Steely determination apparent on both sides amid violent Peru protests
By Paula Bayarte and Pablo F. Cermeño
Lima, Feb 10 (EFE).- Tear gas bombs and rocks have flown in opposite directions for weeks during anti-government protests in Lima, with police and demonstrators routinely facing off in the streets of Peru’s capital and shouts of “Policia, asesina” (Cop, Killer) being hurled at the riot gear-clad officers.
The protests against Peruvian President Dina Boluarte – the country’s sixth president since 2016 – have unfolded for two months in different parts of the country.
But clear signs of fatigue are evident as the days go on and elected officials in both the legislative and executive branches firmly cling to their positions of power.
Yet, despite the challenges and obstacles, Peru’s largest trade union federation, the CGTP, called for a nationwide strike and mass rally on Thursday in a bid to breathe new life into the protests.
At 1 pm, the members of Lima’s “Las Aguilas” special services police unit, fully dressed in riot gear, gathered to shout slogans and psychologically prepare themselves for another day on the capital’s turbulent streets.
“We’re a little short of personnel because we have a lot of injured given the magnitude of the clashes … but our morale is always high because they taught us that with military discipline,” Capt. Guevara Llanos told Efe.
After a few rounds of rallying cries, the officers marched amid applause from their security force colleagues and made their way to the Paseo de los Heroes Navales, a public park located in Lima’s historic center.
There, in a scene unprecedented during democratic rule in Peru, they contributed their manpower to a contingent of some 10,000 officers stationed opposite the Palace of Justice, the seat of the country’s Supreme Court.
An equal level of determination also is evident on the other side of the divide, with demonstrators eating plates of rice stew outside the CGTP headquarters and preparing to march one more day through the streets of downtown Lima.
Meanwhile, that labor federation’s deputy secretary general, Gustavo Minaya, spoke to Efe while putting the finishing touches on an email to a congresswoman that denounces the arrest of a labor leader.
“You can’t report anything to the police anymore … the response from this dictatorship is terrible,” the labor leader told Efe, saying that he and his colleagues also have received death threats.
“We demand the immediate resignation of Ms. Dina Boluarte and that she turn herself in to answer for human rights crimes,” Minaya said minutes before heading onto the streets to protest.
Congress elevated then-Vice President Boluarte to the presidency on Dec. 7 after removing elected leftist President Pedro Castillo on grounds of “permanent moral incapacity.”
The legislature, which had tried to impeach Castillo on two previous occasions, ousted him hours after he announced the dissolution of Congress in favor of early elections and convening a constitutional convention.
Castillo, a schoolteacher and union activist with no prior political experience, shocked the Peruvian elite in 2021 when he reached the second round of the presidential election and went on to defeat rightist Keiko Fujimori in the runoff.
Congress, dominated by Fujimori’s party, sought to undermine Castillo from the moment he took office on July 28, 2021.
Early this month, the Peruvian Congress voted down the latest proposal for early general elections this year, the main demand put forward during weeks of anti-government protests that have left at least 47 civilians and one police officer dead, according to the Andean nation’s human rights ombudsman.
The worst of the violence, and the highest death tolls, have been seen in southern Peruvian regions with large indigenous populations.
But although London-based Amnesty International says “serious human rights violations and possible crimes under international law” have been committed by the Peruvian security forces, Guevara Llanos insisted that the accusations are not true.