Protests in Peru on Thursday saw thousands of police dispatched to the capital Lima as hundreds of protesters marched downtown as fierce clashes erupted in the southern city of Arequipa.
The Andean country’s week-long protest movement — seeking a full government reset — was sparked by the impeachment of former President Pedro Castillo in December and fueled by deep discontent over living conditions and inequality in the country.
Protesters’ anger has also increased with the rising death toll: At least 53 people have been killed in clashes with security forces since the unrest began, and another 772 were injured, the national ombudsman’s office said Thursday.
Protesters shouted “hit men” at police and threw rocks near Arequipa’s international airport on Thursday, which suspended flights on Thursday as several people tried to tear down fences, according to live footage from the city. Smoke could be seen from the surrounding fields.
Protesters marching in Lima, despite the state of emergency imposed by the government, meanwhile demanded the resignation of President Dina Boluarte and called for a general election as soon as possible.
General Victor Sanabria, head of Peru’s national police for the Lima region, told local media that 11,800 police officers had been deployed in Lima, with key locations including the parliament, the prosecutor’s office, selected TV channels, the Supreme Court and the army headquarters . additional protection.
Peruvian authorities have been accused of using excessive force against demonstrators in recent weeks, including firearms – a claim the police deny, saying their tactics are in line with international standards.
Autopsies on 17 dead civilianskilled during protests in the city of Juliaca on Jan. 9, found injuries caused by firearm projectiles, the city’s chief of legal medicine told CNN en Español.
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 number of civilian deaths in the country since Peru’s return to democracy” in 2000.
A fact-finding mission to Peru by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also found gunshot wounds found in victims’ heads and upper bodies, Edgar Stuardo Ralón, the commission’s vice president, said Wednesday.
Ralon described a broader “worsening of public debate” about the demonstrations in Peru, with protesters being labeled “terrorists” and indigenous people referred to in derogatory terms.
Such language could create “a climate of more violence,” he warned.
“If the press uses that, if the political elite uses that, I mean, it’s easier for the police and other or security forces to use this kind of repression, right?” Omar Coronel, a professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru who specializes in Latin American protest movements, told CNN.
Peruvian officials have not released details of those killed in the unrest. However, experts say that indigenous protesters are suffering the most bloodshed.
“The victims are mostly indigenous people from rural Peru,” Burt said.
“The protests were centered in central and southern Peru, heavily indigenous parts of the country, which are regions historically marginalized and excluded from the nation’s political, economic and social life.”
Demonstrators want new elections, the resignation of Boluarte, an amendment to the constitution and the release of Castillo, who is currently in pre-trial detention.
At the heart of the crisis are demands for better living conditions that have gone unfulfilled in the two decades since democratic rule was restored to the country.
While Peru’s economy has boomed over the past decade, many have not reaped the benefits, with experts noting chronic deficiencies in the country’s security, justice, education and other basic services.
Before Thursday’s demonstrations, people explained to CNN en Espanol why they had arrived in Lima to protest. Some complained of corruption in their area, while others called Boluarte, former President Castillo’s vice president, a traitor.
“At the moment the political situation deserves a change of representatives, of the government, of the executive and the legislature. That’s the immediate. Because there are other deeper problems – inflation, underemployment, poverty, malnutrition and other historical problems that have not been addressed,” protester Carlos, a sociologist from the Universidad San Marcos, said from Lima on Wednesday.
Another protester told CNNEE that “corruption is rampant in Peru, unfortunately the state has failed the people”.
Castillo, a former teacher and labor leader who never held an elected position before running for president, is from rural Peru and positioned himself as a man of the people. Many of his supporters come from poorer regions and hoped that Castillo would provide better prospects for the country’s rural and indigenous people.
While protests have taken place across the country, the worst violence has occurred in the rural and indigenous South, which has long been at odds with the country’s coastal white and mestizo elites, a person of mixed descent.
Peru’s legislative body is also viewed with skepticism by the public. The president and members of Congress are not allowed to serve consecutive terms under Peruvian law, and critics have noted their lack of political experience.
A poll published by IEP in September 2022 found that 84% of Peruvians disapproved of Congress’ performance. Legislators are not only seen as pursuing their own interests in Congress, but they are also associated with corrupt practices.
The country’s frustrations were reflected in the years of revolving door presidency. Current President Boluarte is the sixth head of state in less than five years.
Joel Hernández García, a commissioner for IACHR, told CNN what was needed to resolve the crisis was political dialogue, police reform and reparations for those killed in the protests.
“The police forces need to review their protocol. To resort to non-lethal force according to the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality and as a last resort,” said Hernández García.
“Police officers have a duty to protect people who participate in social protest, but also to protect others who do not participate,” he added.