Protesters and police clashed on the streets of Lima on Thursday, as thousands of protesters from across the country converged on the Peruvian capital, facing a heavy display of force from local police.
The Andean country’s weeks-long protest movement – seeking a full government overhaul – began with the ouster of former president Pedro Castillo in December and has been fueled by deep dissatisfaction with living conditions and inequality in the country.
Protesters’ anger has also risen with the rising death toll: At least 54 people have been killed in clashes with security forces since the unrest began, and another 772 have been injured, including security personnel, according to the National Ombudsman. The office said Thursday.
Demonstrators marching in Lima – in defiance of the state of emergency imposed by the government – demanded the resignation of President Dina Bolverte and called for early general elections.
State broadcaster TV Peru showed a group of protesters breaking through a security fence and moving towards Abanka Avenue near Congress. In the video, protesters can be seen throwing objects and pushing security agents.
Police forces were also seen firing tear gas at some protesters in the city center.
There were also violent clashes in the southern city of Arequipa, where protesters shouted “murderers” at police and threw stones near the city’s international airport, which suspended flights on Thursday. Live footage from the city showed several people trying to break down a fence near the airport, and smoke billowing from nearby fields.
Public officials and some in the press have described the protests as driven by thugs and criminals – a criticism that many protesters rejected in interviews with CNN en Espanol as they gathered in Lima this week.
Even if “the state says we are criminals, terrorists, we are not,” protester Daniel Mamani said.
“We are the workers, the everyday common population who work, the state oppresses us, they all have to get out, they are useless.”
“The political situation at the moment deserves a change of representatives, government, executive and legislature. It is urgent. Because there are other deeper problems – inflation, lack of employment, poverty, malnutrition and other historical problems that have not been addressed. Another protester named Carlos, a sociologist at the Universidad San Marcos, told CNNEE on Wednesday.
Peruvian authorities have been accused of using excessive force, including firearms, against protesters in recent weeks. The police have responded that their strategy is in line with international standards.
Postmortem in progress 17 civilians were killed.Those killed during protests in the city of Juliaca on Jan. 9 were found with gunshot wounds, the city’s chief of forensic medicine told CNN en Español. A police officer was burned to death by “unknown persons” days later, police said.
Jo Marie Burt, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, told CNN that what happened in Juliaca in early January represented the “highest civilian casualties in the country since Peru’s return to democracy” in 2000. .
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) fact-finding mission to Peru also found bullet wounds to the victims’ heads and upper bodies, Commission Vice President Edgar Stuardo Ralón said on Wednesday.
Relon described a broader “distortion of the public debate” over the protests in Peru, with protesters being called “terrorists” and indigenous people with derogatory terms.
He warned that such language could create an “atmosphere of further violence”.
“When the press uses it, when the political elite uses it, I mean, it’s easy for the police and other security forces to use that kind of coercion, right?” Omar Coronel, a professor at Peru’s Pontifical Catholic University who specializes in Latin American protest movements, told CNN.
Peruvian authorities have not released details on those killed in the unrest. However, experts say that the local protesters are the victims of the most bloodshed.
“The victims are indigenous people from the Peruvian countryside,” Burt said.
“The protests are centered in central and southern Peru, the most indigenous parts of the country, areas that are historically marginalized and excluded from the political, economic and social life of the nation.”
Protesters want new elections, the resignation of Bolverte, changes to the constitution and the release of Castillo, who is currently in pretrial detention.
At the core of this crisis are the demands for better living conditions that have not been met in the two decades since the restoration of democratic rule in the country.
Although Peru’s economy has boomed over the past decade, many have not reaped the benefits, with experts noting chronic deficiencies in security, justice, education and other basic services in the country.
Castillo, a former teacher and union leader who had never held elected office before becoming president, hails from rural Peru and positions himself as a man of the people. Many of his supporters hail from impoverished areas, and hoped that Castillo would bring better prospects for the country’s rural and indigenous peoples.
While protests have taken place across the country, most violence has occurred in the rural and indigenous south, which has long been at odds with the country’s coastal whites and the mestizo, a mixed-race, elite.
Peru’s legislature is also viewed with suspicion by the public. Peruvian law does not allow consecutive terms for the president and members of Congress, and critics have noted his lack of political experience.
A poll published by IEP in September 2022 showed that 84% of Peruvians disapproved of the performance of Congress. Legislators are not only perceived as pursuing vested interests in Congress but are also involved in corrupt practices.
The country’s frustrations are reflected in its years of revolving door presidency. Current President Bolverte is the sixth head of state in less than five years.
IACHR Commissioner Joel Hernandez-Garcia told CNN that what was needed to resolve the crisis was political dialogue, police reform and reparations for those killed in the protests.
“Police forces will have to review their protocols. Under the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality and to resort to non-lethal force as a last resort,” Hernández-Garcia said.
“Police officers have a duty to protect those who participate in social protests, but also those who are not participating,” he added.