the “country has been ungovernable for years”

An investigation into “genocide” targeting President Dina Boluarte was opened on Wednesday in Peru, after the death of at least 40 people in the violent repression of demonstrations which have shaken the country since the dismissal of former President Pedro Castillo in December. An explosive situation, which illustrates the political slump in which Peru has been mired for years.

At Peru, an investigation for “genocide, qualified homicide and serious injuries” was opened by the Attorney General of the State, Wednesday, January 11, against the President Dina Boluarte and several senior officials, after a bloody repression of demonstrations demanding the organization of early elections.

Yet another twist in the serious crisis that the Andean country has been going through for several years, which has reached its climax since the dismissal of Pedro Castillo, on December 7th. The former president, candidate of a left-wing coalition elected in 2021, is accused of rebellion, after having tried to dissolve the Parliament which sought to oust him from power.

>> To read: How Peru entered a zone of political turbulence

“The conflict is in danger of getting bogged down”

At least 40 protesters were killed and 600 others injured since the outbreak of tensions. On Monday, 17 people died in the department of Puno alone, where on Tuesday a policeman was also burned alive in his vehicle.

This region, the epicenter of the protests, is populated mainly by Aymara natives, an ethnic group to which the former president of neighboring Bolivia, Evo Morales, belongs. He also expressed his support for the demonstrators and was banned from entering Peru on Monday. He is accused by the Peruvian authorities of pushing the south of the country to secede to attach it to Bolivia.

“I fear that a point of no return has been reached, worries Camille Boutron, researcher at the Strategic Research Institute of the Military School (Irsem) and specialist in Peru. The opening of the investigation by the Attorney General for homicide certainly testifies to a form of judicial independence, but the conflict risks getting bogged down, especially after such a deployment of violence. It’s going to be very difficult to calm things down.”

The situation is indeed explosive in Peru, where demonstrators are demanding both the dismissal of the presidentdespite coming from the same political party of Marxist allegiance as his predecessor, the organization of early elections and the drafting of a new Constitution.

Difficult demands to meet for President Dina Boluarte, faced with a Parliament refusing to dissolve, a climate of tension complicating the organization of a new election, and the political and institutional slump in which Peru has been mired for years .

Five heads of state in six years

For 32 years, in fact, all Peruvian presidents, with the exception of two of them, have been imprisoned or indicted for corruption. The country has had no less than five different heads of state in the past six years, and the successive leaders between 2001 and 2018 have all been corrupted by the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

What explain the exasperation of the population, confronted with the decadence of its political class. “Peru has been completely ungovernable for years”, analyzes Jean-Jacques Kourliandsky, director of the Observatory of Latin America from the Jean-Jaurès Foundation and associate researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris). “Presidents are elected on unrealistic promises and without a majority in Parliament, deputies cling to their place to defend their particular interests and block any attempt at reform, the police and the administration escape control… We are in a cycle extremely serious political and institutional instability.”

(Badly) elected on a promise to change the Constitution and end corruption, former President Pedro Castillo proved incapable of governing during his year and a half in office. More than 80 ministers succeeded each other under his government, faced with the systematic blocking of a Parliament dominated by a right-wing opposition embodied by the daughter of former President Fujimori (1990-2000), convicted of crimes against humanity.

“Massacre game” between elites

Since the dismissal of Pedro Castillo, the horizon seems far from clearing up. Parliament can indeed withdraw at any time the confidence that it ended up voting in Dina Boluarte on Tuesday evening – when a curfew was imposed in the department of Puno in order to silence the demonstrations calling for his resignation.

“Parliament is caught up in political games where everyone, on the right and on the left, tries to preserve their personal interest and the interest of their party, underlines Jean-Jacques Kourliandsky. As long as the president does nothing to change things, she will be supported by Parliament, but as soon as she tries anything, she will be impeached.”

A “game of massacre” between elites, which has been going on for years and prevents the implementation of structural reforms, however urgent. Peruvian society is plagued by strong social and racial inequalities and deep divisions inherited from the colonial era and the civil war (1980-2000), accentuated by the violence of the Covid-19 epidemic.

“Voters only have the street to express themselves”

“Pedro Castillo was no better than the others, observes Camille Boutron, but he came from the people, he was a former teacher who allowed the poorest populations, especially the blacks and the Andes, to feel represented. They now feel abandoned by politicians who spend their time arguing and have no desire to improve things.”

A feeling aggravated by the absence of political parties, civil society organizations or trade union structures able to bring about a dialogue between the population and its leaders. “There is no possibility of intermediation between the expectations of the population and its rulers”, deplores Jean-Jacques Kourliandsky. “Voters only have the street to express themselves. I don’t know how things will evolve.”

As an echo of the confusion the country has been going through, neighboring left-wing governments have reacted haphazardly to recent events. If Brazil and Chile have recognized the legitimacy of the new president, Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia and Colombia have condemned the dismissal of Pedro Castillo, who had been elected on a regular basis. For its part, the United States called for “restraint” and a “minimal” use of force against the demonstrators, and indicated that it supported the opening of the investigation.

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