Photograph Source: Mayimbú – CC BY-SA 4.0
Critics of U.S. interference in Latin America and the Caribbean may soon realize, is such is not the case now, that Peru has a compelling claim on their attention. The massive popular resistance emerging now amid political crisis looks to be sustainable into the future. Meanwhile, a reactionary political class obstinately defends its privileges, and the U.S. government is aroused.
This new mobilization of Peru’s long-oppressed majority population manifested initially as the force behind left-leaning presidential candidate Pedro Castillo’s surprise second-round election victory on June 6, 2021. It exploded again following the coup that removed Castillo on December 7, 2022.
The politically inexperienced Castillo, a primary school teacher and teachers’ union leader in rural northern Peru, espoused a program of resisting both Peru’s corrupt and oligarchical elite and foreign exploiters. Castillo had begun his 2020 presidential campaign prior to aligning with a political party. His affiliation eventually would the Marxist-oriented Peru Libre (Free Peru) Party, which abandoned him during his presidency.
Castillo was the first leftist to be elected president of Peru. The candidate he defeated was Keiko Fijimoro, standard-bearer of Peru’s oligarchs and militarists and daughter of dictator and former president Alberto Fujimori.
Castillo’s forced removal from office prompted massive popular resistance. Since then, small farmers, indigenous communities, social organizations, students, and labor unions have sustained a national strike. Concentrated in Peru’s southern provinces at first, and later spreading throughout northern regions, strikers have been blocking highways, city streets, and access to government offices and airports.
In their “March from the Four Corners” of Peru, protesters on January 19 occupied Lima massively in what they called the “Taking of Lima.” They have filled streets and plazas, marched, and impeded access to government offices. They say they will stay. Lima residents and social movements have stocked food for them and, with the help of schools and universities, provided shelter.
Anthropologist Elmer Torrejón Pizarro, from Amazonian Peru, was marching on January 19. He writes: “I saw no criminals next to me, much less terrorists. I observed young university students and mostly peasants, women and men from the south. I saw their faces, furrowed by the pain of life and death. They were next to me, their faces hard and burned by blows from life, from Peru. They were faces expressing generational hibernation of a country that, as a state, has failed.”
The protesters are demanding: resignation of de-facto president Dina Boluarte, liberation of the imprisoned Pedro Castillo, and dismissal of a Congress dominated by rightwing and centrist political operatives. They want new elections in 2023 and a popular referendum on instituting a Constituent Assembly. They, like Castillo, want a new Constitution.
Left-oriented news sources haven’t reported reactions to the strike from Peru’s leftist political parties. The few websites of those parties that are accessible add little. The Communist Party of Peru Patria Roja, an exception, on January 16 condemned the coup government as a dictatorship, called for a transitional government, and expressed support for the demands outlined above.
Popular resistance is one aspect of this crisis situation. The other is political repression. For weeks, the police and the military have been assaulting protesters throughout the country with lethal force. They have killed over 60 of them, wounded hundreds and jailed hundreds more.
In Lima on January 21, almost 12,000 police were in the streets blocking demonstrations and harassing residents and students; 14,000 more were otherwise engaged. The police that day violated a university autonomy law and entered San Marcos University where they arrested strikers sheltering there and students, over 200 in all.
The security forces and their handlers are heirs to repressors who, from Spanish colonization on, have repeatedly victimized masses of impoverished, mostly indigenous Peruvians. Peru experienced three prolonged military dictatorships during the 20th century.
In dealing with Castillo and the threat he represented, forces of reaction turned to softer methods. These centered on congressional maneuvering aimed at harassing Castillo’s ministers and blocking his government’s program.
Finally, the Congress demanded that Castillo resign, and immediately soldiers seized the president. He was charged with “rebellion and conspiracy” and will remain in prison for at least 18 months. He is held incommunicado.
Interviewed, Wilfredo Robles Rivera, the deposed president’s lawyer, spoke of a “parliamentary coup, a slow coup, a prolonged one organized on several fronts.” He explains that, “It was a strategy that began even before President Castillo took office. The rightwing … was pressuring election officials to recognize electoral fraud. An electoral coup, therefore. The true parliamentary coup began when Castillo became president.”
An earlier article by the present author elaborates on this terminal phase of Castillo’s downfall. Robles Rivera’s perspective appears in one of the addenda below.
Lastly, there is that aspect of Peru’s mounting crisis that relates to North Americans: U.S. intervention is possible.
General Laura Richardson, head of the U.S. Southern Command, spoke to the establishment-oriented Atlantic Council on January 19. In regard to Latin America, she mentioned “rare earth elements,” “the lithium triangle – Argentina, Bolivia, Chile,” the “largest oil reserves [and] light, sweet crude discovered off Guyana,” Venezuela’s “oil, copper, gold” and “31% of the world’s fresh water in this region.” She concludes, crucially: “This region matters. It has a lot to do with national security. And we need to step up our game.”
On January 18, de facto President Dina Boluarte and her Council of Ministers informed Peru’s Congress that they were submitting for approval a draft legislative resolution saying, in effect, that Congress would be “authorizing the entry of naval units and foreign military personnel with weapons of war” into Peru.
Who but U.S. troops and military machinery would be first in line? The U.S. military is already familiar with deploying in Peru. And the day prior to Castillo’s removal from office. U.S. ambassador Lisa Kenna, a CIA veteran, was in the office of Peru’s defense minister, conferring.
