Peru erupts in fiery protests as anger over political crises flares

LIMA, Dec 13 (Reuters) – As Peru lurches from one political crisis to another, the country has erupted in protest with at least seven people killed in the past week and smoke from fires and tear gas hanging over city streets. The way out seems far away.

The spark of the current unrest was the removal and arrest of the leftist leader Pedro Castillo after trying to dissolve Congress illegal. That followed months of unrest in which lawmakers impeached him three times, most recently removing him from office.

Peru has been one of Latin America’s economic stars in the 21st century, with strong growth that has lifted millions out of poverty. But political turmoil increasingly threatens to undermine its economic stability with rating agencies downgrade warning, blockades affecting the world’s major mines no. 2 copper producer and protesters demanding Congress and new President Dina Bolwarte step down.

For those watching closely, this should come as no surprise. Voters are fed up with the constant political infighting that has seen six presidents in the past five years and seven impeachment attempts.

The highly fragmented unicameral Congress is hated — with an approval rating of just 11 percent, according to the Datum poll. That’s below that of Castillo, who, despite a series of corruption allegations, was at 24% just before he was ousted.

“The Peruvian people are just tired of all the political machinations, the crime, the insecurity and the slowdown in growth,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas and Society of the Americas.

He told Boluarte bet holding snap elections in April 2024 may help calm things down in the short term, but it won’t solve the root 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 ousted president seeking to create popular opposition to his legal removal, an agitated populace, and little vision from anyone about how to get out of this mess.”

Peru’s constitution makes it relatively easy for a hapless legislature to initiate impeachment, while the lack of dominant political parties — the largest, Popular Power, controls just 24 of 130 seats — means the deal is weak in practice. Corruption is also a common problem.

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

There are echoes of protests in 2020, when thousands took to the streets after the impeachment and removal from power of popular centrist leader Martin Vizcarra, who was succeeded by Congress leader Manuel Merino. After two died, he too was forced to resign.

Castillo, who is less popular but with rural support that helped him narrowly win last year’s election, has tried to stir things up from prison, where he is being held while being investigated on sedition and conspiracy charges.

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

“What was said recently by a usurper is nothing more than the same snot and slimes of the coup-mongering right,” he wrote, adding a call – long popular among the younger generation of Peruvians – for a new constitution.

“The people must not fall for their dirty games with new elections. Enough abuses! Constituent assembly immediately! Immediate freedom!” he wrote.

Bolwarte, a former member of Castillo’s far-left party who fell out with its leader and criticized Castillo after he tried to dissolve Congress, called for calm in the country and promised a government of any kind. But she faces a harsh realitycaught between protesters and a hostile parliament.

With the recent history of Peruvian leaders littered with impeachment and imprisonment, it is questionable whether Boluarte can hold out until new elections are held.

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

Downgrading 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 cause for hope.

“The manner in which Peru’s latest change of power took place reflects the deepening political impasse and increases the risks ahead,” it said.

Farnsworth expressed similar concerns. While Peru had a history of volatile politics, it was unclear how things would be resolved this time, he said.

“I think it’s kind of different this time,” he said. “There seems to be no real way forward.”

Reporting by Marco Aquino and Adam Jourdan Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Adam Jourdan

Thomson Reuters

South Latin America Regional Bureau Chief with previous experience in leading corporate news in China and as an independent film director and producer.

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