Military and police forces have killed over 60 protestors since the congressional coup against democratically elected President Pedro Castillo last December.
BY TRNN MARCH 8, 2023 by https://therealnews.com/
Protests and strikes have engulfed Peru since last December, when democratically elected President Pedro Castillo was ousted in a congressional coup. Castillo’s Vice President, Dina Boluarte, immediately assumed office and formed a new ruling coalition with the country’s right-wing political parties. Millions across Peru have since demanded the dissolution of Congress, new elections, and a process to replace the current 1993 constitution written during the dark days of the Alberto Fujimori dictatorship. TRNN reports from Peru, speaking directly with union leaders and protestors battling to save their nation’s future and democracy.
Video editing, script writing: Gabriela Modesto
Production, editing, English voiceover: Rael Mora
Interviews and translation: Rael Mora and Gabriela Modesto
Videography: Juan Zapata, Valia Aguirre, and Patricia Lucho
Narrator: Peru is experiencing a social explosion in the aftermath of the congressional coup against democratically elected President Pedro Castillo. The present crisis is just the latest in years of political turmoil in Peru, which has seen six heads of state in six years. Current President Dina Boluarte has a higher protestor death toll than days in office.
Massive caravans of citizens from all over the country have mobilized to Lima, the capital of Peru, so that their demands are heard. They want the resignation of Boluarte, the immediate call for general elections, and a referendum on creating an assembly to write a new constitution.
Protester: Dina Boluarte has to go. We don’t want her. And Congress doesn’t represent us. We want freedom. We want respect for life, because human murders are not normal in a democratic country. We are not leaving until this woman goes home.
Narrator: How did it get to this point? Back in July 2021, Pedro Castillo was elected president as a representative of common Peruvians. A rural school teacher from the Andes, Castillo came from a world of rural and Indigenous peoples, far from that of the established political class representing the traditional elites in the capital.
Manuel Coronado: People voted for Pedro Castillo, for his campaign promises and being close to the people. Right after winning [elections], they [the opposition] did not let him govern, because the economic powers and the business groups have always dominated the country. They have taken all our natural resources, and the places where those [resources] are extracted live in poverty and extreme poverty.
Narrator: By Dec. 7, 2022, Pedro Castillo was facing a third attempt from Congress to vacate him, but his detractors didn’t have enough votes. Yet, after Castillo attempted to close Congress, the opposition forces closed in. Without the support of the military, Castillo’s attempt to close Congress was defeated, and he was arrested just a few blocks from the Government Palace by police on charges of rebellion and conspiracy.
Two hours after Castillo’s arrest, Congress voted to formally vacate Castillo from office. Vice President Dina Boluarte was sworn in as President with the backing of the opposition.
Despite originally being a leftist candidate and elected on the same ticket as Castillo, Boluarte closed ranks with the opposition and gave a speech in support of the congressional coup. That same day, large protests erupted, demanding the release of Castillo and asking Boluarte to declare new elections immediately. As Boluarte appointed right-wing ministers in key positions of power, protests expanded to other cities in the country.
Manuel Coronado: And even more now that the businesses in government that didn’t win the elections have regained power, because Dina Boluarte is representing the business model. Lawmakers are lobbying for changing the constitution the way they want, and that is the rejection and indignation that Peruvian people feel at this moment.
Narrator: On Dec. 11, the first two murders by police were recorded in Apurímac. The next day, President Boluarte presented a bill to Congress to bring forward general elections, but in April of 2024. This prompted protests to increase, and 8 civilians were killed again in Apurímac during police repression. A 15-year-old teenager was among the victims. Boluarte responded by declaring a state of emergency that enabled the military to intervene. Human rights organizations warned that the move would bring more death and violence.
On the first day of the state of emergency, a massacre occurred in the city of Ayacucho. Soldiers were recorded shooting live ammunition at civilians when they tried to take the city’s airport. The shooting moved to the streets of the city, killing 10 people. Some of the victims were not even participating in the protests, or were only assisting the more than 52 people already injured.
Victim’s daughter: My father was an innocent person who was killed. He was only helping some injured people, and they shot my dad. I ask for justice and [the] media for help because his death should not go unpunished. I ask for justice for my father.
