Peru’s destructive protests: why is the country on the edge of a crisis?
Peru has recently been the focus of the social political storm of Latin America. The tempestuous anti-government protests involving the Peruvian people for over a month have resulted in more than 50 deaths, mostly from the south of the country. In a situation of great political uncertainty, the first expression of social revolt emerged from some of the most marginalized regions of Peru, such as Apurímac, Ayacucho and Puno: here the mostly native population is historically discriminated against, even in access to political participation, and fights daily for fundamental rights such as health, housing and education. Protests soon spread to Lima and other parts of the country.
Dina Boularte, current president of Peru, has recently expressed her commitment to the country, however that’s not the case for other ministers. In less than a month of government, two ministers have resigned, and protesters are demanding the resignation of the current president and the termination of parliament. A request like this, however, would mean total chaos for Peru. Especially, considering what happened after the inauguration of Professor Pedro Castillo, who is currently in jail for trying to dissolve parliament "by provoking a coup" in order to prevent his removal. Dina Boularte, who previously held the position of vice president, assumed the leadership of the Republic immediately after the dismissal of Castillo. As president, she made an appeal to parliament to “unite all Peruvians” to restore social peace, fight against corruption and call new presidential elections promptly.
Despite this, Peru is experiencing a permanent crisis beyond remedy. After the ‘Fujimori era’, a period marking the 1990s where a Peruvian politician Alberto Fujimori was specifically found guilty of murder and kidnapping, all consecutive leaders intervened with corruption and were either removed or left the country.
Furthermore, Peru has recently defeated the pandemic, resulting in the social, political and economic problems that have led to a democratic crisis. In fact, Peruvian politicians and parties have failed to carry on the demands and concerns of society, resulting in an exorbitant need for political reforms.
Street protests started in December, shortly after Dina Boularte was appointed president. Every day, with a brief suspension during the Christmas and New Year holidays, roads and highways were blocked, strikes, demonstrations and checkpoints were organized in at least ten of the twenty-five regions of the country.
Nonetheless, on Monday, February 13th, Peru decided to take to the streets for peace and dialogue. This weekend several Peruvian cities were the scene of peaceful demonstrations that rejected the violence unleashed in the country after the ousting of former president Pedro Castillo.
The only option to stop the protests seems to be the calling of early elections later this year, through a vote in Congress. The Peruvian parliament has rejected for the third time the attempt to bring forward the general elections to 2023. The bill also included a referendum on the convening of a constituent assembly, two of the main demands of the anti-government protests. Certainly one element that exasperates the protesters is the almost complete lack of empathy of the president and her government for those who are mobilizing and for the victims of repression. In fact, the government has repeatedly defended the armed forces staunchly and reiterated that the protesters are a minority, which does not represent the whole of Peru.
The hope is that the conservative right, which has the majority in Congress, will finally accept the request for early elections by the citizenry, also because the current government, which is constitutionally regular, does not enjoy at all the minimum support from the country that is necessary for a transitional government. Not accepting the early elections means freezing the country once again in a stalemate, due to the prevalence of the interests of individual parliamentarians, and the victory of racism and state classism, without addressing the deep roots of discontent on one side important in the country.
The Peruvian people have gone from humor to drama, from anger to disbelief to finally settling in the worst of states: despair. The pandemic and the war in Ukraine have contributed to a huge increase in the prices of basic necessities and other essential products, including fertilizers, sparking widespread protests. The OAS recently stated that Peru needs a short-term political truce to end six years of ungovernability and polarization as a basis on which to build dialogue. Nothing guarantees that the country will achieve stability, but the premise is truce and dialogue.