LIMA, Dec 13 (Reuters) – As Peru races 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 hanging over the city’s streets. A way out seems far away.
The spark of the current unrest was the fall and arrest of leftist leader Pedro Castillo after he attempted to illegally dissolve Congress. A months-long standoff ensued, during which lawmakers had impeached him three times, and impeached him the last time.
Peru has been one of Latin America’s economic stars in the 21st century, with strong growth lifting millions out of poverty. But political turmoil increasingly threatens to derail its economic stability, rating agencies warn of downgrades, deadlocks affecting major mines in the world’s leading industry. 2 Copper producers and protesters are calling for the resignation of Congress and new President Dina Boluarte.
It should come as little surprise to those who pay close attention. Voters are fed up with the constant political infighting that has seen six presidents and seven impeachment attempts over the past five years.
The highly fragmented unicameral Congress is loathed — with an approval rating of just 11 percent, according to pollster Datum. That’s below Castillo’s, who was 24% despite a string of corruption allegations shortly before his ouster.
“The Peruvian people are just weary from all the political machinations, crime, insecurity and stagnant growth,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society.
He said Boluarte’s pledge to hold early elections in April 2024 might help calm the situation in the short term, but it would not solve the deep-rooted problems of a divided electorate and power struggles between the presidency and Congress.
“It’s a toxic soup, with a weak president, a dysfunctional Congress, the ousted president trying to generate popular opposition to his legitimate ouster, an agitated populace, and little vision by anyone of how to get out of this mess.”
Peru’s constitution makes it relatively easy for a disaffected legislature to initiate impeachment proceedings, while the lack of dominant political parties – the largest popular force controls just 24 of 130 seats – means there are few agreements. Corruption was also a common problem.
Many Peruvians feel that the only way to make themselves heard is on the streets. In recent days, protesters have blocked roads, set fires and even occupied airports. The police have been criticized by human rights groups for using firearms and tear gas. Seven people, mostly teenagers, died during the leave of absence.
There are echoes of protests in 2020, as thousands took to the streets following the impeachment and ouster of popular centrist leader Martin Vizcarra, who was succeeded by Congress leader Manuel Merino. After two died, he too was forced to resign.
Castillo, less popular but with a rural support base that helped him narrowly win last year’s election, has been trying to stir things up from prison, where he is being held while being investigated 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 in which he claimed he was still the country’s legitimate leader.
“What has recently been said by a usurper is nothing more than the same snot and drool of the putschist right,” he wrote, adding a long-popular call for a new constitution among a younger generation of Peruvians.
“The people should not fall for their dirty new election game. Enough of the abuse! Now a Constituent Assembly! Instant freedom!” he wrote.
Boluarte, a former member of Castillo’s far-left party who fell out with its leader and criticized Castillo after his attempt to dissolve Congress, has called for calm across the country and promised government of all stripes. But she faces a harsh reality, caught between protesters and a hostile parliament.
With Peru’s leaders’ recent history littered with impeachments and jails, it is questionable whether Boluarte can hold out until new elections are held.
“Dina Boluarte is a murderess. Five people have died and they say nothing. She doesn’t care about anything, she’s shameless, treacherous,” said Guadalupe Huaman, a Castillo supporter who protested with a Peruvian flag and hard hat in Lima.
Ratings agency S&P cut Peru’s outlook to negative and threatened a possible downgrade, ratings agency S&P said in a report Monday that there seemed little reason for hope.
“The manner in which the recent transfer of power in Peru took place reflects the heightened political deadlock and heightens future risks,” it said.
Farnsworth expressed similar concerns. While Peru has a history of volatile politics, it’s unclear how things will resolve this time, he said.
“I think this time it’s kind of different,” he said. “There seems to be no real way forward.”
Reporting by Marco Aquino and Adam Jourdan, editing by Rosalba O’Brien
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