By Fernanda Padilla
Peru’s Democratic Crisis
In December 2022, Peru’s now former president, Pedro Castillo, attempted to dissolve congress with a self-coup. It was the culmination of a long trend of democratic uncertainty in the country, and the fallout has exposed Peru’s social and diplomatic instability. Castillos’ attempt has been compared to the 1992 “Fujimorazo” in which former president Alberto Fujimori dissolved congress to initiate a self-coup. Fujimori, like Castillo, was backed by popular support, however Castillo’s attempt to dissolve Congress failed. Castillo’s presidency began in 2021 and quickly was met with demands for impeachment due to the right wing opposition’s claims of election fraud and international interference. In retaliation, Castillo attempted to dissolve congress, however the call was rejected. Instead, he was removed from office. Castillo’s removal and subsequent incarceration has led to protests across Peru, and condemnation from other Latin American authorities.
Pro-Castillo protests have highlighted Peruvian elites’ failure to represent the interests of a majority of Peruvians, and draw attention to racial and classist aspects of elites’ campaigns. Castillo drew support from rural and Indigenous communities who perceive him as a “man of the people”. They represent roughly two-thirds of the population outside of Lima, and have been a driving force behind political mobilizations. Protestors have condemned President Boluarte, who was Vice President and sworn in shortly after Castillo’s arrest. Protestors claim Boluarte’s presidency does not represent the interests of rural regions outside of the capital. As a result, demonstrators in many regions of Peru have engaged in a form of peaceful protest called “cacerolazo”, in which they “make noise by banging utensils”.
Demonstrations have been concentrated in areas where there have historically been Indigenous-led uprisings, particularly by Quechua and Aymara communities. In these cases, protestors have been labeled as criminals and terrorists by officials. Following Castillo’s impeachment, President Boluarte declared a state of emergency, which approved military intervention as a response to weeks of pro-Castillo demonstrations. Additionally, the declaration contained a measure that would limit certain civil rights, resulting in the suspension of citizens’ rights to freedom of movement and assembly. As a result, pro-Castillo protestors have been met with intense government repression, which has been condemned by human rights organizations due to the level of violence and high death tolls stemming from brutal police and military tactics. These tactics have led to multiple massacres of protestors, such as the Ayacucho massacre, in which most of the fatalities were caused by gunshots to the chest. In some areas, as many as 90% of reported injuries were caused by gunshots. Protestors and activists have subsequently claimed that the military and police brutality at pro-Castillo demonstrations has been a form of modern genocide as a large number of victims are Indigenous, drawing attention to the classist and racial divisions aggravated by political uncertainty in Peru.
Protestors continue to face consequences as they are not being given proper medical attention as a form of punishment for their involvement in anti-Boluarte demonstrations. A hospital director appointed by the government denied allegations that patients did not have “access to basic services,” demonstrating the extent to which democracy has failed Peruvian citizens. Although President Boluarte has apologized for the violence, she has refused to step down from power. Furthermore, she will not consider calling a constitutional assembly, which has been one of the main demands from protestors who have also called for a congressional overhaul. This perpetuates Peru’s democratic crisis, as a majority of citizens feel they are not represented adequately by their government; only 21% of Peruvians are satisfied with their democracy. This is echoed by claims that while protests are being punished, those who have killed protestors maintain impunity.
President Boluarte’s regime has also drawn international criticism, highlighting the instability of Peru’s diplomatic standing. After Peru’s 2021 elections, the right-wing opposition claimed that Castillo’s victory was a result of election fraud and interference from countries such as Venezuela and Cuba, which are considered leftist nations. This demonstrates suspicion of regional neighbors, fueling ongoing diplomatic concerns. Once Castillo was removed from power, Colombia, Mexico, Bolivia, and Argentina signed a joint statement which recognized Castillo as “a victim of undemocratic harassment” while officials from Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua expressed support for Castillo after his imprisonment. These officials are considered leftists, demonstrating a partisan divide within Latin America that may isolate Peru’s now right-wing government.
Following Castillo’s impeachment, Mexico’s president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), accepted Castillo’s request for asylum, and requested that Ambassador Pablo Monroy allow Castillo to enter the Mexican embassy. However, Castillo was arrested en route to the Mexican embassy, and Boluarte’s Foreign Affairs Ministry subsequently condemned Mexico’s actions as an interference in Peru’s domestic affairs. The ministry still called on Mexico and Peru’s “long tradition of friendship,” however regional relations have been marked with suspicion and claims of interference. Consequently, Boluarte’s regime declared Mexico’s ambassador a “persona non grata,” and expelled him from Peru in December, 2022, demonstrating that despite their amicable history, diplomatic affairs continue to spiral in the region. This is especially highlighted after Peru’s ambassadors in Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, and Colombia were recalled “for consultation,” following the respective countries’ joint declarations made in favor of Castillo.
Peru’s democratic crisis highlights its inability to adequately address its people’s concerns and maintain steady regional diplomatic ties. Peru’s continuing democratic crisis has most recently been characterized by right-wing elites undermining votes from rural and Indigenous portions of the population, which make up a majority of the population outside of Lima. They have relied on fear-mongering, weak claims of electoral fraud, and external interference to undermine legitimate concerns and frame it as a partisan issue– instead of a complex issue in which democracy has failed its people.
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