As protests rock Peru, its new president proposes holding elections early
New Peruvian President Dina Boluarte gave in to protesters’ demands early Monday and announced in a nationally televised address that she would send lawmakers a proposal to hold elections earlier than planned.
Boluarte’s decision came after thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across the country for another day Sunday to demand that she resign and schedule elections to replace her and the Peruvian Congress. The protests turned deadly, with at least two reported deaths in a remote community in the Andes, according to officials.
Boluarte said she would propose moving up general elections to April 2024. That marks a reversal of her previous position that she should be allowed to serve out the remaining 3½ years of the term of her predecessor, Pedro Castillo, who was ousted last week.
“My duty as president of the republic in the current difficult time is to interpret, read and collect the aspirations, interests and concerns, if not of all, of the vast majority of Peruvians,” Boluarte said. “So, interpreting in the broadest way the will of the citizens ... I have decided to assume the initiative to reach an agreement with the Congress of the republic to advance the general elections.”
Many of those demonstrating around Peru are demanding the release from custody of Castillo, the center-left president removed from office Wednesday by lawmakers after he sought to dissolve Congress ahead of an impeachment vote.
The protests rocking Peru heated up particularly in rural areas, strongholds for Castillo, a former schoolteacher and political newcomer from a poor Andean mountain district. Protesters set fire to a police station, vandalized a small airport used by the armed forces and marched in the streets.
While democratic elections are held regularly in Peru, critics say that the results often have more to do with settling scores and politicians getting rich than installing effective governments.
A 15-year-old boy died of an injury suffered during a protest in the remote Andes community of Andahuaylas, Congresswoman Maria Taipe Coronado said, as she made an impassioned plea from the legislative palace for Boluarte to step down.
“The death of this compatriot is the responsibility of Mrs. Dina for not submitting her resignation,” said Taipe, who is affiliated with the party that helped elect Castillo and Boluarte as president and vice president, respectively, last year before both were kicked out of the party. “Since when is protesting a crime?”
Taipe accused authorities of using heavy-handed, repressive tactics in quelling demonstrations. But it remains unclear how the boy was fatally injured, and state media reported a second death in the same community without giving details.
Anthony Gutiérrez, director of a local hospital, told a radio station that the second protester to die was an 18-year-old. At least 26 people also were reported injured.
As Peru has descended into one of the worst political crises in its history, its protection of its Amazon rainforest is failing, according to a new report.
In Lima, hundreds of people again gathered outside the legislative palace Sunday. Dozens of police officers in riot gear used tear gas against protesters while lawmakers were beginning a session inside. Police also chased and beat protesters as they ran from the scene amid clouds of gas.
Boluarte, in her address to the nation, declared a state of emergency in areas outside Lima where protests have been particularly violent.
Boluarte, 60, was swiftly sworn in to replace Castillo last week, hours after he stunned the country by ordering the dissolution of Congress, which in turn dismissed him for “permanent moral incapacity.” Castillo was arrested on charges of rebellion.
Castillo’s failed move against the opposition-led Congress came hours before lawmakers were set to start a third impeachment attempt against him.
Peru’s small and now dried-up Cconchaccota lagoon is key to survival for people in the area, who rely on the water for their potato crops and livestock.
Boluarte has called for a time of national unity to heal from the latest upheaval. But many of those demonstrating in favor of Castillo have called her a “traitor.”
“The life of no Peruvian deserves to be sacrificed for political interests,” Boluarte tweeted hours before her address to the nation. “I express my condolences for the death of a citizen in Andahuaylas. I reiterate my call for dialogue and to put an end to violence.”
Peru has had six presidents in the last six years, including three in a single week in 2020 when Congress exercised its impeachment powers.
The power struggle in the country has continued as the Andes region and its thousands of small farms struggle to survive the worst drought in a half-century. The country of more than 33 million people is also experiencing a fifth wave of coronavirus infections, having recorded about 4.3 million infections and 217,000 deaths since the pandemic began.
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