She is persistent. On January 18 Kenna conferred with Peru’s minister of energy and mining and his associates. Journalist Ben Norton attests to that minister tweeting about “a high-level institutional dialogue that day between Peru and the United States.” The minister expressed pleasure at “support from the North American government in mining-energy issues” and mentioned his government’s prioritization of the natural gas and energy sectors.
Presently all liquified natural gas produced in Peru goes to Europe. Energy supplies there are precarious due to U.S. anti-Russian sanctions. We imagine U.S. applause.
The author did the translating above and below.
Lawyer Wilfredo Robles Rivera describes some of the congressional maneuvering that led to President Pedro Castillo’s removal.
“Obstructionists in the Congress prevented that body from discussing hundreds of the [Castillo] government’s legislative proposals …They followed with demands for dismissing the president through the vacancy procedure. …Their request for vacancy came in response to the President’s speech of December 7 in which he called for dissolution of Congress. They did not have the necessary votes to present the request … [and so] there was an accelerated process backed by other institutions, especially the military and police. At this point, the military-police coup comes into play.”
We add that Peru’s Constitution, in force since 1993 and a product of the Fujimori dictatorship, does allow a president to dismiss the Congress under specified circumstances and the Congress to “request a vacancy” in order to remove a president. Twice before, the Congress failed in that attempt.
Béjar served for three weeks as minister of foreign affairs in ex-President Castillo’s new government. He resigned in response to unfounded charges from the military conveyed through Parliament. Béjar has taught and written extensively on revolutionary change in Peru. He and others founded the National Liberation Army in 1962 for which he was imprisoned.
Prensa Latina: How do you evaluate the protest movement forming in the South of Peru?
Héctor Béjar: It’s a many-faceted movement composed of the quechua and aimaras communities, especially the aimaras, of women vendors in the popular markets, of transport workers in the South, traders in general, small business owners in the booming city of Juliaca, students from universities and high schools, and people in general. Added to them are the “rondas campesinas” (autonomous peasant patrols in rural areas) active in Cajamarca, Amazonian communities, and within many other popular networks.
PL: The social organizations that are protesting are putting forth a platform of political demands … without being ready to back off in exchange for development projects. What are the implications of this characteristic of the current protests for the people’s movement?
HB: It’s a qualitative shift. It’s the first time in Peruvian history that a movement surging up from the people themselves is setting forth a clearly political agenda that takes precedence over immediate, isolated demands limited to local problems.
PL: What about ex-President Pedro Castillo?
HB: The protesters identify with him as a person, as a teacher and rural resident, quite apart from his questionable performance in governing. … I have to say also that the movement has already largely transcended the idea of simply rescuing Castillo.
PL: Most political analysts assert that the failure of Castillo has been harmful for the left and its future. Do the social protests and participation of left forces call this idea into question?
HB: The big movement we are speaking about must not be defined as of the left. If we look at reality, it’s a people’s movement, from the base, much broader than left politics. It’s also certain that most militants of the different left movements existing in Peru are fully invested in supporting this movement.
PL: Opinion polls show that the demand for a constituent assembly is shared by a majority of the population. That has to have an impact on the protests. (NB: Opinion polling in mid-January indicated that 71 % of Peruvians reject the government; 19% approve; 88% of them object to the Congress. )
HB: Evidently so. We are already in the process of getting rid of the old system and the constituent is part of a new one. The most probable outcome is that as the days and weeks pass, and if this movement persists and grows, the demand of a constituent assembly and a new constitution will continue growing until it takes over.
PL: What is the future and what are the options that might open up after this struggle?
HB: If this struggle continues and is not betrayed … we would have the possibility of a true democracy open to all of the country’s cultures and nationalities – a social state and an economy open to investments by the people and closed to every kind of corruption ….
On Peru’s 1993 Constitution: It’s the bad result of a disastrous coup d’état and of entangled negotiations of de facto President Fujimori with the OAS and the international community. This resulted in a text full of legal patchwork…It also contains a famous economic chapter that shields foreign investment, making it invulnerable and paying no taxes in Peru. … What is happening is that this Constitution, already makeshift in 1993, has been patched up repeatedly since then. And it was the present Congress … that has made more than thirty modifications that Peruvians do not even know about. Some of these modifications repealed existing rights, such as the right to referendum.
In regard to a coup: The Army and Police know that they cannot carry out a coup d’état directly; there is no environment either in Latin America or the world that favors that. But as everybody knows, the patterns of coups now vary … Some military chief leaked information to the effect that the left will never govern the country while armed forces remain in Peru. The problem is no longer communism, which is what they used to say, but now it’s the entire left that these people are rejecting.
How does Peru’s government work? Today in Peru we have a media party, very active as a concentrated monopoly; a prosecution party, and the judiciary’s party. These three parties, and the Congress, are the four great actors that govern Peru, with support from big capitalists, both local and foreign … Closing the Congress is a national demand. Everyone wants that, apart from the congresspersons themselves. …. The same goes for the judiciary, which is highly corrupt. In my opinion, it should be reorganized, but also totally dismantled.
About Peru’s social movements: They have grown a lot. In Peru there is a political left, which is part of the political apparatus, the political system, and there is a co-called “social left”, which is not left in terms of strict political consciousness, but which includes many social activists who feel they are part of the left. They are very articulate in expressing political ideas … and have highly articulated political ideas. There are thousands of them in Peru now. However, corruption permeates everything in this country, including sectors of the social movement.
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.