Peru’s accidental president fails to quell violent protests
LIMA, Peru (AP) — It could be the world’s shortest political honeymoon.
Almost from the moment last week that Dina Boluarte took over from ousted leader Pedro Castillo to become Peru’s first female president, she has called for calm and a chance to govern, insisting that the interim position be it came by circumstance, not by personal ambition. .
Yet in impoverished rural areas, fierce protests show no signs of abating amid anger over the ouster of Castillo, who was Peru’s first president of indigenous descent. The long-ignored peasants and others are unwilling to budge on their demand for his release from prison, where he is being held while being investigated for rebellion.
Despite Boluarte’s humble roots in the Andes, many in her home region call her a traitor.
“She is an opportunist. She has easily entered the government palace, but whose job was it, ”said Rolando Yupanqui after the funeral of one of the at least 14 people who have died from injuries sustained in clashes with security forces. “People are upset here. Do you think people go out to have fun?
Yupanqui said Castillo, who lived in a two-story adobe house before moving to the Neo-Baroque presidential palace in the capital Lima, had visited his community of Andahuaylas and “was like us.” As for Boluarte, he said: “We have never met the lady.”
Boluarte replaced Castillo after the president tried to dissolve Congress ahead of lawmakers’ third attempt to remove him. His vehicle was intercepted as he was traveling through the streets of Lima in what prosecutors say was an attempt to reach the Mexican embassy to request asylum.
The protesters are demanding the release of Castillo, the resignation of Boluarte and the immediate scheduling of elections to choose a new president and Congress before the vote scheduled for 2026. They have burned police stations, clogged Peru’s main highway and stranded hundreds of foreign tourists by blocking access to airports.
In Huamanga, a provincial capital, protesters torched a courthouse and a building belonging to a Spanish-owned telephone operator on Friday night, a day after Boluarte declared a state of emergency to try to quell unrest. The crowd of a few hundred was dispersed by dozens of security officers who fired tear gas.
The death count jumped into double digits Thursday after a judge approved a request by prosecutors to keep Castillo in custody for 18 months while they build their case against the former rural schoolteacher who shocked everyone by winning the runoff. last year’s presidential election despite having no political experience.
Boluarte held an emergency meeting Friday night at the presidential palace with the leaders of Congress and the nation’s judiciary, who condemned the violence and called for dialogue. He also spoke with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said he offered US support to his fledgling government.
“Obviously there is a black hand operating here,” José Williams, a retired army general who as head of Congress would be next in line if Boluarte resigns, told reporters after the meeting. “The same behavior appears in one place, then in another. There is something behind the scenes that leads us to chaos.
While Boluarte, under pressure, has backed the call for early elections, replacing it would require action by Peru’s political establishment, many of which are in no hurry to cede their own share of power.
Congress on Friday failed to muster enough votes to amend the constitution and pave the way for early elections, with left-wing parties saying they would consent to such a plan only if a broader constitutional convention was also in the mix.
Meanwhile, at least two of Boluarte’s allies, the culture and education ministers, have resigned in protest of what they called an overly repressive police response to the protests.
The new president is having to negotiate the crisis without any support base.
Like Castillo, Boluarte is not part of Peru’s political elite. She worked at the state agency that issues identity documents before becoming vice president. She grew up in an impoverished town in the Andes, she speaks one of the country’s indigenous languages, Quechua, and as a leftist she vowed to “fight for the nobody.”
But unlike Castillo, who wore ponchos, a traditional sombrero and rubber sandals that epitomize the Peruvian countryside, Boluarte has lived for years in Lima, a symbol of wealthy and conservative politicians in the eyes of rural communities.
For analysts, it is a Peruvian version of the kind of identity politics that has spread to so many other parts of the world in recent years.
“They see this as a repudiation of who they are,” said Cynthia McClintock, a political science professor at George Washington University who has studied Peru extensively. “But if you had asked them three months ago, ‘Is Castillo doing a good job?’ Many of those people would have said, ‘No, he’s not doing a good job.’”
Briceño reported from Andahuaylas. Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman in Miami contributed to this report.