February 4, 2023

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Rural anger fuels protests against Peru's government

Rural anger fuels protests against Peru’s government

Andahuelas, Peru (AP) – Nowhere was Peruvians’ anger against their government more evident than in Andahuelas, a remote rural Andean community where poor people have struggled for years and where voter support helped elect now-ousted President Pedro Castillo, a Himself a farmer member like them.

Their anger has reached such a degree that their protests continued on Monday despite the deaths of four people, including two young protesters over the weekend, including 17-year-old Beckham Romario Kisbe Garfias.

As thousands of people poured onto the streets, Raquel Quispe remembered her brother as a talented athlete who was tired of feeling invisible in the eyes of politicians. It is named after English football star David Beckham and Romario, the Brazilian football phenomenon turned politician.

Standing outside the hospital where his body was kept, clouds overhead, with fierce anger in her voice, at times treacherously tearful, summed up what he and others had been protesting since Castillo’s ouster last week: exclusionary democracy.

“For them, those in Congress, the only correct opinion is that of Peruvians who have money, who are wealthy,” said Kisbe, an early childhood education teacher.

“They do what they want. For them…the vote of the provinces is not valid, it is of no use. But the vote of the people of Lima is taken into account. This is unfair to the whole of Peru.”

About 3,000 people gathered on the streets of Andahuaylas on Monday to protest, mourn and pay their respects in front of the white coffins of the young men who died over the weekend. Across the community, roads still littered with fires were strewn with boulders. An airstrip used by the armed forces remained blocked, and black smoke still wafted into an adjacent building.

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Protesters in various rural communities, including Andahuaylas, continued to call on President Dina Boulwart to resign and schedule a general election to replace her and all members of Congress. They also want authorities to release Castillo, who was detained on Wednesday when lawmakers ousted him after he sought to dissolve Congress ahead of an impeachment vote.

While demonstrators also gathered in the capital, Lima, the demonstrations intensified especially in rural areas that have been strongholds for Castillo, a former teacher and political newcomer from an impoverished mountain region in the Andes.

On Monday, protesters went a step further by blocking access to an international airport for several hours in southern Peru and occupying its runway. Demonstrations in Arequipa, where the airport is located, resulted in the death of one protester, Defense Minister Alberto Otarola told lawmakers during a congressional session focused on civil unrest. Lawmakers said another protester was killed in the state that includes Andahuaylas.

The escalation came even after Boulwart gave in to protesters’ demands hours earlier, announcing in a nationally televised address that she would send Congress a motion to delay the election to April 2024 — a reversal of her earlier assertion that she should remain president for the remainder of the term. 3 and a half years from the term of its predecessor.

Boulwart, in her address to the nation, also declared a state of emergency in areas outside of Lima, where protests have been particularly violent.

In announcing that she would propose early elections to Congress, Bulwart said, “My duty as President of the Republic at the present difficult time is to interpret … the aspirations, interests and concerns of the vast majority of Peruvians.”

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Boulwart, 60, was swiftly sworn in Wednesday to replace Castillo, hours after he stunned the country by ordering the dissolution of Congress, which in turn dismissed him for “perpetual moral incompetence.” Castillo was arrested for mutiny.

Members of Boulwart’s government appeared before Congress on Monday to give an account of the protests. Far-right MP Jorge Montoya demanded appropriate measures to end the unrest, telling supporters of Castillo he was now removed that “the chapter is closed”.

“These are not acts of protest, these are acts of terrorism and they should be severely punished,” Montoya said. “You can not defend the position is the extreme.”

Peru has had six presidents in the past six years. In 2020 the bike has moved up to three in a week.

The latest presidential crisis is taking place as the Andes and their thousands of small farms struggle to survive the worst drought in half a century. The country is also experiencing a fifth wave of COVID-19 cases.

Castillo’s supporters had hoped the populist outsider would deal with some of the challenges they had long faced. But in his 17 months in charge, Castillo has been unable to land a signing draft and has faced the racism and discrimination his poor supporters often experience.

In Andahuaylas, about 80% of voters who cast ballots during last year’s runoff supported Castillo. His proposals included rewriting the country’s constitution, which was last drafted and approved in 1993 during the government of Alberto Fujimori, the disgraced former president whose daughter Keiko lost the presidency to Castillo.

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Rosario Garfias was among the protesters outside the hospital where the body of her 17-year-old son was held. She mourned the death of her son, speaking in Quechua, one of the indigenous languages ​​of Peru.

My mother is filing a complaint in her own language. Her daughter, Raquel Kisby, said, “I know a lot of people don’t get it, not even Congress.”

“She says…she is in so much pain that they killed him, like in a slaughterhouse. And my mom, like my family, is asking for justice for my brother.”

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Garcia Cano reported from Lima.