More violent demonstrations and deaths in Peru

(To Antonino Lombardi)

Six soldiers drowned while trying to swim across the Ilave River to escape the wrath of protesters. The military were trying to reach the city of Juli, near Lake Titicaca, to contain the violent demonstrations demanding the resignation of the president1.

The soldiers initially tried to cross the river using a bridge but, blocked by protesters, they were forced to look for another crossing point and got stuck in the freezing waters.

Since December 7, when former president Pedro Castillo was accused and imprisoned after trying to dissolve Congress, Peru has been at the mercy of violent demonstrations that have led to the death of 64 people, 48 of whom were civilians.

The Puno region, among those where the call for the resignation of President Dina Boluarte, the calling of early elections and the release of Castillo is strongest, has seen particularly intense protests, including that of 9 January in which 18 civilians. Last Sunday, again in Juli, at least 18 people, ten agents and eight civilians were injured in clashes between supporters of the former president and the security forces.

The situation is still very chaotic and, even if the president Dina Boluarte some time ago said that the only explanation for these continuous demonstrations was to be found in a work of hidden national and even foreign malignant forces, the motivations should be sought in the profound frustration with a corrupt and defaulting political system. Not only therefore a simple factional struggle or social claims but a constant concern for an authoritarian drift of local politics. Here Peruvians from all walks of life took to the streets putting their lives on the line for a democracy they see threatened by the very institutions that should instead embody it.

Since the early 90s, Peru has had a succession of presidents who have undermined the confidence of the people.

In 1990, Alberto Fujimori, having won the elections, undertook a series of neoliberal reforms which included the privatization of companies and public assets, a tightening of monetary policy and the end of state participation in private activity. Strong opposition from Parliament led Fujimori to dissolve Congress in 1992 and concentrate all power in his own hands. In 1993 he proposed a new one that further limited the state's role in the economy and reduced the legislature to a single chamber.

In 2000 he was re-elected and after intense demonstrations against him and the dissemination of videos showing how his government had bribed officials, businessmen, military personnel, journalists and members of the opposition, he resigned and was removed from Congress. He sought refuge in Japan until he was arrested, extradited and tried for crimes against humanity. In 2009 he was convicted of human rights violations by a national court.

After him, five successive presidents of Peru have been accused of corruption during or after their mandate. 

In 2021 Pedro Castillo was elected who, after episodes of corruption that also involved members of his family and with more than eighty ministers alternating in his government in less than two years, did not turn out to be the politician of change that everyone expected. After two failed attempts to oust him and while Congress was preparing a third for his ousting, on December 7 of last year, Castillo attempted a failed self-coup and ended up being arrested.

Dina Boluarte, who became president, ignited popular indignation in particular for not having immediately called new elections, confirming in the first instance those scheduled for 2026. At the moment, after the rejection by Congress of the early election proposal put forward by the president , the situation on this front has stalled.

For the past three months, violent strikes and roadblocks have been taking place in almost all of Peru. A national state of emergency has been declared, curfews have been imposed in some cities, and the military has been sent in to assist the police in some areas. 

President Boluarte has defined these protests as vandalistic and terrorist, failing to demonize them.

In a report on Monday, a panel of United Nations experts expressed deep concern about the continued allegations of repression, arbitrary killings, arrests, detentions and enforced disappearances of protesters and urged the Peruvian authorities to establish a dialogue with the population to put end the country's political crisis.

The experts reaffirmed the state's obligation to conduct thorough, timely, effective, impartial and independent investigations into alleged human rights violations. They recalled that accountability for human rights violations committed during the protests must be ensured.


Photo: Mayimbu