LIMA, Peru — Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the Peruvian capital and were greeted with bursts of tear gas and pellets amid clashes with security forces just hours after President Dina Boluarte called for a “truce” in almost two months of protests.
Tuesday’s anti-government protest was the largest and most violent since last Thursday, when large groups of people, many from remote Andean regions, poured into the capital to demand Boluarte’s resignation, immediate elections and the dissolution of Congress.
“We can’t have a truce when she doesn’t tell the truth,” Blanca España Mesa, 48, said of Peru’s president. Despite her teary eyes from the tear gas, España Mesa said she was “happy because a lot of people came today. It’s like people have woken up.”
Prior to last week, most of the large anti-government protests that followed the ouster of President Pedro Castillo took place in remote regions of Peru, mostly in the south of the country, exposing the deep divide among residents of the capital and the countryside, which had been neglected for a long time.
The crisis that has unleashed the worst political violence in Peru in more than two decades began when Castillo, the first Peruvian leader of rural Andean origin, tried to avoid the third impeachment process of his young administration by ordering the dissolution of Congress on 7 from December. instead, he fired him, the national police arrested him before he could find refuge, and Boluarte, who was his vice president, was sworn in.
Since then, 56 people have been killed amid unrest involving Castillo supporters, 45 of whom died in direct clashes with security forces, according to Peru’s Ombudsman’s Office. None of the deaths have been in Lima.
On Tuesday, police fired round after round of tear gas as they blocked the path of protesters, who seemed more organized than before. The smell of tear gas permeated the air and could be felt even a block away when people leaving work suddenly had to cover their faces to try to lessen the sting.
“Murderers,” protesters chanted, some of whom threw rocks at police.
Even after most of the protesters had left, police continued to fire tear gas to disperse small groups of people in a square in front of the country’s Supreme Court of Justice.
“I have the right to protest in this country,” said Emiliano Merino, 60, as he was treated by volunteer paramedics after pellets grazed his arms.
Boluarte had previously called for a truce and blamed protesters for the political violence that has engulfed the country, claiming at a news conference that illegal miners, drug dealers and smugglers formed a “paramilitary force” to seek chaos with Political purposes. She said numerous roadblocks across the country and damage to infrastructure have cost the country more than $1 billion in lost production.
She suggested that the protesters who died with gunshot wounds were shot by other protesters, claiming that investigations will show that their injuries are incompatible with the weapons the officers are carrying. And meanwhile some 90 policemen are hospitalized with bruises, she said she: “What about their human rights?” asked the president.
The government has not presented evidence that any of the injured officers were hit by gunfire.
Human rights defenders say they are appalled by the lack of international protest from the regional and global community and call for condemnation of the state violence unleashed since Castillo’s ouster.
Jennie Dador, executive secretary of Peru’s National Human Rights Coordinator, said the lack of international response makes it seem like “we are alone.”
“None of the states in the region have done anything concrete,” he said.
Boluarte was notably absent from a meeting of regional leaders on Tuesday in the Argentine capital, where most avoided mentioning the civilian deaths in Peru.
Human rights activists have acknowledged acts of violence by some protesters, including efforts to seize airports and burn down police stations, but say the demonstrations have been largely peaceful.
Some of the leaders at the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States blamed the government of Peru for the violence.
Chilean President Gabriel Boric said that “there is an urgent need for change in Peru because the result of the path of violence and repression is unacceptable.” Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a staunch supporter of Castillo, demanded “an end to the repression.”
During the closing ceremony of the summit, the president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, called for an end to “the street violence and the institutional violence that has claimed the lives of so many people” in Peru.
“The international community has expressed concern, but I really think it could be more forceful,” said César Muñoz, associate director of the Americas division at Human Rights Watch.
After some feverish negotiations behind closed doors in Buenos Aires in the afternoon, the situation in Peru was left out of the closing documents of the summit. “Peru is a thorny issue,” but pressure from some leaders led to last-minute negotiations, an official with Argentina’s foreign affairs ministry said, speaking on condition of anonymity for lack of authority to discuss policy.
“Peru has managed to go unnoticed,” said Marina Navarro, executive director of Amnesty International Peru. “Given the gravity of the situation, with this number of people who have died, we don’t see as much being said as there could be.”