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Why Peruvians keep protesting against an unelected coup regime

Turkish newspaper BirGün interviewed Ben Norton about the protests in Peru against the unelected government of Dina Boluarte, installed after a coup against President Pedro Castillo.

Peru protest coup Dina Boluarte

The Turkish newspaper BirGün interviewed Geopolitical Economy Report editor Ben Norton about the months-long protests in Peru against the unelected government of Dina Boluarte, installed after a US-backed coup in December 2021 against President Pedro Castillo.

The interview was translated into Turkish, but the original English-language version is below.

What do the Peruvian protesters want?

The protesters in Peru have three main demands:

  1. new elections as soon as possible
  2. freedom for President Pedro Castillo, who was imprisoned for 18 months without due process
  3. a constituent assembly to write a new constitution, to replace the constitution created by the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori in 1993

Who is participating in the protests?

The protests have been organized by activist organizations, Indigenous communities, human rights groups, and left-wing political parties like Nuevo Perú and Perú Libre.

Working-class Peruvians of Indigenous descent, who largely live in rural areas, make up the main base of the demonstrations.

They will continue protesting until their demands are met.

The problem is that Peru’s congress – which is notoriously corrupt and controlled by wealthy right-wing oligarchs, and recently had a 7% approval rating – refuses to hold new elections; it is repeatedly blocking attempts to organize a vote.

Can the process in Peru be similar to that of Bolivia?

There are similarities between Peru and Bolivia. Both have majority Indigenous-descent populations who were largely ignored and marginalized by the mainstream political system for decades. But the political situation in Bolivia is very different.

Bolivia’s leftist Indigenous leader Evo Morales first came to power in 2006, and he completely transformed the country. His Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party has governed since then (excluding the year-long rule of an unelected right-wing regime after a violent coup d’etat in November 2019).

Under Morales, Bolivians democratically created a new constitution, establishing a plurinational state. His successor, current President Luis Arce, has continued that revolutionary process.

For many protesters in Peru, Bolivia is a political model for what they would like to try to accomplish in their own country. In fact many demonstrators have called for creating a plurinational state as well, in which Indigenous nations have equal representation.

But in Peru, the left is significantly weaker and less organized, particularly because the Fujimori dictatorship used extreme violence to repress left-wing forces in the 1990s.

What does the structure of the Congress tell us about the political crisis in the country?

Peru’s former dictator Alberto Fujimori, who ruled in the 1990s, destroyed all democratic institutions. The Peru of today inherited the structural problems he created.

As part of Fujimori’s changes, he established a unicameral congress, which according to article 113 of the constitution can overthrow the elected president by declaring that the head of state has a “moral incapacity”. All the congress needs is a two-thirds vote.

Numerous scandals, like the infamous Mamanivideos, have shown how corrupt Peru’s congress is. Rich right-wing politicians and their corporate sponsors have been caught bribing congressmembers to vote for or against this impeachment process, which is known as “presidential vacancy”.

Immediately after Castillo was elected, the congress tried to overthrow him using this process. When he tried to dissolve the congress on December 7, it was in order to prevent such a parliamentary coup. And some Peruvian legal experts have argued that Castillo had the right to do so according to article 134 of the same constitution.

These structural problems explain why Peru has had seven presidents in six years. Peru’s political system and constitution must be fundamentally changed if it wants stability.

Castillo had campaigned for president on the promise that he would change the constitution. That is why he won the 2021 presidential election in the first place. And that is why people are in the streets protesting today.

Boluarte’s request for early elections was rejected. What is the Congress’ plan?

It is hard to say with certainty what the congress is planning, but it is clear that what Peru is going through now is a power struggle between different factions of the country’s right-wing oligarchy.

At the current moment, the right-wing and conservative forces are in charge of the state, in alliance with Boluarte (who was expelled from the leftist Perú Libre party in January 2022, and who said she never even believed in its ideology in the first place).

But the far-right, fascistic Fujimorista forces want control of the Peruvian state. The Fujimoristas are those who supported the dictatorship in the 1990s and want to bring back its policies. The movement’s leaders are in fact family members of the former dictator Alberto Fujimori (who is in prison for crimes against humanity), including his daughter Keiko and son Kenji (who is also currently in prison on corruption charges, although Keiko hopes to free them both).

The Fujimoristas have significant influence in the congress, and in other institutions. So their strategy may be to either form an alliance with and co-opt Boluarte, or to replace her with someone like José Williams, the current president of the congress.

Williams is a former military chief who oversaw massacres and is linked to drug trafficking. He would likely be very amenable to the Fujimoristas’ interests.

The Fujimoristas desperately want to prevent new elections from being held, because they are very unpopular among the vast majority of Peruvians, and they know they would likely lose.

What does it mean for the police and the state to take political sides, like we have seen in Brazil?

The military and police in Peru have long been linked to the right wing. During the far-right Fujimori dictatorship in the 1990s, they were the key to maintaining him in power. The military and police committed massacres against people accused of being Maoist guerrillas from the group Shining Path, although in many cases they were actually killing civilians.

There are parallels with the situation in Brazil, which also had a far-right military dictatorship until the 1980s. But we shouldn’t overstate the similarities.

Some elements of the Brazilian military were indeed loyal to far-right former leader Jair Bolsonaro, but he never had the support of most of the military leadership. This is why the coup attempts led by the Bolsonaristas failed.

In Peru, the state is even less democratic, and the military and police have significant power over the civilian government. That is how they were able to easily imprison Pedro Castillo.

We have seen how this political power in the hands of the Congress leads to danger. How should changes be made so that the Peruvian people can have their voice?

The path for the changes that Peru needs is quite clear: a constituent assembly in which the people of Peru democratically create a new constitution to replace the current one that was written by the Fujimori dictatorship.

The Peruvian oligarchy is clearly against this, as it benefits economically and politically from the Fujimorista constitution.

But a constituent assembly is one of the main demands of the protesters in the streets, and it is the only solution that will provide true stability for Peru.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. discordia23

    2023-02-17 at 13:04

    Thank you for translating this article into English. It is very hard to find any news concerning this coup in English

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