‘So much corruption’: Protests grip Peru amid political turmoil

Al Jazeera speaks to Peruvians as the country enters a state of emergency after the arrest of ex-President Pedro Castillo.

Protesters in Peru clash with police
Protesters in Lima clash with police following the arrest of ex-President Pedro Castillo [Sebastian Castaneda/Reuters]

Another day of political upheaval has gripped Peru, as protests continue to spread throughout the country following the impeachment and arrest of former President Pedro Castillo. Violent clashes with riot police have left at least seven dead and more wounded.

Castillo, a former school teacher from Peru’s highlands, struck a defiant note in a legal hearing on Tuesday, saying he was “unjustly and arbitrarily detained”. He faces a charge of rebellion, following his attempt to dissolve Congress and forge an emergency government last week.

“I will never renounce or abandon this popular cause that has brought me here,” Castillo said. He also called on police to “lay down their arms and stop killing” protesters, whom he described as “thirsty for justice”. The governments of Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Bolivia on Monday issued a joint communique in support of the ex-president.

Following Castillo’s impeachment last week, Dina Boluarte was hastily sworn in as Peru’s first female president. In a live television address early Monday, Boluarte announced a state of emergency in “high conflict” regions in the country’s south.

Backing away from her intention to hold office until 2026, Boluarte also pledged to submit legislation to Congress for early general elections, to be held in April 2024.

But the president’s promise to push forward elections has done little to pacify protesters, who are demanding Boluarte’s resignation, the shutdown of the nation’s deeply unpopular Congress and Castillo’s release. He is being detained in a police prison in the capital of Lima.

Supporters of the former president have converged on police precincts, news media headquarters and an international airport in the southern city of Arequipa. Major airline carriers, including LATAM, cancelled domestic flights to the city as well as to Cusco, a major tourist destination.

Protesters have continued to block highways in 11 departments, primarily in the country’s south, including stretches of the Pan-American highway, a vital thoroughfare that runs along Peru’s Pacific coast. Meanwhile, in Peru’s Amazon, the nation’s largest Indigenous federation, AIDESEP, announced mass mobilisations to demand immediate general elections.

In Lima on Monday, Al Jazeera spoke to protesters and ordinary citizens about their thoughts on the political crisis.

Carmen Alfaro stand in her store in Lima
Carmen Alfaro, a shopkeeper in central Lima, said she is hopeful Peru’s first female president, Dina Boluarte, can repair the politically fractured nation [Neil Giardino/Al Jazeera]

Carmen Alfaro, 40, shopkeeper from Lima, Peru

“If [President] Boluarte falls, someone else will come in and keep on robbing us — the same as always. It’s better she stays, to have new elections in a year. It’s too long, but at least she’s prepared to lead. She’s a woman. Maybe she can repair the country. But she’s up against a lot of pressure — from the press and from Congress.”

Juan De La Cruz Gonzalez gives a speech in Lima
A native of Peru’s Lambayeque department, Juan De La Cruz Gonzalez gives an impromptu speech in Lima’s San Martin Plaza calling for the shutdown of the country’s Congress [Neil Giardino/Al Jazeera]

Juan De La Cruz Gonzalez, 57, buyer and seller from Lambayeque, Peru

“We have one simple objective, and that is to shut down this corrupt Congress and change direction. I came here to Lima, 14 hours, all the way from Peru’s heartland because this Congress has usurped us and their only interest is taking down our people.

“We need our highways blocked on a national level — all 24 departments. Meanwhile, on the news they’re calling us terrorists, that we’re this, that we’re that. These are the arguments of the corrupt far-right that always tells lies to take down our people.”

Jeancarlos Delcolca, who suffered a disfiguring injury, sits on the sidewalk selling small trinkets
Jeancarlos Delcolca, who suffered a disfiguring injury, is one of countless Peruvians who toil in the country’s informal economy. He said he wants to see the country ‘take a new direction’ [Neil Giardino/Al Jazeera]

Jeancarlos Delcolca, 34, street vendor from Chiclayo, Peru

“We want our country to take a new direction. We want a better life for all Peruvians. In Arequipa, another person died today. We need to end this violence and murder. People have to unite and dialogue with our leaders.

“I hope [President Dina Boluarte] will take a new path to help put an end to this death and violence.”

Fernandao DaSilva sells copies of Peru’s constitution to protesters and passersby in Lima, Peru
Fernandao DaSilva sells copies of Peru’s constitution to protesters and passers-by in one of Lima’s main plazas [Neil Giardino/Al Jazeera]

Fernandao DaSilva, 63, vendor of copies of the Peruvian constitution from central Lima, Peru

“I don’t have regular work, so I’m making ends meet by selling my country’s constitution. I’m also here to help the cause, to shut this Congress down.

“I don’t belong to the left or the right. I’m just one more citizen who disagrees with this Congress. They don’t represent me. They’ve had over a year and they haven’t accomplished one project that has benefited the people. They just fight amongst each other. We want new elections.”

Pedro Tuya Moreno, 52, a political independent in Peru, stands next to books
Pedro Tuya Moreno, a political independent, fears national pro-Castillo protests are paralysing the country [Neil Giardino/Al Jazeera]

Pedro Tuya Moreno, 52, bookseller from Piura, Peru

“I don’t see any future for this country. We’re absolutely lost. Instead of moving forward, we’re stepping back. These protesters are being manipulated by Castillo. They’re all communists, these people, and they’re manipulating the country.

“We need to give this new government a chance and see how they move forward. They need a little time to get on their feet.”

Cesar Laoz stand in Peru street
Cesar Laoz, 30, is concerned about the economic fallout of continuing protests, saying, ‘We don’t want this conflict’ [Neil Giardino/Al Jazeera]

Cesar Laoz, 30, tattoo artist from La Merced, Peru, currently living in Lima

“I just want to live in peace and harmony, but there’s so much corruption. We need to get rid of it. I don’t know much about the new president, but to me, she’s not legitimate. She came out of nowhere.

“I just hope our economy makes it through this and that things improve.”

Husband and wife, Raul Room and Juana de la Cruz, sell religious items out of a stand in front of Lima’s Santo Domingo Church
Husband and wife Raul Room and Juana de la Cruz sell religious items out of a stand in front of Lima’s Santo Domingo Church [Neil Giardino/Al Jazeera]

Raúl Room, left, 64, and Juana de la Cruz, 68, vendors of religious items from Lima, Peru

Room: “The reality is Congress is to blame. From the very beginning, they wanted Castillo to fall. They tried to impeach him three times. It seems to me something illegal is going on in our institutions, the way they removed him. That’s why the people are rebelling. This is just getting started.

“For me, the best thing would be for President Dina Boularte to step down and hold new elections immediately.”

De la Cruz: “Think of the mothers that will wake up tomorrow without their sons. All for these power-hungry congressmen. It’s disgusting.”

Source: Al Jazeera