By David Blanco Bonilla
Lima, Dec 18 (EFE).- More than 20 deaths, hundreds of people injured and serious damage to Peru’s infrastructure. That has been the result of a week of fury and violence that broke out in the South American nation amid the political and social crisis that has gripped it since the ouster of President Pedro Castillo.
Although the protests and demonstrations began on Dec. 7 in Lima almost immediately after Castillo was removed from office by Congress, they got worse a week ago, on Dec. 11 when violent clashes erupted in the city of Andahuaylas in the southern Apurimac region, where six people lost their lives.
That city, along with neighboring Ayacucho, became the epicenter of marches leading to further clashes that included attacks on airports guarded by the country’s security forces, which have been accused by civil organizations and leftist parties of resorting to excessive force against the protesters.
Both the government and the soldiers say that they are merely enforcing the laws on the books to deal with states of emergency, a 30-day state of emergency being decreed last Wednesday by the government of Dina Boluarte along with a curfew in 16 districts of eight of Peru’s 24 provinces.
During the state of emergency, constitutional rights regarding the inviolability of one’s home, freedom of movement within the national territory, freedom of gathering and personal liberties and securities, among others, are being suspended.
The demonstrations began just hours after Castillo was ousted by Congress after the announcement that he was intending to shut down the legislature and govern by decree, along with intervening in the court system and convening a constitutional assembly.
In Lima, demonstrators initially protested against Castillo’s removal and rejected the ascension of Vice President Boluarte to govern the nation, as per lawfully established constitutional succession procedures.
Tensions increased starting last weekend when demonstrators moved into different towns in Peru’s interior, above all in the city of Andahuaylas, where several police officers were taken hostage by the protesters, although they were later released.
The protests included a series of demands that will remain on the table in the coming days, including Boluarte’s resignation and shutting down Congress along with calling general elections and a constitutional assembly.
Death once again took center stage on Dec. 11 when a 15-year-old boy died in demonstrations in Andahuaylas, where the airport had to be closed due to acts of vandalism on the premises.
Shortly thereafter a second death was reported, an 18-year-old man, and this further exacerbated the political tensions, after which at midnight Boluarte announced that she would send Congress a bill calling for holding general elections in April 2024.
The Ombudsman’s Office confirmed last Monday that the death toll had risen to seven within the past 24 hours, two of them minors, “and all of them died from gunshots” in Andahuaylas and in the neighboring district of Chincheros, as well as in the nearby region of Arequipa.
More than 100 members of the security forces were injured in the violence, at least one of them seriously, while in Lima vandals attacked local television stations and journalists who were covering the protests in the town center.
Despite the 30-day declaration of a state of emergency, the protesters on Thursday upped the violence in the Ayacucho region, where a group of demonstrators got onto the airport and caused significant damage to facilities there.
Soldiers and police guarding the airport responded with gunfire, as per numerous videos posted on the social networks, provoking a wave of violent confrontations that left nine more people dead, the latest fatality coming on Saturday.
On Friday, at least two other demonstrators died in clashes with police in the Pichanaki district, in the central region of Junin, and three other reporters lost their lives during the week in the northern region of La Libertad and another one in Cuzco.
Human rights organizations and leftist parties have denounced what they call the excessive use of force to suppress the demonstrations, while the government and one sector of the public have emphasized the violent attacks being suffered by the soldiers and police, which have reported injuries to more than 200 personnel.
The United Nations office in Peru on Friday issued an “urgent call” to the public and the security forces to reestablish calm, desist from any acts of violence and ensure human rights.
Amnesty International, meanwhile, demanded the immediate cessation of all state violence and protection of human rights, calling for dialogue to halt the escalating violence and avoid more deaths.