary consensus to advance elections. We will immediately present a bill so Peruvians can democratically elect their authorities in 2023”.
Cause of the Protests
Castillo’s dismissal was the ultimate trigger that instigated antagonism, primarily in the rural populace of the Andean region encompassing Puno, Apurimac, Cusco, Arequipa, and Ayacucho in southern Peru. However, the political turmoil emanated from long-standing grievances about soaring poverty and social discrimination in Peru’s Andean and Amazonian areas.
Income inequality coupled with rampant poverty has, throughout Peru’s history, stratified the Peruvians into the rich urban elite, the centralismo, and poor rural, the campesino. This social disparity is also personified by a wall topped with razor wire on the outskirts of Lima.
The highlands of the south rich in copper, though belonging to the local communities, get heavily exploited by the urban elites through mining operations, diverting the majority of socio-economic benefits towards Lima. This economic discrimination further deprives the rural communities and the indigenous children of basic necessities including food and shelter.
Historically, Peru’s south was also afflicted by a brutal armed conflict between Maoist ‘Shining Path’ guerrillas and the state spanning over two decades that resulted in the death and disappearance of about 69,000 people. Furthermore, the imposition of derogatory labels such as ‘terruqueo’ on left-wing supporters and the right-wing’s historic propaganda of fear-mongering and smear campaigning against them also deepened the divide between the urban elite (pro-right wing) and rural peasants (pro-left wing).
Owing to deep-seated socio-economic inequality, stigmatization, and bloody civil wars, the seething resentment of the farmers against Lima’s urban elite finally reached a boiling point and erupted in the heart of Peru. The protests in Peru also germinate from the indignation of the indigenous population that claimed to have experienced political alienation or political ‘disenfranchisement’ at the hands of the political elite.
Furthermore, unbridled corruption in a fragmented Congress, rapid turnovers of presidents, and deeply entrenched political instability since 2016 are other crucial causal factors that incited the recent protests. In this regard, Pedro Mamani, a student demonstrator exclaimed, “We are at a breaking point between dictatorship and democracy”.
In just two months, an ample number of demonstrators have been massacred by the security forces. Mass mobilisations of protesters have barricaded roads and airports, vandalised property, committed arson, and endured teargas fired by the police, in an attempt to secure their critical demands comprising Boluarte’s resignation, Congress’ dissolution, Castillo’s release, the call for early elections, and the formation of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution.
Implications of the Protests
In the aftermath of the escalation of the protests, the government declared a state of emergency on 14 December and imposed a curfew in 15 regions. Since then, constitutional rights such as freedom of mobility and assembly have also been curtailed. On 16 December, the Minister of Education, Patricia Correa, and the Minister of Culture, Jair Perez, both resigned as a result of insurrection-related deaths.
Human rights groups based in Lima reported that protesters in Ayacucho were gunned down by soldiers. They also pointed out that ruthless executions are extrajudicial killings and that the families of the victims must seek retribution. In this regard, Amnesty International advocated a ceasefire and called on the authorities to seek dialogue and ‘put human rights at the heart of crises.’
In addition, imprisoned Castillo noted that the United States was responsible for inciting violence in Peru, considering the US ambassador’s visit as a ‘ploy to massacre defenceless Peruvians’. The tumult has also exacerbated the law and order situation, prompting the closure of tourist spots such as the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu.
The US State Department has listed Peru on a ‘Level 3: reconsider travel’ advisory and the same has been followed by Britain. The economic sector of Peru is widely disrupted due to prevailing crises hindering economic growth that was once propelled by foreign direct investment as well as tourism.
The protests have also halted mining operations in regions like Chinese-owned copper mine Las Bambas, Freeport-McMoran’s (FCX.N), Cerro Verde and Glencore’s (GLEN.L) Antapaccay mine. Besides mining companies, small business enterprises have also incurred huge losses due to the protests adding up to $1.3 billion in total damage, as per government estimates.
Future of Peru
Not much can be foretold about the future of Peru as the protests have only intensified over time. Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the UN, urged the Peruvian authorities to exercise restraint, so as to curtail a possible upsurge in violence and engage in an all-inclusive dialogue to address the political turmoil. However, peace cannot prevail in Peru without accepting the demands of demonstrators and popular will.
With Dina Boluarte taking charge as the President, a majority of Latin American governments have voiced reservations about the ouster of Castillo. These countries include Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Honduras, Mexico, Venezuela and some Caribbean nations On the contrary, the US administration has shown its support, approving the current regime in Peru and affirming to engage in diplomatic ties with the country’s current regime.
Analysts opine that only early general elections can ease the growing tensions in Peru. Due to resistance, the president is willing to engage in a political truce besides proposing early elections. However, the disintegrated Congress doesn’t seem to converge on an election proposal that could hold the elections in the latter half of 2023, as per the demands of the protesters.
Perhaps Congress will consider to reschedule the 2026 elections to be held earlier in April 2024, but there seems to be no official confirmation so far. President Dina adjured the Congress on 1st February saying: “We reiterate our call for Congress to view this proposal with the sense of responsibility and urgency that the country demands”.
The poll generated by the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos (IEP) states that about 73% of people voted in favour of elections to be held in 2023. As for the demand that the ballot be held in 2023, the lawmakers of Congress are unable to engage or unanimously vote on new legislation.
On the economic front, the recent uprising can open discourse that would challenge the existent socio-economic neo-liberal model which favours the country’s elite. In the aftermath of the protests, experts note that the new economic model aspired by the demonstrators, if effectuated, would incorporate reforms that reduce inequality, marginalisation, and stigmatization of rural communities. Nonetheless, a peaceful future for Peru can only be anticipated when all stakeholders take responsibility to address the grievances of the neglected south.
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