Since 7 December, when the Peruvian congress voted to remove elected president Pedro Castillo from office, arresting him on charges of sedition and high treason and replacing him with vice-president Dina Boluarte, Peru has been on fire.
With widespread protests across the country, airport operations disrupted, railway services suspended and roadblocks in several regions, the illegitimate government is facing a rapid escalation in political and civil unrest.
The people’s demands are simple: the resignation of Boluarte, the closure of the corrupt Peruvian congress, fresh elections, the convening of a new assembly to replace the Fujimori-era constitution, and the release of Pedro Castillo.
The answer from Boluarte’s government has been fierce repression. The regime has declared a nationwide state of emergency and has been using state security agencies to raid the offices of labour unions and social movements.
After four weeks, the repression has left 50 dead, 800 wounded and thousands incarcerated, while the mass media and the governments that supported the coup have ignored the abuses and the murders ‘in the name of democracy’.
Coup supporters and Coup opponents
As expected, the USA and the US-dominated Organisation of American States (OAS) have openly supported the coup, the European Union countries and Britain all moved immediately to recognise President Boluarte’s coup-imposed government, while right-wing regimes in the region including Canada, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Uruguay did likewise, as did Gabriel Boric’s Chile.
On the other hand, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines all continue to recognise Pedro Castillo as the only legitimate president of Peru. Newly-elected president of Brazil, Lula da Silva, has not shown yet a strong opposition to the coup.
On 12 December, the governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Mexico stated that “Castillo and his political allies has been subjected to illegal ‘judicial treatment’ by Peru’s right-wing opposition from the first day in office”, and called on “all actors involved in the previous process to prioritise the citizens’ will that was expressed at the ballot box”.
After the coup, Mexico offered Castillo and his family political asylum. Boluarte’s government responded by expelling Mexico’s ambassador from Peru.
Former Bolivian president Evo Morales called on the United Nations, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and human rights organisations around the world to stop the bloodshed, saying: “In the name of the sacred right to life, of the rights of indigenous peoples recognised by the UN and international organisations, in the name of peace and social justice, we demand that they stop the massacre of our brothers in Peru.”
The response of the Boluarte government was to ban Evo Morales from entering Peru, alleging that he was behind some of the unrest against the coup regime.
Meanwhile, at its recent summit, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (Alba) “rejected the political framework created by the right-wing forces of Peru against constitutional president Pedro Castillo, forcing him to take measures that were later used by his opponents in parliament to remove him”, and “repudiated the repression against the Peruvian people who are defending an elected government”.
Huge inequality at the core of the conflict
Pedro Castillo is a rural teacher from Cajamarca region who won the June 2021 elections with a narrow margin and is supported by the poorest people in the country, winning the presidency on a progressive platform. The coup against him is a new blow to the long-running fight of the Peruvian people for a better future. (Peru’s fragile socialist government ousted by a soft coup, Lalkar, January 2023)
While Peru is considered one of the top ten mineral-rich countries in the world, being the world’s second-largest producer of copper, silver and zinc, and Latin America’s largest producer of gold, still “some 16.6 million people – more than half the population – now find themselves without regular access to enough safe and nutritious food”. (UN report, 2022)
Both foreign monopolists and Peru’s ruling class benefit largely from this hugely unequal wealth distribution. Using their control of the media and of the right-wing majority in congress, these forces boycotted any measure to reduce this inequality – something that President Castillo had promised to address.
The latest US strategy for Latin America
The removal of an elected president who fails to be 100 percent subservient to US interests is nothing new in Latin America. This is part of the current US strategy aimed at managing the ‘back yard’, known as ‘golpe blando’ – a ‘soft’ coup d’etat, as opposed to the heavy military interventions of the past.
It consists of two stages: first, the ruling class uses its power over the hegemonic media to create a general crisis in the country; second, US-aligned politicians and judges remove the president from office using false accusations of corruption, replacing him or her with someone considered to be loyal to the USA.
In recent years, a number of democratically-elected presidents have been removed from office in this way, including President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras (2009), President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay (2012), President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil (2016) and President Evo Morales of Bolivia (2019). Meanwhile, presidents Rafael Correa of Ecuador (2010) and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela (2020) have survived repeated coup attempts of the same time.
In support of the Peruvian people
Despite heavy repression, Peru’s people are continuing their fight against the Boluarte government and the corrupt congress on the streets, and continuing to demand fresh and free elections.
On 15 January, the coup regime declared a state of emergency in Puno, Cusco and Lima departments, in several regions across the country, and on the national road network – including on the Pan-American highway.
But it is clear that this will not be enough to stop the spreading protests, in which workers and peasants have established more 120 roadblocks across the country and from which they have marched on the capital, Lima.
Thousands arrived in the city from the poorest regions on Thursday 19 January, joining students from two major universities, Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería (UNI) and the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (UNMSM), who opened their campuses to receive demonstrators.
Despite obstacles being placed in their way and heavy repression being meted out to demonstrators, they continue to arrive in the capital and their anger shows no sign of subsiding.
Those who are valiantly fighting US imperialism in Peru are on the right side of history. They deserve our full solidarity in their struggle for independence and freedom. We have no doubt that they will ultimately be victorious.