While this text was being written, the government of Dina Boluarte and the Congress murdered Víctor Santisteban Yacsacilca (55 years old) in Lima, the latest repressive action of the national police. Víctor Santisteban was shot in the head, like so many others wounded on Jan. 28, but the wounds ended his life.
Peru is experiencing a popular rebellion whose epicenter is the Andean south (especially Cuzco and Puno), and in recent weeks has moved to Lima, the country’s capital. After the massacre that took place in Juliaca (Puno), in which the police killed 17 fighters, thousands of people from the southern highlands marched to Lima to make their protest felt.
Faced with the growing rebellion, the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP) called for and carried out a day of struggle on Jan. 19, which was massive and ended in heavy clashes with the police, and a nightmarish fire in an old mansion in the center of the city. From that day on, the struggle became permanent, and extensive marches take place every day in Lima, always ending in serious clashes with the police—who leave in their wake a trail of injuries, arrests and chaos.
To bring “order” to a situation that the government considered “under control,” on the 21st it decided to intervene at the University of San Marcos, on whose campus 200 demonstrators from the provinces were staying overnight (out of an average of 7 to 8 thousand who remain in the capital). The operation was carried out with tanks, breaking the entrance gates. Hundreds of riot police burst into the campus, violently arresting all those present, tying them up and placing them on the ground and then taking them to the Dircote (Directorate Against Terrorism). This scene brought to mind the worst times of the genocidal dictator Fujimori, with whose identity the regime headed by Boluarte was automatically associated.
The same was attempted in the interior. The police forces counterattacked in the most radicalized zones in their attempt to open the blocked roads, producing new fierce and bloody confrontations. In Chao (on the northern coast of the country, where a blockade is also being maintained) another victim was shot. In Ilave (Puno, on the border with Bolivia) another person was murdered—this time a 62-year-old adult and member of the Aymara community. Both crimes provoked more violent reactions. The Aymara people came out en masse and confronted the police until they fled, and burned the police station and other public and private buildings.
Lima was not left behind. Urban sectors, already moved by the killings of demonstrators, saw in the occupation of the university not only the violation of their autonomy, but also a brutal transgression of democratic freedoms, carried out behind an official discourse that labels the demonstrators as “terrorists.” A policeman who was part of the operation (Ricardo Quiñe), recorded and spread on social networks a video where he shows himself contentedly holding the alleged trapped terrorists. The detainees, however, were simple peasants in whose bags nothing was found to identify them as violent and even less as terrorists. This sparked the reaction of the student movement, until that moment on the sidelines, who gathered by the hundreds to demonstrate at the prefecture’s headquarters. At the same time, the compatriots of the detainees organized new convoys to reinforce their presence in Lima.
In this context, the CGTP, which continues to follow the events, called for a new demonstration on Tuesday the 24th, although the detainees had already been released under pressure from the mobilization and protests of various sectors.
The day of the 24th
The 24th was a real day of fury. Three sectors converged on the mobilization. On the one hand, the “official” CGTP and the left-wing parties, which marched, did a lap and then disbanded. The provincial column, more numerous and militant, set out early in the morning and headed towards the Plaza San Martin (located a few blocks from the seat of the Government Palace and the Congress), whose entrances are fortified by several rows of police and tanks of the Armed Forces, where heavy clashes took place. And the university youth, which came out at different times to form a strong column, also took part in the confrontations.
The mainstream media, which label the demonstrators as “violent” and “terrorists,” tell stories of how the marches are directed and planned by alleged subversive apparatuses, and how they are financed by drug traffickers and illegal mining. A simple observer of the marches can see that the truth is far from this fabrication.
Those who have come to Lima are mostly poor peasants and members of historically forgotten Andean communities who, when Castillo fell, saw their hopes for change shipwrecked and went out to demand the dissolution of the (mostly right-wing) Congress and the resignation of Boluarte (seen as a “traitor”). When they were met with bloody repression they simply exploded.
They show themselves as they are: dressed in their typical clothes with hats and some carrying whips. In the marches they carry signs with the name of their towns of origin or the names of the fallen, and brandish the Wiphala flag (used to represent the various Indigenous groups living in the Andes of what is today Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, northwestern Argentina, and southern Colombia), showing their identity and pride.
An assembly of psychology graduates from the University of San Marcos showed how this great struggle is organized from the grassroots. The assembly discussed the organization of defense groups, equipped with helmets, masks and shields; aid groups, which provide vinegar, water and rags to counteract the effects of tear gas; paramedics, who assist the wounded; those who prepare food, those who gather resources, and even those in charge of defusing tear gas using water with sodium bicarbonate. It is evident: everyone knows that it is not a peaceful struggle because the police forces (and, failing that, the Armed Forces), attack with ferocity, injuring many and shooting to kill. Whatsapp is used by those coordinating and at the head of the various organizations.
