Unrest in Peru

Photograph Source: Galería del Ministerio de Defensa del Perú – CC BY 2.0

Peru unrest highlights country’s instability As Peru experiences nationwide anti-government protests following the removal of President Pedro Castillo after what appears to have been an attempted self-coup, current President Dina Boluarte said she would not step down in the face of violent protests over her predecessor’s ouster as she called on lawmakers to bring forward elections as a way to quell unrest.

Authorities in Peru also arrested six police generals on Monday as part of an investigation into corruption which authorities say Castillo was directly involved in.

It is unclear if this was a self-coup or an imposed coup. Some of the leaders of the region’s countries see Castillo as the victim of a coup rather than the perpetrator. The leaders of Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Bolivia issued a statement declaring the ousted Castillo as “the victim of anti-democratic bullying” and calling on Peru’s government institutions “to refrain from reversing the people’s will as expressed in a free vote.”

Protesters have blocked highways, set buildings on fire and taken over airports in the wake of Castillo’s move, after he tried to shut down Congress to avoid an impeachment vote he feared losing.    Demonstrators are demanding early polls, and the release of Castillo who

Demonstrators are demanding early polls, and the release of Castillo who appears to have caused this political upheaval over his claim that he is protesting what he said is a hostile Congress which made it extremely difficult for him to govern.

Castillo, 53, was the president of Peru since July 2021. Prior to his presidency, Castillo was a school teacher from a humble background and a union leader in Peru’s rural areas. He ran for president as the candidate of the Peru Libre party and campaigned on a platform that included promises to reduce poverty, combat corruption, and promote social justice. Castillo was elected by a public deeply frustrated by conventional politics, so when he delivered his surprise address to the nation that he intended to dissolve Congress and replace it with an “exceptional emergency government” and also declared a nationwide state of emergency, which he said was aimed at “re-establishing the rule of law and democracy,” the public was not willing to accept it.

Boluarte, 60, the former vice president who assumed the presidency on December 7, has insisted that Congress approve her proposal for a constitutional amendment that would have pushed up elections, originally scheduled for 2026, to December 2023. But now, Boluarte has refused to resign despite the worsening protests that have left at least 20 people dead and more than 500 demonstrators and security forces wounded.

The crisis has only deepened the instability gripping the country, which has seen six presidents in as many years. The country has seen a series of presidents ousted and a number of ex-presidents sent to prison for crimes committed during their time in office. Castillo’s cabinet underwent constant change and in one unusual incident in 2020, the country had three presidents in the space of only five days.

Yet Peru’s problems go back a few decades, if not more. Peruvians experience deep poverty, inequality, corruption, social and political instability, and a lack of access to quality education, healthcare, and other basic services. In addition, natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods have also caused hardship and discontent in the country as dysfunctional governments have been slow to respond to the needs of citizens. Peruvians, like people in many other countries, want change for a variety of reasons.

They feel that the current political, economic, or social systems in Peru are not meeting their needs or addressing their concerns, and therefore want to see changes in these systems. They feel that the country is facing significant challenges, such as poverty, inequality, and corruption. They also see that the country is not making progress in areas such as education, healthcare, and infrastructure, and want to see improvements and not just empty political promises. Peruvians are fed up with the status quo and the election of Castillo was an expression of their feelings that the status quo is not serving them or their country well, and that there are opportunities for improvement.

US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price announced that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke on December 16 with Boluarte. “Blinken encouraged Peru’s institutions and civil authorities to redouble their efforts to make needed reforms and safeguard democratic stability,” he said, adding that the US “looks forward” to working with Boluarte on “human rights, security, anti-corruption, and economic prosperity.”

Blinken also called for “constructive dialogue to ease political divisions and focus on reconciliation.”

Through its embassy in Lima, the United Kingdom also condemned “acts of vandalism and violence,” especially “those who take advantage of peaceful protests to sow discord and instability.” “We call to seek dialogue, reach agreements, and work together with President Boluarte and her government to follow the constitutional order, and guarantee a peaceful and democratic path,” the UK added.

These calls for order, peace, and stability are expected but they do little to help the citizens on the ground. Castillo’s self-coup should be viewed as testament to the poor political reality in Peru and the dysfunctional relationship between the executive and legislative branches. The unrest should also be viewed through the prism of the changing world order, with public protests taking place in Iran and China, and the ongoing Russian war against Ukraine.

The people of Peru may be seeing this is an opportune time to rise up and fight for their cause as opposed to sitting back and relying on the politicians. Castillo, whom the people hoped would prove to be the answer to their problems, seems not to have achieved their trust as their living conditions have not improved. The public’s discontent that brought Castillo into power will only grow further unless Peru’s leaders can find a way to improve the lives of citizens and ensure stability. Peru’s leaders must buckle down and deal with poverty, inequality, and corruption as well as problems with education, healthcare and infrastructure. Only then will Peru see a return to stability.

Chloe Atkinson is a climate change activist and consultant on global climate affairs.