Peru erupts in fiery protest as anger over political crises ignites

Peru erupts in fiery protest as anger over political crises ignites

Peru erupts in fiery protest as anger over political crises ignites

LIMA, Dec 13 (Reuters) – As Peru goes from one political crisis to another, the country has erupted in protests, with at least seven dead in the past week and smoke from fires and tear gas wafting through city streets . A way out seems far away.

The spark of the current unrest was the ousting and arrest of leftist leader Pedro Castillo after he attempted to illegally dissolve Congress. It followed a months-long standoff in which lawmakers charged him three times, the last time removing him from office.

Peru was one of Latin America’s economic stars in the 21st century, with strong growth lifting millions out of poverty. But political turmoil increasingly threatens to derail its economic stability, with rating agencies warning of downgrades, shutdowns hitting major mines in the world’s No. 2 copper producer and protesters calling on Congress and new president Dina Boluarte to resign.

For those who look closely it should come as little surprise. Voters are fed up with the continuing political infighting that has seen six presidents in the past five years and seven impeachment attempts.

The heavily fragmented unicameral Congress is detested, with an approval rating of just 11%, according to pollster Datum. That’s lower than Castillo’s, which despite a string of corruption allegations was 24% just before he was removed.

“The Peruvian people are just exhausted from all the political machinations, crime, uncertainty and stalled growth,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society.

He said Boluarte’s pledge to hold snap elections in April 2024 could help calm things down in the near term, but that wouldn’t solve entrenched problems of a divided electorate and infighting between the presidency and Congress.

“It’s a toxic soup, with a weak president, a dysfunctional Congress, the deposed president trying to generate popular resistance to his rightful removal, an agitated population, and little vision from anyone about how to get out of this mess.”

Peru’s constitution makes it relatively easy for an unhappy legislature to initiate an impeachment, while a lack of dominant political parties – the largest, Popular Force, controls just 24 of the 130 seats – means agreement is sparse on the ground. Corruption was also a frequent problem.

The only way many Peruvians feel they can make their voices heard is on the street. In recent days, protesters have blocked roads, started fires and even taken control of airports. The police have come under criticism from human rights groups for their use of firearms and tear gas. On leave, seven people died, mostly teenagers.

There are echoes of protests in 2020, when thousands took to the streets following the impeachment and ouster of popular centrist leader Martin Vizcarra, who was succeeded by Congressional leader Manuel Merino. After two deaths he too was forced to resign.

Castillo, less popular but with a support base in rural regions that helped him win elections last year, has been trying to fuel things from prison, where he is being held while he is being investigated on rebellion and conspiracy charges.

On Monday, he called Boluarte, his former vice president, a “usurper” in a letter written to the Peruvian people in which he claimed he was still the legitimate leader of the country.

“What was said recently by a usurper is nothing but the same snot and drool of the coup-producing right,” he wrote, adding a call — long popular among a younger generation of Peruvians — for a new constitution.

“The people shouldn’t fall for their dirty games of new elections. No more abuse! A Constituent Assembly now! Immediate freedom!” she wrote.

Boluarte, a former member of Castillo’s far-left party who fell out with its leader and criticized Castillo after his attempt to dissolve Congress, has called for calm across the country and promised government of all kinds. But he faces a harsh reality, caught between protesters and a hostile parliament.

With Peruvian leaders’ recent history littered with impeachments and prison terms, it is questionable whether Boluarte can hold out until new elections are held.

“Dina Boluarte is a murderer. Five people are dead and they say nothing. Nothing matters to her, she is shameless, a traitor,” said Guadalupe Huaman, a Castillo supporter protesting with a Peruvian flag and helmet in Lima.

Cutting Peru’s outlook to negative and threatening a potential downgrade, ratings agency S&P said in a report on Monday that there appears to be little hope for.

“The way Peru’s latest change of power unfolded reflects the heightened political deadlock and heightens future risks,” he said.

Farnsworth expressed similar concerns. While Peru had a history of volatile politics, it wasn’t clear how things would play out this time around, he said.

“I think this time is somewhat different,” she said. “There seems to be no real path forward.”

Reportage by Marco Aquino and Adam Jourdan, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

Our standards: the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Adam Jourdan

Thomson Reuters

Head of the South Latin America regional office with previous experience in corporate news coverage in China and as an independent film director and producer.

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