Anger in rural areas fuels protests against Peru’s government
ANDAHUAYLAS, Peru — Nowhere is Peruvians’ anger at their government more visible than in Andahuaylas, an isolated rural Andean community where the poor have struggled for years and where voter support helped elect ousted President Pedro Castillo. even a peasant like them.
Such is their fury that their protests continued on Monday despite the deaths of seven people, including two young protesters over the weekend, including 17-year-old Beckham Romario Quispe Garfias.
As thousands poured into the streets, Raquel Quispe recalled her brother as a talented athlete tired of feeling invisible to politicians. It was named after the great English footballer David Beckham and Romario, the Brazilian football phenom turned politician.
Clouds above her, she stood outside the hospital where her body was kept, and with quivering anger in her voice, sometimes betrayed by tears, she summed up what had driven him and her others have been protesting since Castillo’s ouster last week: a democracy of exclusion.
“For them, those who are there in Congress, the only valid opinion is Peruvians who have money, rich people,” said Quispe, an early childhood educator.
“They do what they want. For them… the vote of the provinces is not valid, it is useless. But the vote of the people of Lima is taken into account. It is an injustice for all of Peru.
About 3,000 people gathered in the streets of Andahuaylas on Monday to protest, mourn and pay their respects before the white coffins of the young men who died over the weekend. Across the community, rocks were strewn across roads still marred by smoldering fires. An airstrip used by the armed forces remained blocked, black smoke still etched on a nearby building.
Protesters in rural communities, including Andahuaylas, continued to call on President Dina Boluarte to resign and hold general elections to replace her and all members of Congress. They also want authorities to release Castillo, who was arrested on Wednesday when he was ousted by lawmakers after he tried to dissolve Congress ahead of an impeachment vote.
While protesters also gathered in Lima, the capital, protests were particularly heated in rural areas that were strongholds for Castillo, a former schoolteacher and political newcomer from a poor Andean mountain district.
On Monday, protesters went further by blocking access to an international airport for several hours in southern Peru and occupying its runway. Demonstrations in Arequipa, where the airport is located, left one protester dead, Defense Minister Alberto Otarola told lawmakers during a congressional session devoted to civil unrest.
Peru’s Ombudsman’s Office reported that seven people had died since the protests began on Wednesday. Five of them died on Monday. All seven deaths occurred outside Lima, including four in Andahuaylas.
The escalation came even after Boluarte gave in to protesters’ demands hours earlier, announcing in a nationally televised speech that she would send Congress a proposal to bring the election forward to April 2024 – a reversing her previous assertion that she should remain president for the remaining 3½ years of her predecessor’s term.
Boluarte, in his address to the nation, also declared a state of emergency in areas outside Lima, where protests have been particularly violent.
“My duty as president of the republic in the current difficult period is to interpret (…) the aspirations, interests and concerns (…) of the vast majority of Peruvians,” Boluarte said, announcing that she would propose early elections to Congress.
Boluarte, 60, was quickly sworn in on Wednesday to replace Castillo, hours after he stunned the country by ordering the dissolution of Congress, which in turn dismissed him for “permanent moral incapacity”. Castillo was arrested for rebellion.
Members of Boluarte’s cabinet appeared before Congress on Monday to report on the protests. Far-right lawmaker Jorge Montoya demanded appropriate action to end the unrest, telling Castillo supporters that now that he has been removed from office, “the chapter is closed”.
“These are not acts of protest, they are acts of terrorism that must be severely punished,” Montoya said. “You can’t defend a situation that is at the extreme.”
Peru has had six presidents in the past six years. In 2020, he rode three in a week.
The latest presidential crisis unfolds as the Andes and its thousands of small farms struggle to survive the worst drought in half a century. The country is also experiencing a fifth wave of COVID-19 cases.
Castillo supporters had hoped the populist underdog would overcome some of the challenges they have long faced. But in his 17 months in office, Castillo was unable to complete any landmark projects and faced the racism and discrimination often experienced by his impoverished supporters.
In Andahuaylas, about 80% of voters who cast ballots in last year’s runoff backed Castillo. His proposals included rewriting the country’s constitution, which was drafted and last approved in 1993 under the government of Alberto Fujimori, the disgraced former president whose daughter, Keiko, lost the presidency to Castillo.
Rosario Garfias was among the protesters outside the hospital where the body of her 17-year-old son was being held. She expressed her grief over the death of her son, speaking in Quechua, one of Peru’s indigenous languages.
“My mother lodges a complaint in her language. I know many don’t understand it, even Congress doesn’t understand it,” said her daughter, Raquel Quispe.
“She says… she’s in deep pain because they killed her, like in a slaughterhouse. And my mother, like my family, demands justice for my brother.
Garcia Cano reported from Lima.