Revived democratic struggle in Peru is well along into a second act. There was the parliamentary coup December 7 that removed democratically elected President Pedro Castillo and the “First Taking of Lima” in mid-January, embittered and excluded Peruvians occupied Lima and faced violent repression. Then on March 1 protests renewed as the indigenous inhabitants of Peru’s extreme southern regions prepared once more to demonstrate in Lima and would shortly be protesting in their own regions. The resistance’s make-up was fully on display.
Protesters throughout Peru were rejecting a replacement president and an elite-dominated congress and calling for early elections and a new constitution. They belonged for the most part belonged to Aymara communities in districts south of Lima extending from Lake Titicaca both west and northeast, into the Andes region.
Their complaints centered on wealth inequities, rule by a Lima-based elite, inadequate means for decent lives, and non-recognition of their cultural autonomy. Their support and that of other rural Peruvians had brought about the surprise election to Peru’s presidency in 2021 of the inexperienced Pedro Castillo. He had defeated Keiko Fujimori, daughter of a now imprisoned dictator and favorite of Peru’s neo-liberal enablers.
By March 1, residents of provinces close to the city of Puno were arriving in Lima to carry out the so-called “Second Wave of the Taking of Lima.” Demanding the de facto President Dina Boluarte resign, as of March 4 protesters had not been able to break through police lines surrounding key government buildings. The main action, however, was going on in the epicenter of police and military repression ever since Boluarte had taken office on December 7.
That would be the Puno area where most of the 60 deaths caused by violent repression have occurred, with 19 protesters having been killed on January 9 in Juliaca, a town 27 miles north of Puno city.
On March 5, violence was again playing out in Juli, a town 58 miles south of Puno, also on the shore of Lake Titicaca. Demonstrations along with roadblocks were in progress throughout the extended region, all in sympathy with the concurrent protests in Lima. Involved were indigenous groups, small farmer organizations, and social movements.
In Juli the demonstrators, confronted by military units and police in civilian dress, set fire to judicial office buildings and the police headquarters. The troops fired, shots came from open windows, and tear gas was released from a helicopter; 18 demonstrators were wounded.
Demonstrators blocking a bridge over a river prevented the entry of troops into the nearby town of Llave. Rains had caused flooding and in the process of swimming across the river, one of them drowned and five others disappeared.
Protesters captured 12 soldiers; community leader Nilo Colque indicated they were released after they admitted to trying to break the “strikes” but that they too opposed the military’s actions. Coolque predicted that soon 30,000 Aymaras would be descending on Juli and nearby population centers.
Aymara activists in Ilave announced a strike of indefinite duration. A “Committee of struggle” in Cusco announced the beginning as of March 7 of an indefinite strike in 10 provinces. The president of the national “Rondas Campesinas” (peasant patrols), said to represent two million Peruvians in all, announced a big march on Lima from all regions set for March 13.
Meanwhile Peru’s chief prosecutor has embarked upon an investigation of President Boluarte and other officials for crimes of “genocide, homicide resulting from circumstances, and causing serious injury,” that allegedly took place mostly in southern regions in the weeks immediately after her taking office.
There are these other developments:
* Peru’s Supreme Court on March 3 heard a proposal that the “preventive imprisonment of ex-President Castillo be extended from 18 to 36 months. Another court had previously denied his appeal for habeas corpus.
* The Congress as of March 6 looked to be on the verge of, for the fourth time, refusing to advance new presidential elections from April 2024 to sometime in 2013.
* The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has released a preliminary report accusing the new Peruvian government of excessive use of force against protesters.
* Polling results currently go one way: 77% of Peruvian reject the Dina Boluarte government, 70% say she should resign, 90% denounce Peru’s Congress. 69% favor moving general elections ahead to 2023, and 58% support the demonstrations. Most of those making up these majorities live in rural areas, according to the report.
The opposed sides in the Peruvian conflict are stalemated. Powerbrokers presently lack a government capable – willing though it may be – of providing structure and organization adequate for protecting their political and economic interests. Marginalized Peruvians are without an historical experience from which revolutionary leadership and strategies might have developed, such that now they might have direction and focus. The people’s movement there is not as lucky as counterparts were in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.
Now the U.S. government meddles with this state of precarious balance in Peru. And not surprisingly: it has long intervened militarily and is competing with China economically.
Speaking on March 1, State Department Ned Price did insist that in Peru, “our diplomats do not take sides in political disputes … They recognize that these are sovereign decisions.” He added that the United States backs “Peru’s constitution, and Peru’s constitutional processes.”
Even so, there is active interest hinting at more to come. Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols on February 28 urged Peru’s Congress to expedite early elections and Peru’s president to promptly “end the crisis caused by ex-President Castillo’s self-coup.”