Analysis: Combo of protests and crises in Peru highlights the fragility of the new government


On December 7, 2022, the then president of Peru, Pedro Castillo, was removed from office by means of a vacancy motion, and Dina Boluarte sworn in as the country’s new president, initiating the following demonstrations against the new government.

The new president, despite being elected first vice on Castillo’s ticket, does not have the support of her electorate, which pressures her to resign immediately and call new elections. Since then, Peru has lived with protests calling for the resignation of Dina, who completed 50 days in government on the 26th.

A fragile government cornered by protests, deaths and accusations

On December 10, the Peruvian president presented the composition of her Council of Ministers, formed in an attempt to reconcile political forces, avoiding appointing former ministers from the previous administration. In addition, she chose members of the second ministerial echelon of the Castillo government: the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ana Gervasi Días, and the Minister of Economy, Alex Contreras Miranda.

The first major controversy of the new cabinet involved the nomination of Pedro Angulo Arana, appointed to preside over the Council of Ministers, recognized for being an outspoken opponent of Castillo. Investigated for sexual harassment in the exercise of his functions as a public prosecutor in Peru, his presence in the government has already been strained.

Arana also had negative repercussions when he claimed that the first deaths recorded as a result of the protests were due to the fact that the demonstrators spoke Quechua and did not understand the orders given by the police in Spanish. On December 20, Arana was replaced by Alberto Otárola, then incumbent at the Ministry of Defense.

The protests, initially concentrated in the south of the country, began to adopt more aggressive methods in the first week of government. On December 12, the industrial plant of the company Leite Glória was attacked in Arequipa, causing a series of damages and interrupting the production of dairy products.

The then holder of Defense Otárola declared to the Peruvian Congress, on December 13, that the demonstrations in the south of the country were linked to “obscure interests”, such as drug trafficking and illegal mining. That day, seven civilian deaths were recorded as a result of the protests.

The negative impact of the repression was responsible for the first defections from the ministerial cabinet, on December 16, with the resignation of the Minister of Education, Patrícia Correa, and the Minister of Culture, Jair Pérez Brañez. After the cabinet reform, carried out on December 20, the country experienced a brief lull, attributed to the year-end holidays, interrupted on January 4 with the resumption of protests.

On January 9, police repression of demonstrators in the province of Puno marked the country, with the confirmation of 18 deaths and hundreds of injuries. One of the most notable incidents was the attack on Aldair Mejía, a journalist for the EFE news agency, who was attacked and intimidated by security forces after recording the arrest of a demonstrator.

Mejía, was rescued by protesters and embarrassed by soldiers who tried to prevent him from receiving medical assistance. Thanks to the intercession of the civil organization Instituto Prensa y Sociedad, the incident was recorded, and the circumstances of the attack suffered by the journalist were publicly supported.

The National Press Association of Peru, in a petition, accused the Peruvian government of 72 violations of press freedom in the protests that had taken place in the country up to that date.

On January 12 and 13, new acts took place in the capital, and three other new ministers resigned. The first to resign was the Minister of Labor, Eduardo García Birimisa, who left the cabinet without provoking animosity.

The Minister of the Interior, Víctor Rojas, resigned after being pressured to take responsibility for the 47 civilian deaths confirmed so far. The third casualty was the Minister of Women, Grecia Rojas Ortiz, who left office demanding government actions to restore democratic peace in the country and self-criticism of the decisions taken up to that moment.

On January 19, indigenous, peasant, student and union social movements began the “Tomada de Lima”, a national call for continuous protests, which have lasted seven days. The government declared a state of emergency, restricting civil rights across the country, and temporarily closed airports in Arequipa and Cusco.

The first day of protests culminated with the fire in one of the main historic buildings of the city and, on the third day, the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos was invaded by security forces to dislodge demonstrators sheltered there.

Government estimates indicate U$S 1.3 billion (R$ 6.6 billion) in damages and losses, derived from vandalism actions and production losses as a result of the 85 blockage points on 20 roads in the country. Some localities are already registering the lack of food, fuel and medicine.

Government stance on accusations of human rights violations

Before the United Nations Human Rights Council, on January 25, José Andrés Tello, Minister of Justice and Human Rights, defended the government and the use of force in repressing the protests, even with foreign authorities showing concern about the 56 deaths recorded until then.

The minister declared that the government acts in defense of democracy and human rights and that the protests cannot be confused with criminal actions. The Peruvian ambassador in Geneva, Luis Chuquihuara, promised that possible abuses in the repression will be investigated.

On the same day, in a videoconference with the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, Dina Boluarte raised her tone and declared that she will not surrender to anti-democratic forces, reinforcing that the protesters are linked to criminal practices and defending the use of force.

Expectations of early elections and institutional stalemate

Despite declaring in her inauguration that she would fully fulfill her mandate until 2026, the president has signaled since the beginning of the protests the possibility of bringing forward the elections to April 2024.

On January 25, the capital Lima reached its seventh consecutive day of protests, in which clashes between demonstrators and police forces continue. On the eve of her 50th day in office, Dina Boluarte asked the demonstrators for a truce to negotiate, but indicated that she is not willing to deal with the main demand, her immediate resignation.

On that day, the Minister of Production, Sandra Belunde, was the sixth to resign from her position in the current government, while the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice articulate a constitutional reform project to make it possible to bring forward the elections to 2023.

However, the proposal to bring the elections forward must obtain two-thirds of the votes in Congress in two legislative sessions, and the first vote must take place by February 14, when the current legislative session ends. If the first vote does not take place on time, the proposal will lose its timeliness, since the second vote for the amendment can only take place in the legislative session that will begin in 2024.

Institutional expectations for elections to take place this year, however, are uncertain and insufficient to resolve the current Peruvian political crisis. First, the short time to vote on the proposal makes it difficult to articulate a majority of 87 legislators in favor of bringing forward the election. Second, several parties present constraints for holding general elections this year.

Part of the Fujimorist right demands that, before voting on the anticipation of the election, Congress approve other emergency reforms, while sectors on the left, such as Perú Libre, Castillo’s party, condition the election to the holding of a referendum to convene a Constituent Assembly and , in parallel, articulate Dina Boluarte’s vacancy motion.

Finally, bringing elections forward will not guarantee that a new president will have better relations with Congress, and may only postpone a new social upheaval in the country.

Social cleavages of class, geographic origin and ethnicity that separate the urban population from the peasant and indigenous population aggravate the trends of party fragmentation that are expressed in Congress, a crucial institution in the weakening and fall of the last presidents that the country has elected and deposed in recent years .

Even if it is a theme that resonates timidly after the fall of Castillo, the proposal for the holding of a Constituent Assembly may gain momentum if the deadlocks for the anticipation of the general elections do not have a positive result between government supporters and oppositionists.

– This text was originally published here.

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