Protests following the failed coup attempt of the former president were met with deadly police violence
In the two months since Dina Boluarte was sworn on as president of Peru after the controversial departure of President Pedro Castillo, 48 people have been killed by Peruvian security forces. According to investigations by Amnesty International, 80 percent of these killings took place in indigenous areas of the country, even though these regions represent only 13 percent of Peru’s population and protests took place on a national level.
Most of Peru exploded into turmoil following the fall from power of Castillo—a rural schoolteacher, farmer and union leader who won in run off elections on a promise to uplift those sectors of society that had become disenfranchised. It was precisely those groups who initially took the streets, calling for his return.
Castillo’s brief time in the presidency was marked by two attempts by Peru’s much maligned Congress to remove him from office. A third effort was underway on December 7 when Castillo attempted to circumvent this by abolishing Congress and declaring that he would rule by emergency degree.
Soon afterwards, Castillo was arrested and jailed, and his former vice-president, Dina Boluarte, was sworn in as Peru’s sixth president in five years. Some decried this a self-coup orchestrated by the ex-president to dodge accusations of corruption. Others denounced it a legislative coup organized by Lima’s political establishment to keep rural Peruvians disenfranchised. Within hours, the nation was rocked with protest.
Two teenage protesters in the southern Andean region of Apurimac were shot and killed by police on December 11, fueling outrage. Protests shifted focus, from calls to release Castillo to calls for Boluarte’s resignation and early elections. As protests grew in size, so did police repression and killings, followed by the declaration of a state of emergency which sent the military onto the streets.
On December 15, hundreds of protestors in the Andean city of Ayacucho were blasted by tear gas canisters and bullets from Peruvian security forces, leaving ten people dead, including a fifteen-year-old.
In the face of outrage, President Boluarte dismissed the legitimacy of protests as being organized by violent groups, without showing any proof. Her army commander called out protestors as “bad Peruvians,” “violent extremists,” and “terrorists”. This incited memories of the decades of violence of the insurgency of the Shining Path and the ensuing brutal repression of Alberto Fujimori’s civic-military dictatorship. Since that time, the term “terrorist” has been used to quickly discredit anyone who challenges the government.
After a brief reprieve over the Christmas holidays, protests started up again, with a tragic outcome. On Monday, mostly indigenous protesters poured in from rural areas to the southern city of Juliaca. As they converged on the airport Peruvian security forces moved in, killing 17 protesters including teenagers and a doctor attending the wounded. Most received shots to the back and head.
Maryknoll Sister Pat Ryan, a resident of Peru for 40 years and founder of the human rights group DHUMA, said of the incident: “What happened in the city of Juliaca can only be described as one of the worst massacres that have occurred in our country in recent years.”
Shortly after, two other teens not involved in the protests were gunned down in a rampage of police repression, including sixteen-year-old Elmer Zolano Leonardo Huanca, a soccer-loving high school student who was bringing his mother’s cart home after a long day of selling salteñas.
Huanca’s mother, an indigenous Quechua woman who speaks no Spanish, is one of the members of the newly organized Association of Victims and Martyrs of January 9th who are seeking justice in the aftermath of the massacre. Jose Bayardo, a lawyer from DHUMA has been accompanying her said: “the victims were almost all indigenous people from rural areas. There is a racist component to this. Why are there so many deaths in the South? This was a massacre, but there has been no follow up by the government. This is another sign from the government that we are invisible. We mean nothing to them.”
On February 9, a mass was held to commemorate the massacre, police unleashed more repression upon those gathering to mourn their dead, wounding dozens including a ten-year-old boy.
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International stated “It’s no coincidence that dozens of people told Amnesty International they felt that the authorities treated them like animals and not human beings. The systemic racism ingrained in Peruvian society and its authorities for decades has been the driving force behind the violence used to punish communities that have raised their voices.”
Faith in action
Join us and the Sisters of Mercy in calling on Biden to denounce the repression in Peru. https://mogc.info/SM-Peru
Photo of the mothers of the two fallen teenage boys Elmer Zolano Leonardo Huanca, and Brayan Apaza Jumpiri photo courtesy of DHUMA