LIMA, Dec. 13 (Reuters) – As Peru moves from one political crisis to another, the country has exploded in protest, with at least seven dead in the past week and smoke from fires and tear gas hovering over the city’s streets . A way out seems far away.
The spark of the current unrest was the impeachment and arrest of leftist leader Pedro Castillo after he attempted to illegally dissolve Congress. It followed a months-long stalemate that saw lawmakers impeach him three times, the last time he was removed from office.
Peru has been one of Latin America’s economic stars in the 21st century, with strong growth that has lifted millions out of poverty. But political turmoil increasingly threatens to derail economic stability, with rating agencies warning of downgrades, blockades affecting major mines in the world’s number one. 2 copper producer and protesters demanding Congress and the resignation of the new president Dina Boluarte.
To those who look closely, it should come as no surprise. Voters are tired of the ongoing political infighting that has seen six presidents and seven impeachment attempts over the past five years.
The heavily fragmented unicameral Congress is hated — with an approval rating of just 11%, according to poll poll Datum. That’s lower than Castillo’s, who was at 24% just before he was removed despite a string of corruption allegations.
“The Peruvian people are simply exhausted by all the political machinations, crime, uncertainty and stagnant growth,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society.
He said Boluarte’s pledge to call an early election in April 2024 could help calm things in the near term, but it would not solve the deep-seated problems of a divided electorate and infighting between the presidency and congress.
“It’s a toxic soup, with a weak president, a dysfunctional Congress, the ousted president trying to foment a popular backlash against his legitimate removal, an agitated populace and little vision from anyone on how to get out of this mess.”
Peru’s constitution makes it relatively easy for a hapless legislature to initiate impeachment proceedings, while a lack of dominant political parties – the largest, Popular Force, controls only 24 of 130 seats – means agreement on the land is scarce. Corruption has also been a common problem.
The only way many Peruvians think they can make their voices heard is on the street. In recent days, protesters have blocked roads, started fires and even taken over airports. The police have been criticized by human rights groups for their use of firearms and tear gas. Seven people, mostly teenagers, died on leave.
There are echoes of protests in 2020, when thousands took to the streets following the impeachment and ouster of popular centrist leader Martin Vizcarra, who was succeeded by congressional leader Manuel Merino. After two died, he too had to resign.
Castillo, less popular but with a support base in rural regions that helped him win a narrow election last year, has been trying to stir things up from prison, where he is being held under investigation on charges of rebellion and conspiracy.
On Monday, he called Boluarte, his former vice president, a “usurper” in a written letter to the Peruvian people, claiming he was still the country’s legitimate leader.
“What was recently said by a usurper is nothing more than the same snot and drool of the right-wing coup,” he wrote, adding a call — long popular among a younger generation of Peruvians — for a new constitution.
“The people must not fall for their dirty games of new elections. Enough swearing! Now a Constituent Assembly! Immediate freedom!” He wrote.
Boluarte, a former member of Castillo’s far-left party who fell out with his leader and criticized Castillo after his attempt to dissolve Congress, has called for calm across the country and promised a government of all stripes. But she faces a harsh reality, caught between protesters and a hostile parliament.
With the recent history of Peruvian leaders littered with accusations and prison sentences, the question is whether Boluarte can hold out until new elections are held.
“Dina Boluarte is a murderer. Five people died and they say nothing. Nothing matters to her, she is shameless, treacherous,” said Guadalupe Huaman, a Castillo supporter who protested in Lima with a Peruvian flag and helmet.
Peru’s outlook is downgraded to negative and threatened with a possible downgrade, rating agency S&P said in a report Monday that there seemed to be little hope.
“The way Peru’s most recent change of power took place reflects a heightened political deadlock, and it increases risks going forward,” it said.
Farnsworth expressed similar concerns. While Peru had a history of volatile politics, it was unclear how things would be resolved this time, he said.
“I think this time is different somehow,” he said. “There seems to be no real way forward.”
Reporting by Marco Aquino and Adam Jourdan, edited by Rosalba O’Brien
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