Jennie Dador: The government’s attitude has been to increase the repression. It did start with a very repressive measure, which was the massacre in Ayacucho. That was the first one in the month of December. Instead of that changing, stopping, or controlling the response, it increased.
Narrator: Protests then expanded to the regions of Arequipa, Junín, and La Libertad. The violence escalated, with the burning of public properties such as a local prosecutor’s office and the Judiciary. Demonstrators blamed infiltrators, and images of agents disguised as civilians next to the police came to light. Political persecution followed, with the search of offices in Lima of social organizations, peasants’ unions, and political parties.
Leaders accused the state of planting weapons in their offices, such as machetes. The police and the prosecutor’s office tried to charge the targeted organizations with terrorism. However, with the support of the National Human Rights Coordinator, all detainees were released.
Man: We are not terrorists. I graduated [from the armed forces]. I’ve served my country.
Manuel Coronado: Criminalization of protests has taken place during all governments, and it has increased in this dictatorial government of Dina Boluarte. It is worse than during Fujimori’s time. There is strong repression. You can’t march peacefully because the police subdue you. Added to this crisis, persecution against social and popular leaders. We are unprotected, and this persecution that is taking place everywhere has to be reported at an international level.
Narrator: 2023 began with mobilizations at the national level, and had its most critical point in Puno, where another massacre occurred. 17 people were killed on Jan. 9 during police and military repression. Autopsies carried out revealed that those who died had been shot. Others passed away days after in hospitals.
Jennie Dador: It started with indiscriminate and generalized violence. Territories have been militarized, the use of force without restraint continues. There are investigations of people who are supporting the protest in solidarity, the ones that collect money, groceries, etc. And there are difficulties to carry[ing] out our work as human rights lawyers. We have obstacles entering police stations and contacting detainees immediately. There are also restrictions for health personnel
to carry out their work. And of course, journalists are the ones that have received more unrestricted police abuse, even though they were clearly identified.
Narrator: The increased killings and violence has provoked growing solidarity from many regions of Peru, manifested in the mass mobilization of protestors to Lima. Large caravans of trucks, buses, and cars transported volunteer citizens who left their cities amid farewells, tears, and applause.
Meanwhile, the Peruvian Prosecutor’s Office opened a preliminary investigation against Boluarte for the alleged crimes of genocide, qualified homicide, and serious injuries.
Jennie Dador: The investigation will determine administrative responsibilities about who and how the orders were given. It will determine criminal responsibility; criminal justice is slow but it will come, we know that. And there is also political responsibility, which we haven’t seen so far. If the government truly had the intention to change this repressive response, the first thing it should have done is to remove the police and military chiefs in the zone, change the Minister of Interior, the Defense Minister, and the Prime Minister. Nothing has happened.
Narrator: Dina Boluarte denies responsibility for the killings, and has tried to portray the protestors as a minority who are being blackmailed, manipulated, or bullied. However, multiple renowned surveys contradict Boluarte’s claims. For instance, one survey from the Institute of Peruvian Studies revealed that 74% of the country believes that she should leave office.
Another blow to democracy came when a police tank destroyed one of the entrances to the National University of San Marcos, the most emblematic in the country. The police entered without the presence of a prosecutor and without a court order, and arrested citizens and students who had come to Lima to protest and were staying at the university’s residence.
A police cordon outside did not allow the entry of lawyers. Among the people arrested was a pregnant woman with her 7-year-old daughter, and 3 journalists from Puno. After almost two days, they were released.
As massive marches continued in several regions, Lima had its first fatality on Saturday, Jan. 28. A tear gas bomb was shot directly at the head of Víctor Santisteban Yacsalvilca when he was with a group of medical brigade members.
An independent media outlet, Wayka, was able to obtain security footage from a commercial building showing the murder by a police officer. The testimony of the brigade member who treated Víctor, the police intervention report, and the autopsy concurred that the cause of his death was the impact of a hard object. No police officer is being investigated for this murder. Instead, social leaders are being persecuted and detained, being accused of harassment or of financial wrongdoing for collecting community donations.
Jennie Dador: There is only a call for dialogue, but in a way that is absolutely disconnected from the reality. They invite [us] to a dialogue, but they have a machine gun in their hands.
Narrator: As protest continues, more fatalities are expected, and Boluarte and her allies in Congress are expected to continue to cling to power.