Source > Labour Hub
Mass protests are intensifying in Peru following the overthrow and jailing of President Pedro Castillo, who was impeached on December 7th after attempting to dissolve Congress and rule by decree. Two dozen protesters have been killed, including children, with the police and army using live ammunition against them.
Last week, a judicial panel ruled that Castillo should remain locked up for 18 months of pre-trial detention. Beyond that, he may face a maximum sentence of twenty years. Castillo’s successor, his former vice president, Dina Boluarte, has declared a state of emergency across the country, suspending key civil rights. Peruvian sociologist Eduardo González Cueva calls the government’s heavy-handed response “a coup within a coup.”
It was a big surprise to the Peruvian oligarchy that a primary school teacher of indigenous stock won the first round of the presidential election last year. As Labour Hub reported at the time, Castillo took on and defeated Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of Alberto Fujimori, the authoritarian who ruled Peru through the 1990s before fleeing the country amid a corruption scandal and human rights abuses.
He was later prosecuted for crimes against humanity and jailed. His daughter also spent time in prison for her role in what the US Department of Justice called “the largest foreign bribery case in history”. Now she is playing a central role in thwarting the democratic majority who voted for her opponent.
Castillo was elected with a promise of burying neoliberalism, but ultimately failed to mobilise his base and became prisoner of a parliament dominated by an oligarchy that was determined to bring him down even before he was inaugurated.
In office, Castillo announced a US$24 million programme to provide food for impoverished families, launched an agrarian reform and increased the minimum wage. But Congress worked to sabotage every initiative from his government.
Predictably, his mandate to rewrite the constitution was rejected. The existing one, written by President Fujimori in 1993, entrenches the neoliberal economic model and allows for the privatisation of public services. Meanwhile a constitutional commission dominated by Peru’s right wing is proposing to give Congress even more extensive powers.
The situation in Peru has been one of recurring institutional crisis. In the last six years alone, since 2016, three presidents have been ousted by Congress. Under Castillo, minister after minister faced impeachment proceedings: in the 495 days he lasted in office, Castillo was forced to appoint a total of 78 ministers.
Congress even banned the president from travelling to the Vatican to meet the Pope! This month, after two previous failed attempts to impeach him from office and just 15 months into Castillo’s term, the legislature charged Castillo with “permanent moral incapacity”.
A week later, the president announced he was dissolving Congress temporarily, establishing an exceptional emergency government and holding elections to elect a new Congress with Constituent Assembly powers within nine months. But all Peru’s elite institutions were against him and within hours he was under arrest.
The right wing in Congress were literally singing in triumph at Castillo’s removal. They claim that the unconstitutional actions of a crooked president have been blocked. But the unremitting bias in the country’s corporate media, which played a major role in the destabilisation of Castillo’s presidency, is one of the reasons why reports about extensive executive corruption, claimed to justify Castillo’s removal, must be sifted carefully.
That said, there is little doubt that Castillo’s inexperience in office made his job far harder. He struggled to build alliances on the left and relied heavily on a small group of close confidants. Inexperience also helps explain his arguably impulsive decision to dissolve Congress, which caught the popular movement by surprise and led to his arrest – by his own security detail.
To the surprise of many, the detention of the president led to massive protests, particularly in the mountainous, rural areas, with large numbers of indigenous people, from where Castillo drew much of his electoral support, but also in key cities, including Lima. Despite the repression, protests have extended to include industrial action, alongside road blocks and occupations.
According to journalist Francesca Emanuele, “These aren’t protests that were organised by parties or big organised social movements or organisations. These are spontaneous – they are people who are fed up with the situation – they are indigenous working class people.
“This is important, because they are not super-organised – the military and the police are repressing them brutally and there are no consequences. The media are not reporting how they have been repressed.” She added: “What is taking place in Peru is a massacre by the government and by the security forces, and it’s a massacre that the media are not reporting.”
Feeling the pressure, the new government of Vice President Dina Boluarte has called for the date of fresh elections to be brought forward to 2024. But this is unlikely to satisfy the growing mass movement against her illegitimate administration.
“Regardless of Castillo presidency’s evident shortcomings and mistakes, his ouster represents a grave setback for democracy in Peru and Latin America as a whole,” argues Francisco Dominguez. “His election last year took place on the back of an almighty crisis of credibility and legitimacy of a political system rigged with corruption and venality.”
The regional implications explain why many Latin American countries, including Argentina, Mexico and Colombia – but sadly, not Lula in Brazil – support the ousted president. But the US is backing the Peruvian Congress, calling Castillo’s attempt to bypass Congress a “coup”. Many Western media outlets parrot the same line, the Guardian included. In fact, the coup-makers are Peru’s Congress, which has a shocking disapproval rating of 86% across the country.
The new government is deploying the army against protesters, 26 of whom have now been killed, with hundreds injured. Again, the uprising has regional implications: Peru is now the front-line for demands by indigenous peoples for a pluri-national state, as in the past were Bolivia and, more recently, Chile.
Peru is the most food-insecure country in South America, with more than half its 32 million people not having regular access to enough nutritious food. The country also experienced the highest COVID-19 death rate per capita in the world and is currently grappling with its fifth wave.
The demands of the masses are simple: the immediate release of Castillo, the withdrawal of the army and for the election of a new Congress with Constituent Assembly powers. We should support them.
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