LIMA, Peru (TSTIME) — Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Peru’s capital and were met with volleys of tear gas and pellets amid clashes with security forces just hours after President Dina Boluarte called for a “truce” in nearly two weeks. months of protests.
Tuesday’s anti-government protest was the largest — and most violent — since last Thursday, when large groups of people, many from remote Andean regions, descended on the capital to demand Boluarte’s resignation, immediate elections and the dissolution of Congress.
“We can’t have a truce if she doesn’t tell the truth,” Blanca España Mesa, 48, said of Peru’s president. Although her eyes watered from the tear gas, España Mesa said she was “happy because a lot of people came today. It’s like people have woken up.”
Before last week, most of the major anti-government protests that followed the ousting of President Pedro Castillo took place in remote regions of Peru, largely in the south of the country, exposing deep divisions between the capital’s residents and long-neglected country.
The crisis that has spawned Peru’s worst political violence in more than two decades began when Castillo, Peru’s first leader from a rural Andean background, attempted to short-circuit his fledgling government’s third impeachment process by having Congress on Dec. dissolve. deposed him instead, the national police arrested him before he could find refuge and Boluarte, who was his vice president, was sworn in.
Since then, according to Peru’s ombudsman, 56 people have been killed amid the unrest involving Castillo supporters, 45 of whom have died in direct clashes with security forces. None of the deaths occurred in Lima.
On Tuesday, police fired round after round of tear gas as they blocked the passage of protesters, who appeared more organized than before. The smell of tear gas filled the air and could be felt even a block away when people leaving work suddenly had to cover their faces to try and lessen the sting.
“Murderers,” shouted the demonstrators, some of whom threw stones at the police.
Even after most of the protesters had left, police continued to fire tear gas to disperse small groups of people in a square in front of the country’s Supreme Court.
“I have a right to protest in this country,” said Emiliano Merino, 60, as he was treated by volunteer paramedics after bullets scraped each of his arms.
Boluarte had previously called for a ceasefire and blamed protesters for the political violence that has engulfed the country, claiming in a press conference that illegal miners, drug traffickers and smugglers formed a “paramilitary force” to seek chaos for political gain. She said numerous roadblocks across the country and damage to infrastructure cost the country more than $1 billion in lost production.
She suggested that the protesters who died with gunshot wounds had been shot by other protesters, claiming that an investigation would show their injuries are incompatible with the weapons officers are carrying. And meanwhile, some 90 police officers are in hospital with bruises, she said: “What about their human rights?” asked the president.
The government has provided no evidence that any of the injured officers were hit by gunfire.
Human rights advocates say they are appalled at the lack of international outcry from the regional and global community and call for condemnation of the state violence unleashed since Castillo’s ouster.
Jennie Dador, executive secretary of Peru’s National Human Rights Coordinator, said the lack of international response made it feel “we are alone”.
“None of the states in the region have done anything concrete,” she said.
Boluarte was notably absent from a meeting of regional leaders Tuesday in the Argentine capital, where most did not mention the civilian deaths in Peru.
Human rights activists have acknowledged the acts of violence by some protesters – including attempts to take over airports and burn down police stations – but say the demonstrations have been largely peaceful.
Some leaders at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit blamed the Peruvian government for the violence.
Chilean President Gabriel Boric said there is an “urgent need for change in Peru because the result of the path of violence and repression is unacceptable.” Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a staunch supporter of Castillo, demanded an “end to the repression”.
At the closing ceremony of the summit, Argentine President Alberto Fernández called for an end to “street violence and institutional violence that has claimed the lives of so many people” in Peru.
“The international community has expressed its concern, but I really think it can be more forceful,” said César Muñoz, deputy director of the US division of Human Rights Watch.
After some feverish closed-door negotiations in Buenos Aires in the afternoon, the situation in Peru was left out of the summit’s final documents. “Peru is a thorny issue,” but pressure from some leaders had led to last-minute negotiations, said an Argentine foreign ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to lack of authority to discuss policy.
“Peru has managed to fly under the radar,” said Marina Navarro, executive director of Amnesty International Peru. “Given the gravity of the situation, with this number of people who have died, we don’t see as much being said about it as could be.”
The Singapore Time writers Franklin Briceño in Lima and Almudena Calatrava in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributed to this report.