Peru’s new government proclaims a police state amid protests
Peru’s new government declared a national emergency on Wednesday as it struggled to calm violent protests over the ouster of President Pedro Castillo and suspended rights to “personal security and liberty” across the Andean country for 30 days.
Acts of vandalism, violence and highway blockades while thousands of Peruvians are on the streets “require a strong and authoritative government response,” Defense Secretary Luis Otarola Peñaranda said.
The declaration abrogates the right to assembly and freedom of movement and empowers police, backed by the military, to search people’s homes without a permit or court order. Otarola said it has not yet been decided whether a night curfew will be imposed.
For nearly a week, Peru has been rocked by political crises and unrest that have undermined stability.
The problems “have grown to such an extent that the idea of order, the idea of authorities who can somehow govern the country, is being challenged,” said Jorge Aragón, a professor of political science at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru .
The decree, he added, is “a means of wanting to restore a certain modicum of stability, a certain modicum of viability to the country, but obviously it is also a recognition that it cannot be achieved without this use of force. “
The defense minister said the Council of Ministers approved the statement. It didn’t mention Peru’s new president, Dina Boluarte, who was sworn in by Congress last week after lawmakers ousted Castillo.
Boluarte asked for calm while demonstrations against her and Congress continued.
“Peru cannot spill blood,” she said earlier Wednesday.
Referring to the call for immediate elections, she suggested they could be held in a year, four months ahead of her earlier proposal, which appeased no one.
Boluarte opened up to reporters the possibility of calling general elections for December 2023 just before a hearing to determine if Castillo would remain incarcerated for 18 months while the authorities mounted a case against him on charges of rebellion. The judge postponed the hearing after Castillo refused to attend.
“The only thing I can say to you sisters and brothers is to keep calm,” Boluarte said. “We went through that experience back in the ’80s and ’90s, and I don’t think we want to go back to that painful history.”
Comments from Castillo’s comrade-in-arms recalled the ruinous years when the Shining Path insurgency led numerous car bombings and assassinations. The group has been blamed for more than half of the nearly 70,000 estimated deaths and disappearances caused by various rebel groups and a brutal counterinsurgency government response.
Demonstrators have blocked roads in Peru’s capital and many rural communities, demanding the freedom of Castillo, Boluarte’s resignation and the immediate calling of general elections to choose a new president and replace all members of Congress.
At least seven people were killed, including a teenager who died on Wednesday after being injured during protests in Andahuaylas, a hospital director said.
All died in the same impoverished communities whose voters led the rural teachers’ union leader to victory last year after he promised a populist approach to government.
Castillo was ousted by the legislature on December 7 after trying to dissolve Congress ahead of their third attempt to impeach him. His vehicle was intercepted while driving through Lima’s streets with his security detail. Prosecutors accused him of trying to apply for political asylum at the Mexican embassy.
In a handwritten letter his associate Mauro Gonzales shared with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Castillo asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to stand up for his “rights and the rights of my Peruvian brothers who cry out for justice.” The Commission investigates allegations of human rights violations and, in some cases, carries them out in court.
Over the past week, protesters have burned down police stations, occupied a runway used by the armed forces and raided the runway at Arequipa’s international airport, a gateway to some of Peru’s tourist attractions. The passenger train carrying visitors to Machu Picchu has been grounded and roadblocks on the Panamericana have stranded articulated lorries and spoiled food bound for the capital for days.
Otarola said Tuesday the total number of people “causing this disruption” nationwide has not exceeded 8,000, an estimate that shattered support for Castillo, who took office in July 2021 after winning nearly 8.8 million votes to win the presidential runoff election vastly underestimated a narrow 50.1% share of the vote.
Boluarte said Wednesday that 200 police officers were injured in the protests. and she met at least two of them in a hospital.
Speaking to an official with facial injuries, the president said “a group” she did not identify is leading the protests.
“It’s a group that attracts the uninformed community because certainly many come to this protest and don’t even know what they are going to protest for,” Boluarte said. “But this smaller group standing behind them encourages them to come out with these violent attitudes.”
By Wednesday, members of the armed forces had already been deployed to Arequipa and other areas outside of Lima. Securing rural areas far from the capital could take longer.
Five of the deaths occurred in Andahuaylas, an Andean community whose impoverished residents have long felt abandoned by the government and occasionally rebel against it. College student Luis Torres joined a protest of about 2,000 people there on Wednesday as a couple of white vans loaded with soldiers drove through the streets.
“This measure is disproportionate. It shows the government’s political uncertainty that Ms. Dina Boluarte now has,” Torres said. “We all march peacefully for something fair that we demand. At least Andahuaylas will keep fighting.”