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Poverty, polarization and social history help explain the worsening crisis in Peru


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There are no signs of a break in the wave of protests that has gripped Peru since the ousting of then-President Pedro Castillo in early December.

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Clashes between protesters and security forces continue almost daily; 56 people have died, hundreds have been injured, and those numbers keep rising.

Analysts point out that this is the biggest social mobilization of the 21st century in the Andean country. We went to understand some factors that explain the chaos.

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The trigger for the crisis was Castillo’s dismissal and imprisonment. Remember him?

The populist was elected in 2021. Last month, hours before the Legislature voted a vacancy motion against him, Castillo announced the anticipation of elections and a state of exception, with the dissolution of Parliament. As it trampled over legal rites, this was characterized as an attempted coup d’état.

The attempt failed: Congress ignored the acts, he ended up deposed and later was arrested, accused of rebellion and conspiracy.

The then deputy, Dina Boluarte, was sworn in, but has since faced strong pressure and resistance from supporters of her predecessor, who consider her a traitor. Protests against the president gained weight from one end of the country to the other – some with impressive situations:

The acts call for the resignation of Dina, the release of Castillo, the dissolution of Parliament and the anticipation of elections for this year. Another demand is the convening of a Constituent Assembly, to renew the Charter promulgated in 1993 by the dictator Alberto Fujimori —attacked as a determining factor for inequality in the country.

See five points of reflection to understand the acts.

1) Racism and inequality

Going back to the formation process of Peruvian society helps to understand today’s acts, which initially exploded in the south of the country, where support for Castillo is greater — professor, the former president comes from the countryside. The region is dominated by poorer rural communities.

  • “Peru and Brazil were the last countries in the region to allow the illiterate population the right to vote”, says Alicia del Aguila, a Peru specialist and program officer for International Idea, an organization that monitors the state of democracy around the world.

No wonder, the feeling of discrimination and lack of social and political representation predominates among the protesters. Columnist Sylvia Colombo wrote about it here.

  • Sylvia says that, “if you are in Lima and turn on the TV to the news or a soap opera, you will hardly see an indigenous presenter or an Afro-Peruvian actress in a ‘common’ role”. This is more or less what happens in Brazil.

The lack of representation fuels the feeling in the acts that Castillo’s dismissal was illegal and an attack against the popular will.

2) Polarization

Divisions in society and partisan fragmentation intensify tempers.

In the 2021 election, Castillo and Keiko Fujimori fought a very tight race, and Aguila recalls that, in southern regions, the leftist had more than 90% of the votes, while the rightist obtained equally expressive votes in wealthy parts of the capital, Lima. Instability increased when Keiko, who tried not to accept defeat, tried to challenge votes, mainly from the southern region of Peru.

Added to the polarization is profound political instability —Peru has had 6 presidents in 6 years.

3) Identification with Castillo

Castillo was a professor, unionist and elected president as a surprise element: he had no experience in elected office or ties to the Lima establishment.

  • “The ex-president [Alejandro] Toledo [2001-2006] he was also poor, but he grew up and went to the USA. In a way, we already knew about it from official policy. Castillo does not. He has a poor, rural background and his social ties are there all the time, so the identity reaction of part of the population was stronger “analyzes Aguila.

4) Poverty

Cynthia Sanborn, professor of political science at the University of the Pacific in Peru, says the country’s so-called economic miracle period ultimately proved fragile for the most vulnerable population.

During the economic boom, poverty fell from over 40% of the population to 10% in three decades. But then it skyrocketed to 26% in 2022. Today, almost 80% of the population is in the informal sector, according to Alicia del Aguila.

  • “There is a sense, exacerbated by the pandemic, that things need to change. It’s not clear what, but the social contract somehow needs to be revised.”

5) Repression of acts

The absence of dialogue between the government and the demonstrators is decisive in the intensification of conflicts. This week, Dina called some of the protesters radical and violent and claimed, without providing evidence, that they have links with drug trafficking, illegal mining and smuggling.

picture of the week

Where: Half Moon Bay, California (USA)

What happened: Zhao Chunli, 67, arrested after murdering seven people; it was the second firearm attack and multiple victims in three days in the state – before, a 72-year-old man killed 11 people in Monterey Park. The police are still investigating the cases. In both, the alleged shooters were elderly, a characteristic that differentiates the attacks from the others.

And the war?

After weeks of suspense and stalemate, the US and Germany have finally announced that they will send tanks to help Ukraine. There will be 31 armored M1 Abrams Americans and 14 Leopard-2 Germans. More: Berlin will allow other countries that operate the vehicle to supply units to Kiev.

It’s no small feat: the move represents the biggest escalation in Western military aid to Kiev. But what does it mean in practice?

  • It is still too early to estimate the military impact, which essentially depends on the quantity supplied and how soon the tanks will be available and the Ukrainians qualified to operate them.

  • A study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in London, points out that some pro-Ukraine difference on the battlefield could occur with at least 100 armored vehicles

Moscow, of course, expressed irritation and returned to repeat threats.

And be careful: the Doomsday Clock, a symbolic instrument that since 1947 indicates how close to extinction humanity is, has moved its hands. The news is dark: the War in Ukraine brought the world to the most critical point in its history.

Keep up with the latest updates about the conflict here.


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