Five things to know about the violence racking Peru
Riot policemen clash with demonstrators during a protest in Lima on Jan. 24, 2023. / Photo by ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP via Getty Images
CNA Newsroom, Jan 26, 2023 / 10:45 am (CNA).
Violent protests have been taking place for more than a month in different regions of Peru and have claimed at least 54 lives due to clashes with law enforcement.
The Peruvian bishops have condemned the violence and called on the authorities to find solutions to the crisis. On Jan. 22, Pope Francis called for dialogue and respect for human rights.
The following are five key points to understand the ongoing social and political crisis in Peru.
-1. When did the protests start in Peru?-
The violent demonstrations began after the arrest of former president Pedro Castillo, a communist, who failed in his Dec. 7, 2022, attempt to carry out a coup by dissolving Congress and ruling by decree. Protests have included roadblocks, attempts to take over airports, attacks on police facilities, and even a mob burning a policeman alive.
The violence has intensified in recent days, amid the call to “take Lima” on Jan. 19, which mobilized thousands of protesters from various regions of the country to converge on the Peruvian capital.
These demonstrations are the most recent point in a political crisis in Peru resulting in six presidents in the last seven years, three of them removed from office by Congress amid accusations of corruption: Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Martín Vizcarra, and now Pedro Castillo.
-2. Who is Pedro Castillo?-
Pedro Castillo, a member of Peru Libre, an openly Marxist and Leninist party, is a school teacher who came to power in April 2021 after winning the presidential election in the second round against Keiko Fujimori, daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori.
Fujimori, who governed Peru between 1990 and 2000 and is considered a right-wing politician, was sentenced for various crimes, including corruption, embezzlement, and command responsibility for two massacres of civilians in the Barrios Altos neighborhood of Lima in 1991 and at La Canuta University on the outskirts of Lima in 1992.
During the election campaign, Pedro Castillo and other members of Peru Libre were accused of ties to the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist terrorist group Shining Path, responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the country in the 1980s and 1990s.
Since he took office, accusations of corruption have accumulated against Castillo, his family, and his entourage. The day he attempted to carry out a coup, the Peruvian Congress was scheduled to discuss the possibility of impeaching him due to moral incapacity, which they did that same day.
Castillo was arrested by the Peruvian National Police when he was on his way to the Mexican embassy in Lima to request political asylum. Following the constitutional order of succession to the presidency, Castillo was replaced by his vice president, Dina Boluarte, also of Peru Libre, who was sworn in on Dec. 7, 2022.
-3. Who are the protesters?-
There is no specific group that claims to be organizing the protests, but protesters include student groups, indigenous communities, and radical leftist organizations from various parts of the country.
According to the official ANDINA news agency, Gen. Óscar Arriola, official spokesman for the Peruvian National Police and head of the Criminal Investigation Directorate, said Jan. 13 that members of the terrorist group Shining Path were among the protesters.
“We’re not maintaining that in the protests everyone is a terrorist, but the population, which is exercising its legitimate right to protest, should know that at its side they have people linked to the Shining Path,” he warned.
In a recent statement, Archbishop Javier del Río Alba of Arequipa, one of the southern regions of the country hardest hit by the violent demonstrations, said that “under these circumstances it would not make sense to deny that Peru is a country in conflict and to affirm that the convulsion that we are experiencing is the work of only a small radical group. That group exists, but it finds in the most marginalized population the breeding ground to incite violence.”
The public National University of San Marcos, on whose campus space was given to groups that came to the capital to participate in “taking Lima" to camp, reported that on the night of Jan. 20 a group of protesters beat and expelled security guards from the university and stole security equipment.
According to a Jan. 20 report from the ombudsman’s office, at least 44 civilians have died in clashes, while another nine died “due to traffic accidents and incidents related to the blockade.”
-4. What are the protesters asking for?-
The demands of the protesters are diverse, but three main ones can be grouped together: the dissolution of Congress, holding a Constituent Assembly to change the 1993 Political Constitution of Peru that is rejected by sectors of the radical left, and the resignation of Dina Boluarte, whom many of the protesters consider to have carried out a coup by following the constitutional order of succession to the presidency and replacing Pedro Castillo.
-5. What has the Catholic Church said in the face of the growing violence in Peru?-
In the most recent of its repeated calls for an end to the violence and for dialogue, the Catholic Church in Peru offered to “mediate” between the protesters and the Peruvian authorities.
“The death of more than 50 Peruvian brothers is a deep wound in the heart of our people as well as the suffering of all the injured, civilians, and police officers,” the Peruvian bishops said.
On Jan. 22, Pope Francis said: “I join the Peruvian bishops in saying: No to violence, wherever it comes from! No more deaths!”
“I invite you to pray so that the acts of violence in Peru end. Violence extinguishes the hope of a just solution to the problems,” the Holy Father appealed.
The Office of the President of Peru expressed in a Twitter post its gratitude “to His Holiness Pope Francis for keeping Peru in his prayers.”
“That is also our path: the cessation of all acts of violence and dialogue between brothers of the same nation,” the government of Dina Boluarte said.
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.