Peru has declared a national state of emergency. In the last week, since the now ex-president Pedro Castillo had tried to dissolve the Congress, street protests have amplified.
On Wednesday, December 7, President Castillo announced that he would dissolve Congress for “restoring the rule of law and democracy in Peru” and call new elections. This was termed a coup and a vote was taken to remove him which subsequently led to his arrest for rebellion and conspiracy against the state constitution.
It wasn't the first time Castillo has been impeached. As early as December 2021, he had avoided a prosecution attempt for “moral incapacity"1 right-wing exponents led by Keiko Fujimori to govern, but the motion did not gather the necessary votes and was rejected by 76 votes against 46.
Another attempt at impeachment was avoided by Castillo on March 28 of this year when there were fifty-five votes in favor and, therefore, once again, insufficient to support the charge of corruption and “permanent moral incapacity".
After the congressional vote, Peruvian judges gave a mandate to the police to arrest President Castillo and detain him for seven days. The leader was escorted to the same prison where former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori is serving a prison sentence for crimes against humanity committed during his presidency.
In the following days, multiple protest demonstrations were triggered in different regions of the country. The population is divided between those who demand new elections and the release of the president and those who protest against the perennial corruption in local politics. The demonstrators supporting Castillo are asking to go to the vote immediately rather than allowing the new president to remain in power until 2026, the natural end of the legislation.
In Arequipa, Peru's second city, protesters tried to block the airport by setting fire to tires and throwing stones on the runway. In Andahuaylas, clashes between police and rioters caused two deaths and at least five injuries.
Despite the commitment announced by the new president, Dina Boluarte, to call new early elections first in April 2024, then, on Wednesday, in December 2023, the protests have not subsided.
On Sunday, December 11, protests were reported in many cities including Cajamarca, Arequipa, Huancayo, Cusco and Puno. In her speech on Monday, Boluarte (first female president), declared a state of emergency in the areas of "high conflict", a move that would allow the armed forces to take more control if needed.
"I gave the instructions so that the control of internal order can be restored peacefully, without affecting the fundamental rights of the people"2, said the new president, lamenting the deaths in Apurimac.
Boluarte's promise to bring forward the elections has not produced the desired effects and protesters continue to demand her resignation, the closure of the Congress no longer representative of the Peruvian people and the release of Castillo.
The main airlines, including LATAM, have canceled domestic flights to Arequipa and Cusco due to the demonstrations. Protesters continued to block highways in 11 departments, mainly in the south of the country, including sections of the Pan-American Highway, a vital artery that runs along the Pacific coast. Also in the Peruvian Amazon, the nation's largest indigenous federation, AIDESEP (Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana), announced mass mobilizations to demand immediate general elections.
A national state of emergency was declared on Wednesday and the defense minister announced that the 30-day measure involves "the suspension of freedom of movement and assembly" and may include a curfew following "vandalism and violence", including roadblocks. "The National Police with the support of the Armed Forces will guarantee control throughout the national territory of personal property and, above all, of strategic infrastructure and the safety and well-being of all Peruvians", Minister Alberto Otarola said.
Castillo's supporters continue to call for their leader's release as well as new elections and the removal of his successor, former vice president Dina Boluarte.
Meanwhile, on Thursday 15 December, a commission of the Supreme Court extended Castillo's detention by 18 months. The decision does not address the merits of the charges, but a judge has stated that there is a risk of flight, which emerged following the ex-president's attempt to seek asylum at the Mexican embassy in Lima.
For his part, Castillo denied all the allegations against him and tweeted: "That's enough! The indignation, humiliation and ill-treatment continue. Today they limit my freedom again with 18 months of pre-trial detention. I hold judges and prosecutors accountable for what happens in the country."
On the same day in Ayacucho seven people were killed in clashes with the police and the government imposed a curfew in 15 provinces, particularly in the rural Andean ones. Authorities say at least 15 people have died across the country to date and two hundred policemen have been injured.
Four Italian girls also fell victim to the protests. On Wednesday, the bus they were traveling in was blocked for 24 hours by protesters supporting Castillo near the town of Checacupe.
Last Friday, late in the evening, ANSA sources reported that the four compatriots managed to leave again for Cusco escorted by the police.
1 art.113 c.2 Political Constitution of Peru 1993