Rural-Based Popular Resistance Confounds Peru’s Post-Coup Government / By W.T. Whitney Jr.

The repression of the protests in Peru fail to appease them, quite the opposite | Photo: Prensa Latina

Crisis in Peru is moving into a second act. It follows both the congressional coup December 7 that removed democratically elected President Pedro Castillo and the protests and violent repression that culminated in mid-January. Now, from March 1 on, demonstrators have been filling streets in Lima and protests have spread across southern regions of the country.

In Lima and elsewhere their demands remain: departure of de facto President Dina Boluarte, the closing down of Peru’s Congress, moving new elections from 2024 to 2023, and a referendum on a constituent assembly for forming a new constitution. 

Popular mobilizations in early March were remarkable for their geographical base and for the protesters themselves. Both in Lima and in southern cities, they are mostly Aymara inhabitants of rural districts in Peru’s South that extend west from Lake Titicaca and northeast into the Andes foothills.

Their support and that of rural people throughout Peru had been key to the surprise election in 2021 of the inexperienced Pedro Castillo to Peru’s presidency. He had defeated Keiko Fujimori, daughter of an imprisoned dictator and favorite of Peru’s neo-liberal enablers.

At issue for aroused working-class Peruvians are the political arrangements of Peru’s business and commercial elites who owe their good fortune to the economic yield of extractive industries. These include steps taken to suppress masses of Peruvians and bypass their aspirations. Andy Higginbottom’s recent article “Peru and capitalist extraction–the imperial mining powers behind the throne” is essential reading. He elaborates upon the role of foreign investors and foreign interests generally in maintaining Peru’s status quo.

Activists from provinces near the southern city of Puno were arriving in Lima as of March 1. They were the “Second Wave of the Taking of Lima,” the first having been the protesters in mid-January. Four days later they had not been able to break through police lines surrounding key government buildings.

The main action was happening back in Puno. The Puno region has been a center of police and military repression ever since Boluarte became president on December 7. Most of Peru’s 60 deaths due to military and police violence have occurred in that southern region; 19 protesters were murdered on January 9 in Juliaca, a town 27 miles north of Puno city.

On March 5, demonstrations and roadblocks were in progress throughout the extended region. Indigenous groups, small farmer organizations, and social movements were demonstrating in Juli, a town 58 miles south of Puno, also on the shore of Lake Titicaca.

Confronted by military units and police in civilian dress, demonstrators there set fire to judicial office buildings and police headquarters. 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 Ilave. Rains had caused flooding and in the process of swimming across the river, one soldier drowned and five others disappeared. 

Protesters captured 12 soldiers; community leader Nilo Colque reported they were released after admitting they were strike breakers and confessing that they too opposed the military’s actions. Coolque predicted that 30,000 Aymaras would soon 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) – they supposedly represent two million Peruvians – announced a march from regions mainly in the North that would be arriving in Lima from March 9 on.

Meanwhile Peru’s chief prosecutor has embarked upon an investigation of President Boluarte and other officials for crimes that include “genocide” and that allegedly occurred in southern regions in the weeks after she took 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 denied his appeal for habeas corpus.

·        Peru’s Congress, as of March 6, looked to be on the verge of once more refusing to advance new presidential elections from April 2024 to sometime in  2023.

·        The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a preliminary report accusing the new Peruvian government of excessive use of force against protesters.

·        Polling results go one way: 77% of Peruvian reject the Dina Boluarte government, 70% say she should resign, 90% denounce Peru’s Congress, 69% favor holding general elections in 2023, and 58% support the demonstrations. The report indicates these results mostly reflect opinion in rural areas.

The opposed sides in the Peruvian conflict are each floundering.  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 have the handicap of lacking historical experience out of which revolutionary leadership and a mature strategy might have developed that would provide them with direction and focus.

The people’s movement in Peru is not as lucky as counterparts were in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, and even in Chile and now in Colombia under President Petro.

The balance is precarious and the U.S. government is meddling; it has long intruded militarily and now 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.” And the United States backs “Peru’s constitution, and Peru’s constitutional processes.”

But political intervention is on the table still: Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols on February 28 urged Peru’s Congress to expedite early elections and urged Peru’s president to promptly end the crisis caused by ex-President Castillo’s “self-coup” – whatever that is.

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.