Peru extends state of emergency amid violent protests that leave dozens dead

(CNN) — Peru is experiencing one of its most violent moments in decades after the ouster of former President Pedro Castillo, as protesters opposing the current government demand political change in the country.

Last December the state of emergency was imposed, airports and highways were the scene of some clashes, with hundreds of foreign tourists stranded in the country amid the chaos.

To date, dozens of people have been killed in clashes with security forces. In this regard, human rights groups claim that the authorities used excessive force against the protests, which included firearms. For its part, the Army affirms that the protesters have used explosives and improvised weapons, reports Reuters.

Over the weekend, the Peruvian government extended the state of emergency for 30 days in the capital, Lima, and in the regions of Cusco, Puno, and the constitutional province of Callao. The state of emergency suspends various constitutional rights, such as freedom of movement and assembly.

The office of Peru’s new president, Dina Boluarte, now seems as under siege as that of her predecessor. In January, Peru’s Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation into Boluarte’s handling of the riots, and several of her ministers have resigned.

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More than a dozen people died in Juliaca on January 9. Credit: Jose Sotomayor/AP

Why are the protesters so angry?

Castillo’s removal has accelerated political tensions in the country.

The demonstrators demand new elections, the resignation of Boluarte, a change in the Constitution and the release of Castillo, who is in preventive detention.

Castillo, a former teacher and union leader who had never held elected office before becoming president, hailed from rural Peru and presented himself as a man of the people. Many of his supporters come from poorer regions, hoping that Castillo would offer better prospects to the country’s rural and indigenous population.

Although protests have taken place across the country, the greatest violence has occurred in the rural and indigenous south, which has long been at odds with white and mixed-race coastal elites.

The Peruvian legislature is also viewed with skepticism by public opinion. The president and congressmen cannot serve consecutive terms under Peruvian law, and critics have pointed to their lack of political experience.

What has caused the recent riots in Peru?

Peruvian politics has been mired in dysfunction for years, with Boluarte serving as its sixth president since 2018.

It plunged back into political turmoil in December when Castillo tried to dissolve Congress and install an emergency government.

Castillo, whose brief time in office had been marred by several corruption investigations, was impeached and ousted. He is currently charged with the crimes of rebellion and conspiracy, which he has denied.

His supporters took to the streets in the days after he was ousted, demanding his release in what some have described as a “national insurgency.”

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Boluarte attends his investiture ceremony in Lima, Peru, on December 7. Credit: Sebastian Castañeda/Reuters

Clashes between protesters and police have caused deaths and fueled fear and anger on both sides.

After the Christmas truce, the demonstrations resumed in early January. At least 17 people were killed in anti-government protests in the southern city of Juliaca, in the Puno region, where the majority of the indigenous Aymara population lives.

The autopsies performed on the 17 dead civilians revealed injuries caused by firearm projectiles, according to what the Juliaca legal medicine chief told CNN en Español.

Days later, a police officer was burned to death by “unknown subjects” while patrolling the area, according to police.

How has the current government responded to the protests?

Boluarte has struggled to appease the protesters. In mid-December, his then defense minister, Otárola, declared a state of emergency and deployed troops to the streets.

The ensuing violence has left hundreds injured and, according to the Ombudsman, at least 49 people have been killed since the start of the protests.

In January, the Peruvian prosecutor’s office opened an investigation against Boluarte, Otárola and other key ministers for the alleged crime of “genocide, qualified homicide and serious injuries” in relation to the bloodshed. Boluarte has said that he will collaborate with the investigation.

The attorney general’s office has also said it will investigate former Prime Minister Pedro Angulo and former Interior Minister César Cervantes, who served under Boluarte for only a few weeks, for their involvement in managing the protests.

Several high-ranking ministers have resigned since the protests began. The country’s former labor minister Eduardo García Birmisa resigned on Thursday, calling on Peru’s president to apologize and call a general election, according to a letter posted on her Twitter account. The former Minister of the Interior Víctor Rojas Herrera and the Minister of Women and Vulnerable Populations Grecia Rojas Ortiz resigned the following day.

Despite mounting political pressure, Boluarte has said he has no intention of leaving office.

In a televised speech on Friday on state-run TV Peru, Boluarte told the nation: “I am not going to resign, my commitment is to Peru and not to that tiny group that is making the country bleed.”

other reactions

The bloodshed in Peru has attracted worldwide attention. On January 10, the European Union issued a statement condemning the violence and calling for dialogue in the country; the following day, an observation mission from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was sent to Peru.

“We remain deeply concerned by the ongoing violence in Peru and saddened by the injuries and deaths. All Peruvians deserve to live in peace and enjoy their hard-won democracy.

We support peace on all sides and the government’s stated commitments to address the challenges facing the country,” Brian A. Nichols, US Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, tweeted on Friday.
The Organization of American States will meet to “analyze the situation in Peru” on January 18.

Who is Pedro Castillo?

Castillo emerged from obscurity to be narrowly elected in a July 2021 runoff, seen as part of a “pink tide” of new left-wing leaders in Latin America.

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Supporters of ousted President Pedro Castillo clash with police forces in the Peruvian Andean city of Juliaca on January 7, 2023. Credit: Juan Carlos Cisneros/AFP/Getty Images

Despite his platform promising to rewrite the Constitution and increase wealth redistribution, in his brief presidency Castillo struggled to deliver on those promises amid soaring inflation in Peru, his lack of political experience, and strong conservative opposition in the country. Congress.

His government descended into chaos, with dozens of ministers appointed, replaced, fired or resigning in just over a year. Castillo himself faced multiple corruption investigations and two failed impeachment attempts before finally being ousted.

Castillo has repeatedly denied the accusations against him and has reiterated his willingness to cooperate with any corruption investigation. He maintains that the accusations are the result of a witch hunt against him and his family by groups that did not accept his election victory.

His arrest has sparked outrage from several left-wing Latin American leaders, who denounced his removal and claimed that Castillo had been the victim of “undemocratic harassment” since his election in 2021.

After his family was granted asylum in Mexico, Peru ordered the Mexican ambassador to leave the country within 72 hours. Peru’s foreign ministry said the decision was made after Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador made comments about Peru, calling them “unacceptable interference in internal affairs, in clear violation of the principle of non-intervention.” .

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