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.

Peru Sees Possible Transformative Change, and US Intervention / By W.T. Whitney Jr.

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.


Addenda:

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.

Héctor Béjar offers reflections. His interview with  Prensa Latina reporter Manuel Robles Sosa appeared on January 18.   [WW1]  

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 ….

Lautaro Rivara’s interview with Héctor Béjar for the alai.info website appeared on January 3. Excerpts from  Béjar’s comments follow:

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.