Jan. 30, 2023 — Right-wing forces in Perú — with the support of U.S. imperialism — used a majority in Parliament to carry out a coup Dec. 7 against elected President Pedro Castillo. This illegal attack on Perú’s first Indigenous president, a schoolteacher from a rural region, aroused a swift reaction from the Indigenous Quechua and Aymara people.
Even without knowing the fine details of how the regime change took place, the people have disputed the official narrative since. Their protests have paralyzed the country. It was clear to them that “their” president was now a political prisoner. So far, 58 people have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of democracy.
It was no accident that the Quechua- and Aymara-speaking Indigenous peasants in the high Andean plateau of the south immediately rose up. Peruvian political experts explained why the movement in the southern regions of Puno is so radical and the occupation army so brutal in these poorest provinces.
A Marxist veteran of decades of struggle, Héctor Bejár, who had been appointed foreign minister by Pedro Castillo in July 2021 but lasted not three weeks before right-wing forces pushed him out, recorded his outrage at the coup via YouTube on Jan. 9. He disputed the fake narrative by exposing the absurd contradictions of the “impeachment” process, laying bare the unconstitutionality of the regime change and the subsequent dictatorial suspension of constitutional rights.
The falsehood that Castillo attempted a “self-coup” to escape impeachment is a mantra endlessly repeated by the international corporate media. For example, the Washington Post wrote Dec. 8 that “[Vice President Dina] Boluarte succeeds her former leftist ally, Pedro Castillo, who was impeached and arrested Wednesday after he attempted to shut congress down and rule by decree to avoid being ousted on corruption charges.”
In fact Castillo was imprisoned before being impeached. First came the sentence, then the evidence. The Post fails to mention that the president was impeached without any debate or due process and with multiple violations of the rule of law. Regime change by parliamentary coup d’état is “lawfare.”
In various interviews, Bejar described the growing resistance to the coup as a multiple movement made up of Quechua and Aymara communities, especially the Aymara — merchant women from the popular markets, transport workers from the south, merchants in general, small industrialists from the thriving city of Juliaca, students from the universities and schools and the people in general.
Ayacucho Massacre increases resistance
The Ayacucho Massacre was documented in peoplesdispatch.org Jan. 3. Indigenous peasants in Perú’s southern region bordering Bolivia erected scores of road blockades and occupied airports in the first week of the resistance, when 25 deaths were recorded. Soldiers on the ground and in a military helicopter fired on people from Ayacucho on Dec. 15 to stop them from marching to the local airport. Armed forces massacred 10 people with live fire and tear gas canisters, shot from the air as they tried to escape.
Popular anger only intensified, and the resistance increased and spread all across Perú. Labor unions, student and social organizations of all kinds have mobilized their forces to take the streets and provide logistics to support the struggle.
An indefinite national strike began Jan. 4, “called by grassroots social organizations mainly from the south of the country, but in which protesters from the departments of Junin, Ayacucho, Huancavelica, Cusco, Puno, La Libertad, Huanuco, Madre de Dios, Lima, among others, have participated.” (pressenza.com, Jan. 6) One of the loudest chants on the streets was: “There’s gold! There’s copper! The people are still poor!”
Peoples Dispatch quotes Pedro Huamani, a member of the Front in Defense of the People of Ayacucho (FREDEPA): “They took out our president, so this is not a democracy. We are not a democracy; we are in [state of] war, but not just in Ayacucho and Huamanga but also in Arequipa, Apurímac, Cusco. In these regions, we are suffering from poverty; we can no longer survive, we are dying of hunger. . . . and these right wingers want to make us their slaves, but we won’t permit this because we are responding and resisting.”
All must go!
A state of emergency was imposed Dec. 14 to suppress the rebellion, whose massive, spontaneous and unpredictable actions advance the struggle with no end in sight. The people on the streets are chanting, “¡Que se vayan todos! / All must go!”
