Protesters take to the streets to protest ouster of detained former leftist President Pedro Castillo who says he remains the legitimate President of Peru
Peru has exploded in protest, with at least seven dead in the last week and the smoke of fires and tear gas hanging over city streets.
The only way many Peruvians feel they can make their voices heard is in the street. In recent days, protesters have blocked roads, set fires, and even taken over airports. Police have come under criticism from human rights groups for use of firearms and teargas. At leave seven people, mostly teenagers, have died.
Ousted Peruvian President Pedro Castillo addresses the audience during the opening of the VII Ministerial Summit on Government and Digital Transformation of the Americas, in Lima, Peru on November 10, 2022.
There are echoes of protests in 2020, when thousands took to the streets after the impeachment and ouster of popular centrist leader Martin Vizcarra, who was succeeded by Congress leader Manuel Merino. After two died he also was forced to resign.
Peru’s constitution makes it relatively easy for an unhappy legislature to initiate an impeachment, while a lack of dominant political parties – the largest, Popular Force, controls just 24 of 130 seats – means agreement is thin on the ground. Corruption has also been a frequent problem.
The spark of the current unrest was the ouster and arrest of leftist leader Pedro Castillo after he tried to dissolve Congress illegally. It followed a months-long standoff where lawmakers impeached him three times, the final time removing him from office.
The political turmoil is increasingly threatening to derail its economic stability, with ratings agencies warning of downgrades, blockades impacting major mines in the world’s no. 2 copper producer, and protesters demanding Congress and new president Dina Boluarte step down.
Peru’s President Dina Boluarte speaks during a ceremony to commemorate the Day of the Peruvian Army and the anniversary of the Battle of Ayacucho, in Lima, Peru December 9, 2022. Peru’s Presidency/Handout via REUTERS
Castillo, less popular but with a support base in rural regions that helped him to a narrow election win last year, has looked to stoke things from jail, where he is being held while he is investigated over accusations of rebellion and conspiracy.
On Monday, he called Boluarte, his former vice president, a “usurper” in a written letter to the Peruvian people where he claimed to still be the country’s legitimate leader.
“What was said recently by a usurper is nothing more than the same snot and drool of the coup-mongering right,” he wrote, adding a call – long popular among a younger generation of Peruvians – for a new constitution.
“The people should not fall for their dirty games of new elections. Enough abuse! A Constituent Assembly now! Immediate freedom!” he wrote.
Boluarte, a former member of Castillo’s far-left party who fell out with its leader and criticized Castillo after his attempt to dissolve Congress, has called for calm around the country and pledged a government of all stripes. But she faces a tough reality, caught between protesters and a hostile parliament.
With the recent history of Peruvian leaders littered with impeachment and jail, it is questionable whether Boluarte can hang on until new elections are held.
“Dina Boluarte is a murderer. Five people have died, and they say nothing. Nothing matters to her, she is shameless, treacherous,” said Guadalupe Huaman, a Castillo supporter protesting with a Peruvian flag and hard hat in Lima.
On Tuesday, Dina Boluarte, moved to ease diplomatic tensions , saying she would talk with regional leaders who have come to her jailed predecessor’s defense, after her Mexican counterpart announced a pause in relations with Peru.
On Tuesday morning, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador criticized the removal of Castillo, a fellow leftist, as undemocratic.
“The will of the people who elected (Castillo) should be respected,” Lopez Obrador told reporters at a regular government news conference, arguing that Castillo had won a free election last year and could not be removed.
On Monday, the governments of Mexico, Bolivia, Colombia and Argentina issued a joint statement calling for the protection of Castillo’s human and judicial rights and labeled him “a victim of undemocratic harassment.”