ANDAHUAYLAS, Peru (AP) — The anger of Peruvians against their government is nowhere more visible than in Andahuaylas, a remote rural Andean community where the poor have fought for years and where voter support helped elect the now-ousted President Pedro Castillo, himself one the peasants like.
Their fury is such that their protests continued Monday despite the deaths of four people, including two young protesters over the weekend, including 17-year-old Beckham Romario Quispe Garfias.
As thousands of people took to the streets, Raquel Quispe remembered her brother as a talented athlete tired of feeling invisible in the eyes of politicians. He was named for English soccer great David Beckham and Romario, the Brazilian soccer phenomenon turned politician.
Clouds overhead, he stood outside the hospital where his body was kept, and with a latent anger in his voice, sometimes betrayed by tears, summed up what has driven him and others to protest since Castillo’s ouster last week. : an exclusive democracy.
“For them, those who are there in Congress, the only valid opinion is that of the Peruvians who have money, of the wealthy people,” said Quispe, an early childhood teacher.
“They do what they want. For them… the vote of the provinces is not valid, it is useless. But the vote of the people of Lima is taken into account. That is an injustice for all of Peru.”
Some 3,000 people gathered in the streets of Andahuaylas on Monday to protest, mourn and pay their respects at the white coffins of the young men who died over the weekend. Throughout the community, rocks were strewn on roads still marked by simmering fires. An airstrip used by the armed forces remained blocked, black smoke still billowing from a nearby building.
Protesters in rural communities, including Andahuaylas, continued to call on President Dina Boluarte to resign and schedule general elections to replace her and all members of Congress. They also want authorities to release Castillo, who was detained Wednesday when lawmakers ousted him after he tried to dissolve Congress ahead of an impeachment vote.
While protesters have also gathered in the capital Lima, the demonstrations have been particularly heated in rural areas that were strongholds for Castillo, a former schoolteacher and political newcomer from a poor Andean mountain district.
On Monday, protesters went a step further by blocking access to an international airport in southern Peru for several hours and occupying its runway. Demonstrations in Arequipa, where the airport is located, left one protester dead, Defense Minister Alberto Otarola told lawmakers during a congressional session focused on civil unrest. Another protester was killed in the state that includes Andahuaylas, lawmakers said.
The escalation came even after Boluarte caved in to protesters’ demands hours earlier, announcing in a nationally televised address that he would send Congress a proposal to move the elections forward to April 2024, a reversal of his earlier claim that she should remain president for the rest of time. 3 1/2 years of her predecessor’s term.
Boluarte, in his address to the nation, also declared a state of emergency in areas outside of Lima, where the protests have been particularly violent.
“My duty as president of the republic in the current difficult moment is to interpret… the aspirations, interests and concerns… of the vast majority of Peruvians,” Boluarte said when announcing that she will propose early elections to Congress.
Boluarte, 60, swept into office Wednesday to replace Castillo, hours after he shocked the country by ordering the dissolution of Congress, which in turn ousted him for “permanent moral incapacity.” Castillo was arrested on charges of rebellion.
Members of the Boluarte Cabinet appeared on Monday before Congress to report on the protests. Far-right lawmaker Jorge Montoya called for appropriate measures to end the unrest, telling Castillo’s supporters that now that he has been ousted that “chapter is closed.”
“These are not acts of protest, they are acts of terrorism that must be drastically punished,” Montoya said. “You cannot defend a situation that is at the extremes.”
Peru has had six presidents in the last six years. In 2020, he rode three in one week.
The latest presidential crisis comes as the Andes and its thousands of small farms struggle to survive the worst drought in half a century. The country is also experiencing a fifth wave of COVID-19 cases.
Castillo’s supporters hoped the populist outsider would address some of the challenges they have long faced. But during his 17 months in office, Castillo was unable to accomplish any flagship projects and faced the racism and discrimination often experienced by his impoverished supporters.
In Andahuaylas, around 80% of the voters who voted during the second round of elections last year supported Castillo. His proposals included rewriting the country’s constitution, which was last drafted and approved in 1993 during the government of Alberto Fujimori, the disgraced former president whose daughter, Keiko, lost the presidency to Castillo.
Rosario Garfias was among those who demonstrated in front of the hospital where the body of her 17-year-old son was found. She expressed her anguish over the death of her son, speaking in Quechua, one of Peru’s indigenous languages.
“My mother is making a complaint in her language. I know that many do not understand it, nor does Congress understand it,” said her daughter, Raquel Quispe.
“She is saying that… she is very hurt because they have killed him, like in a slaughterhouse. And my mom, like my family, asks for justice for my brother.”
García Cano reported from Lima.
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