Out with Dina Boluarte! Close the Congress! The people demand elections immediately to replace the whole government! They want to start the process for a constituent assembly and a new constitution.
El Salto Diario reported Jan. 26: “The revolt for the resignation of Boluarte expands and spreads to Lima. Fifty-three days of mobilizations and Perú is still on fire and escalating. Since the imprisonment of President Pedro Castillo, the Andean country has staged a social outburst reminiscent of those in Colombia, Chile or Ecuador in recent years.”
La Republica newspaper suggested on Jan. 23 that social indignation about the slaughter panicked Boluarte, and that the then-Defense Minister Alberto Otárola convinced her not to resign. Boluarte will be prosecuted for genocide if she is impeached. Boluarte rewarded Otárola for his support by appointing him President of the Council of Ministers.
As prime minister, Otárola can be held criminally responsible for scores of extrajudicial assassinations, including the second massacre, the Juliaca Massacre, where the National Police killed 18 people and wounded 100 on Jan. 9.
Wayka Perú reported the latest death of Víctor Santisteban Yacsavilca, whose skull was crushed by a projectile in Lima on Jan. 28. Members of the National Police fired tear gas canisters point-blank at demonstrators.
The Public Defender (a constitutional ombudsman) denounced the murder and tweeted, “We demand that the authorities identify and punish all those who attack the women and men of the press.” Wayka Perú charged that their own reporters were violently attacked and their equipment was destroyed by police in front of the hospital, which was receiving wounded victims of the repression.
The massacres and most of the extrajudicial killings occurred during the first five weeks of protest in the poorest rural regions in the south of Perú.
‘The Taking of Lima’
On Jan. 19 many thousands of people marched through Lima to call for the resignation of Boluarte, on the day they called “The Taking of Lima.” Since that day, the movement of popular forces has focused on the capital city of 11 million. The police are not all shooting to kill, but they are firing tear gas canisters at the heads of demonstrators. Human rights organizations have condemned the police brutality, arbitrary arrests and beatings of reporters, senior citizens, women and children.
Wayka Perú (wayka.pe) reported Jan. 21 on the refuge set up by the University Federation of San Marcos in the National University of San Marcos, for “all the bloods” that came to march against Boluarte, more than 600 people from the provinces.
A participant said, “They talk about there being no poverty in the country, but in my district of Cabanillas [in Lampa], we don’t have drinking water; we don’t have good infrastructure for education and health. They talk about development, but there is only development for the rich. For the poor, we are still poor.”
In violation of the university’s autonomy, on Jan. 21 a contingent of the National Police arrested hundreds of students and others sheltering there. Videos of an armored vehicle smashing the gate of the National University were seen around the world. The military-style police raid on the great public university, the oldest in the Americas, detained 200 people whose phones and property were confiscated or destroyed.
Will the movement prevail as a coalition of social organizations without a charismatic leader? Many like Hector Bejár are cautiously optimistic. “If this struggle continues,” he said, “we would have the possibility of a true democracy, open to all cultures and nationalities existing in the country, a social state and an economy open to popular investment and closed to all types of corruption. For now, it is a matter of supporting this process and defending it against repression.”
Caravans of buses brought thousands from the “Cuatro Suyos” (the four ancestral regions) for the “Toma de Lima.” Students organized space for 600 marchers in the great National University of San Marcos in Lima, despite threats from the rector, who called on the National Police to evict them. Logistics and support provided by other institutions and volunteers have enabled the struggle in the streets to continue.
Big marches in cities all across Perú made Jan. 24 a very significant day in the struggle. Outside the Seventh Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, reported Resumen Latinoamericano on Jan. 25, “A gigantic march of CELAC Social organizations — Peruvians, Haitians and Paraguayans — repudiated the presence of dictatorial representatives of their countries.”
International solidarity with Perú’s people is growing. Marches and demonstrations took place in Chile, Ecuador and New York City that same day. An Ecuadorian solidarity group is collecting donations for the protesters. Leaders of Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia and Venezuela have denounced the coup.