The Ongoing Unrest in Peru: Causes, Consequences, and the Future

Written 1/16/2023:

Peru is facing some of its worst violence in decades, which began last month following the ousting of former President Pedro Castillo. The ongoing unrest has led to a state of emergency being imposed, with airports and highways becoming sites of clashes and hundreds of tourists being stranded in the country. To date, there have been reports of dozens of deaths in clashes with security forces, and human rights groups have alleged that authorities used excessive force against protests. The government has extended its 30-day state of emergency in the capital Lima and other regions, suspending several constitutional rights including freedom of movement and assembly.

The ousting of Castillo has accelerated long-simmering political tensions in the country, with protesters demanding new elections, the resignation of current President Dina Boluarte, a change to the constitution, and the release of Castillo who is currently in pre-trial detention. Castillo, a former teacher and union leader, had positioned himself as a man of the people and his supporters come from poorer regions hoping for better prospects for the country’s rural and indigenous people. The worst violence has occurred in the rural and indigenous south, which has long been at odds with the country’s coastal White and mestizo elites.

Boluarte has struggled to appease the protesters, with hundreds injured and at least 49 people having died since the protests began. In January, Peru’s top prosecutor’s office launched an inquiry into Boluarte’s handling of the unrest and several of her ministers have resigned, including the former Minister of Labor and the former Minister of Interior. Despite mounting political pressure, Boluarte has said she has no intention of leaving office.

The country’s legislative body is also viewed with skepticism by the public, with critics noting the lack of political experience of the president and members of congress. Peru’s politics has been mired in dysfunction for years, with Boluarte being its sixth president since 2018. It was plunged into political turmoil again in December when Castillo attempted to dissolve Congress and install an emergency government. Castillo was impeached and removed from office, accused of crimes of rebellion and conspiracy, which he denies.

The violence resulting from the protests has further inflamed fear and anger on both sides. Autopsies of 17 dead civilians in the southern city of Juliaca found wounds caused by firearm projectiles. Despite efforts by the government, the protests have not abated, with demonstrations continuing into the new year. The attorney general’s office has said it will investigate former Prime Minister Pedro Angulo and former Interior Minister Cesar Cervantes for their involvement in handling the protests.

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