The poor in Peru won't back down in face of bloody crackdown
When I wrote about the protests in Peru in December after President Castillo was arrested, I never imagined that this would still be going on in late January. Despite more than 55 people killed by security forces, the protests are getting bigger, bolder and more organized, and their demands are getting more broad.
Police raided a university in Lima over the weekend.
Scores of police raided a Lima university on Saturday, smashing down the gates with an armoured vehicle, firing teargas and detaining more than 200 people who had come to the Peruvian capital to take part in anti-government protests.
Images showed dozens of people lying face down on the ground at San Marcos University after the surprise police operation. Students said they were pushed, kicked and hit with truncheons as they were forced out of their dormitories.
As of yesterday, protestors maintained at least 83 roadblocks in the country.
The blockades are present in eight regions of the country: Ucayali, Huánuco, Ica, Apurímac, Cusco, Arequipa, Puno, Madre de Dios, Tacna, according to the Peruvian radio station RPP.
The director of the NGO Luz Ambar, Quispe Candia, explained that these cuts affect some 80,000 cargo trucks which are stranded. On the road to Desaguadero alone, in the Puno region, near the Bolivian border, 300 trucks have been stranded for 16 days.
Protestors have managed to shut down at least one major copper mine.
It's telling that two weeks ago the new Peruvian government banned Bolivia's former president, Evo Morales for denouncing the brutal crackdown in Peru. Then Mexico's ambassador was kicked out of Peru after Mexico granted amnesty to President Castillo's family. No one in Castillo's family had been charged with a crime at the time.
Just to be clear, Castillo was not an effective president. He appeared to be in over his head. Plus what he tried to do on December 7 was a power-grab, without a doubt.
However, to call it a "botched coup attempt" is stretching the truth. There was corruption under the Castillo government, but it certainly wasn't any worse than under the previous administrations. So it seems unusually harsh that Castillo will spend the next 18 months in prison BEFORE his trial. Meanwhile Keiko Fujimori, his 2021 opponent was allowed to run for president even after being convicted of corruption.
What seems to be obvious to everyone is that the protestors aren't out in the streets because they support Castillo's presidency, but because they identified with Castillo as an impoverished rural school teacher. These protests are about the rural versus urban and rich versus poor divide.
Daniel, 32, an indigenous mine worker from the city of Abancay in the southern-central Apurimac province, did not participate in the mass protests that swept over Peru in 2020, after president Martín Vizcarra was ousted.
“But I did take part this time, in my town, to support my people, Indigenous people, who have been treated like garbage for centuries by the ‘elites’.”
“People are really angry because of the people who have been killed, most of them farmers and Indigenous people, and about the racism and classism of those in power,” he says.
“I don’t want Castillo to come back, because sadly he did something illegal. But he was the first Indigenous president to be elected, he was our champion. When he took office, the media began to attack him. But we trust him, because he was like us – a farmer, a teacher in a rural school in a very poor town. We feel betrayed.”
The protests are broadly about the stark inequality between poor Indigenous regions in the south of the country and the capital, Daniel says.
“We don’t have good doctors, no decent education, people here have no money, no infrastructure. Castillo wanted to change the constitution, to enable more participation of indigenous people. When Boluarte, who is supported by the elites, resigns, it will be the beginning of change.”
Daniel says there has been heavy military presence in Abancay since the protests began. “But now, people from many regions have travelled to the capital to protest there. So there are less security forces on the streets than previously. The media call people who protest for their rights ‘terrorists’, depict Indigenous people as ignorant, as people without education and without feelings, even.”
Meanwhile, President Dina Boluarte vowed to get tougher on "vandals."
This won't end soon.