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Since December 2022, many demonstrations have happened across Peru, demanding that the current President, Dina Boluarte, resign and the country host new elections. The protests support the ousted former President Pedro Castillo. The protests have caused authorities to block key roads and shut down several Peruvian airports and popular tourist destinations in Peru, such as Machu Picchu. In response, security forces have used excessive violence to stop the protests, killing over 60 people in the process since the demonstrations began. These protests are due to marginalized communities, such as Indigenous, rural, and farming communities, being left out of decision-making processes regarding the country’s politics and economy these past several decades.
What Caused the Protests?
In 2021, Pedro Castillo, a former schoolteacher from a rural farming family with no previous experience working in Peruvian politics, won the presidential elections. His win marked a significant moment for working-class members and Indigenous communities to represent in state politics. Castillo won with 50.13 percent of the vote, beating his right-wing opponent, Keiko Fujimori, who had 49.87 percent.
Castillo ran as a candidate for the left-wing Peru Libre (PL) party with high expectations that he would address the COVID-19 pandemic, increase funding for education, and reduce poverty levels and inequality for Indigenous communities. Unfortunately, Castillo faced many challenges that restricted his ability to pass legislation. Peru witnessed a significant turnover of cabinet ministers, with the appointment of 78 ministers within 16 months. Furthermore, the right-wing opposition held the majority of seats within Congress, repeatedly blocking any legislation Castillo intended to pass. The mainstream media in Peru often defended the opposition and criticized Castillo’s politics.
Castillo was also the subject of investigations into many alleged corruption charges and was threatened with impeachment twice by the right-wing opposition. On December 7, 2022, Castillo faced a third impeachment attempt brought on by the allegations of corruption. He tried avoiding this charge by enacting emergency powers and trying to dissolve Congress to prevent representatives from voting for his impeachment. However, his attempt failed, and Castillo was removed from office and then arrested for allegedly “breaching constitutional order” and inciting rebellion. His vice-president, Dina Boluarte, was eventually sworn in as president until 2026. Notably, in January 2022, Dina Boluarte was dismissed from the Peru Libre Party and later decided to side with the right-wing opposition. Boluarte is the sixth president to hold office in Peru since 2018.
Many have described Castillo’s actions as an attempted self-coup or, in Spanish, an autogolpe. This is when a legally-elected head of state attempts to remain in power through illegal methods. However, the former president argued that the right-wing opposition in Congress trying to impeach him started a coup d’état.
What Are the Protests Calling For?
Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in response to Castillo’s impeachment and the appointment of Boluarte as the new president. The protesters disagree with Castillo’s impeachment, arguing that his attempt to stay in power was a justified response to the coup undertaken by the majority right-wing Congress to remove their Indigenous president. The demonstrations are a grassroots movement with no defined leader composed primarily of Castillo supporters, teachers’ unions and rural Indigenous communities. Social organizations, like the Workers General Confederation of Peru and the National Agrarian Confederation, also support the protests. Like former President Castillo, many protesters come from farming and rural Andean communities.
The protesters demand Congress dissolve, removing Boluarte and hosting new elections. While not the primary demand, they call for Castillo’s release from prison. The demonstrations gained momentum after the violent crackdown by the state against the protesters. Because of this violent police response, university students and people who did not previously support Castillo joined the protests in Peru. Peruvians are also seeking justice for the protesters killed at the hands of authorities.
In response to the protests, the police and military forces started using tear gas and lethal weapons and opening fire on civilians, resulting in thousands of injured people and at least 60 deaths. President Boluarte and the mainstream media in Peru have blamed the deaths on protesters attacking one another with homemade weapons, accusing them of terrorism. She also failed to acknowledge the disproportionate violence enacted by the police and military. Accusing civil society organizations, protesters, and political opponents of terrorism is a tactic that undermines the importance of the political activism which has been taking place across the country over the past few months. While Boluarte has apologized for the deaths, she has also refused to step down as president, stating that she is committed to working for Peru. Instead, Boluarte called on protesters to cease the demonstrations and accept a nationwide truce to compromise on the political issues between the central government and rural communities. However, protesters maintain that until the government provides a solution to the ongoing political and economic crises, the protests in Peru will continue.
The disproportionate violence used by the police and military against the protesters reveals a deep divide between the Peruvian elites in Lima, Peru’s capital city, and the suppressed rural regions of the country. Indigenous communities primarily make up the rural regions located in the Andean mountain range and the Amazon basin. According to the 2017 census, 25 percent of Peru’s total population identify as Indigenous, the majority identifying as Quechua.
Systemic violence and racism have historically excluded Indigenous peoples and rural communities from obtaining political power. Likewise, political power in Peru has historically been concentrated in the hands of Lima’s economic and political elites. According to Aljazeera, “illiterate people in Peru did not have voting rights until 1979,” which silenced many people in rural and Indigenous communities for most of Peruvian history. Moreover, political organizing by these communities has consistently been suppressed by resource-extractive industries. Mining, oil, and gas industries are concentrated heavily in rural Indigenous communities across Peru. These industries negatively impact the climate and the surrounding communities with little political power against the interests of corporations and politicians in Lima. This issue is why representation in Peruvian politics is crucial for Indigenous communities to obtain self-determination and political power.
What Happens Next?
There is overwhelming support for new elections to happen before Boluarte’s term ends in 2026. Peru agreed to move the elections to April 2024; however, Boluarte proposed moving the elections to December 2023 in response to the ongoing nationwide protests. Despite this, a divided Congress rejected the vote to move elections on three separate occasions.
Peruvians remain divided on reconstructing their political system to represent every community in Peru better. Some protest supporters advocate for new institutional changes so that more Peruvian citizens can be represented within the existing political system. Other people support constitutional reform allowing Peru to become a plurinational state. This would mean several separate nations collaborating and coexisting within the larger Peruvian state, allowing for greater self-determination and political power for Indigenous and rural communities, especially those in the Peruvian Andes. While there does not appear to be one distinct solution to the ongoing political crises in Peru, it is evident that structural changes are required to stop the repression, racism, and discrimination against marginalized rural and Indigenous communities.
Edited by Light Naing