LIMA, Peru (AP) — People flocked to Peru’s coastal capital, many from remote Andean regions, for a protest Thursday against President Dina Boluarte and in support of her predecessor, whose ouster last month sparked deadly riots and plunged the nation into political chaos.
There was a tense calm on the streets of Lima on Thursday morning ahead of the protest that supporters of former President Pedro Castillo hope will open a new chapter in the weeks-long movement to demand Boluarte’s resignation, the dissolution of Congress, immediate elections and structural change. in the country. Castillo, the first Peruvian leader of rural Andean origin, was impeached after a failed attempt to dissolve Congress.
“We have criminal ministers, presidents who murder, and we live like animals in the midst of so much wealth that they steal from us every day,” said Samuel Acero, a farmer who heads the regional protest committee in the southeastern city of Cusco. while he was walking through downtown Lima on Thursday morning. “We want Dina Boluarte to leave, he lied to us.”
So far, the protests have mainly taken place in the Andes of southern Peru, with 53 people dead in the unrest, the vast majority killed in clashes with security forces.
“We are at a breaking point between the dictatorship and democracy,” said Pedro Mamani, a student at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. Students shelter protesters who traveled to the Peruvian capital for the protest that is popularly known as the “take of Lima.”
The university was surrounded by police, who also congregated at several key points in Lima’s downtown historic district.
A total of 11,800 police officers will be deployed in Lima, Víctor Zanabria, head of the police force there, told local media. He downplayed the size of the protests, saying he expected as many as 2,000 people to participate.
The demonstrations that broke out last month and subsequent clashes with security forces constitute the worst political violence Peru has experienced in more than two decades and have highlighted the deep divisions that exist in the country between the largely concentrated urban elite extent in Lima and poor rural areas, where citizens have often felt relegated.
“In my own country, the voices of the Andes, the voices of the majority have been silenced,” Florencia Fernández, a lawyer who lives in Cusco, said Wednesday before the protest. “We have had to travel to this aggressive city, this centralist city, and we say, the Andes have fallen.”
By taking the protest to Lima, the protesters hope to give new impetus to the movement that began when Boluarte, who was vice president, took office on December 7, replacing Castillo.
“When there are tragedies, massacres outside the capital, it does not have the same political relevance on the public agenda as if it happened in the capital,” said Alonso Cárdenas, a professor of public policy at the Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University in Lima. “The leaders have understood that and they say, they can massacre us in Cusco, in Puno, and nothing happens, we have to take the protest to Lima,” Cárdenas added, citing two cities that have seen protest violence.
The concentration of protesters in Lima also reflects how the capital has begun to see more anti-government demonstrations in recent days.
“Lima, which had not joined the protests in the first phase of December, decided to join after the Juliaca massacre,” said Omar Coronel, a professor of political science at the Catholic University of Peru, referring to the 18 people killed. in that southern city on January 9.
Thursday’s protesters plan to march from downtown Lima to the Miraflores district, one of the emblematic neighborhoods of the country’s economic elite.
The government has asked the protesters to be peaceful.
“We know they want to take over Lima,” Boluarte said this week. “I call for them to take Lima, yes, but in peace” and he added that “he will wait for them at Government House to be able to talk about their social agendas.”
Boluarte has said he supports a plan to move up to 2024 the presidential and congressional elections originally scheduled for 2026.
Many protesters say that dialogue with a government that they say has unleashed so much violence against its citizens is not possible.
As protesters gathered in Lima, more violence broke out in southern Peru.
In the town of Macusani on Wednesday, protesters set fire to the police station and courthouse after two people were killed and another seriously injured by gunshots amid anti-government protests.
The officers had to escape from the police station that the crowd burned in a helicopter, police said. Macusani, about 160 kilometers from the city of Juliaca near Lake Titicaca, is the capital of the province of Carabaya,
Activists have dubbed Thursday’s demonstration in Lima the March of the Four Suyos, a reference to the four cardinal points of the Inca empire. It is also the same name given to another massive mobilization that took place in 2000, when thousands of Peruvians took to the streets against the autocratic government of Alberto Fujimori, who resigned months later.
There are several key differences between those demonstrations and the protests this week.
“In the year 2000, the people protested against a regime that was already consolidated in power,” said Cárdenas. “In this case, they are up against a government that has only been in power for a month and is incredibly fragile.”
Another distinction is that the 2000 protests had centralized leadership and were run by political parties. “Now what we have is something much more fragmented,” Coronel said.
The protests that have engulfed much of Peru in the past month have largely been grassroots efforts without clear leadership.
“We have never seen a mobilization of this magnitude, there is already a thought installed in the peripheries that it is necessary, urgent to transform everything,” said Gustavo Montoya, a historian at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. “I have the feeling that we are witnessing a historic change.”
The protests have grown to such an extent that the demonstrators are unlikely to be satisfied with Boluarte’s resignation and are now demanding more fundamental structural reform.
The protests have emerged “in regions that have been systematically treated as second-class citizens,” Montoya said. “I think this will only continue to grow.”
Analysts warn that failure to listen to protesters’ demands could have tragic consequences.
“We have to start thinking about what we want to do with Peru, otherwise this whole thing could blow up,” Cárdenas said.