Self-organization and solidarity
The precariousness and improvisation of the leadership and organization of the struggle is evident in every sense. For example, it gives rise to vandalism, and it does not allow us to attend to emergencies at the blockades. These limitations are apparent during moments of action in the struggle. The marches either are or end in confrontations that are real battlefields in which what is cooked up as organization is very limited, although profoundly significant because it is self-organized.
On Tuesday, the 24th, the confrontations were concentrated around the Plaza San Martín, filled on all four sides by immense masses of demonstrators in their attempt to reach the Congress. Occupying the center of the square, an army of police attacked on all four sides launching a rain of tear gas, some of them shooting at the body, shooting buckshot; and controlling the whole scene with drones and surveillance cameras. The attack only fuels the anger and the most experienced—some of them graduates of the armed forces—go in for combat.
In the chaos of the confrontation, where some are drowning from the gases, everyone goes into action: the most experienced—some of them discharged from the army—go with their shields and sticks to repel the police. Others, from the rear, provide vinegar, towels, masks and water to those who leave the epicenter in search of them; and others assist the wounded on improvised stretchers. Even among those running for cover from the bombs, some are seen carrying large pots of food prepared to feed the demonstrators.
Beforehand, in the Plaza Dos de Mayo, where the rally began, there were volunteers providing food and bottles of water that were distributed to everyone. This is how the struggle unfolds. Inside, a precarious organization where those who are part of it show an enormous degree of brotherhood, support each other, give each other a hand, assist each other. And from the outside, the help is infinite. The people in the street applaud and add their shouts, others bring bottles of water and food to the demonstrators.
The result of the day’s events was several arrests, injuries, and a city in chaos: Until the following day.
Chaos and crisis spread
It is like this every day in Lima. And it is more serious in the areas in conflict, which include the south (11 regions) and various parts of the country.
On Wednesday, the 25th, the demonstrators went to the U.S. embassy and another column moved towards the residential center of San Isidro, seeking to reach out to other areas. On Thursday, the 26th, a large march of delegations from the interior left from “Puente Piedra” (25 km north of Lima) towards the center, with local residents blocking the entire main road. On Friday, the 27th, another march was held, from the East zone (San Juan de Lurigancho, the largest neighborhood in the capital), also towards the center. That same day, in Ica, a new confrontation with the police left more than 30 injured on both sides, among them a policeman seriously injured.
As we go to press (1/29), thousands of university students and delegations from the interior of the country are marching through downtown.
There seems to be no end to the chaos. But it makes its ravages felt more in the most turbulent areas where the demonstrators exercise control. There is a shortage of all the essentials, and what is available is sold at prohibitive prices: in Madre de Dios (eastern Peru), a domestic LPG cylinder costs as much as 100 dollars. ATMs are out of cash. Producers are seen throwing away their products, such as milk, or trying to auction them off. The small producers, who live off of selling their goods, are ruined. Large businesses are also suffering the impact: some mining companies (Antapaccay, Cuzco) have suspended their operations; large agro-exporters suffer great losses due to crops that are not harvested and products that cannot be shipped. Tourism (one of the main sources of income for these economies, especially in Cuzco) has slowed down: Machu Picchu is empty. And, in general, the national economy seems to have come to a standstill, deepening the sense of despair.
The suffering of the fighting population is hard to put into words. They stoically sustain themselves because they know they are facing not only a just struggle, but also a challenge where they feel that the government has declared war on them and there is no turning back, even at the cost of causing more pain and the possibility of losing their own lives.
Government in crisis
Behind its pretended stability (as well as its supposed control of the situation), the government’s failures are beginning to show. Its repressive policy has failed and has only increased protests and social upheaval.
Boluarte’s government was put in place and is sustained by the support of the right wing in Congress, a sector that counts among its ranks retired high-ranking officers of the Armed Forces who were involved in the counter-subversive struggle of the ’80s and ’90s; the president of Congress himself is a former general accused of crimes against humanity.
For this sector, with the election of Pedro Castillo (June 2021) it was as if Sendero Luminoso took power, and that is why they gave Castillo no respite until they managed to oust him. After celebrating this act, they see in the demonstrations a “hangover” of the subversion, and for that reason, together with the big media that support them, they encourage the unloading of all the repression on them. There are already 60 dead. And under the protection of the “state of emergency,” all kinds of arbitrary actions take place, such as the raid on party premises, the assault on the University of San Marcos, and the indiscriminate detention of activists. The worst thing is that these arrests are carried out under the accusation of “terrorism.” The leaders of Fredepa (Frente de Defensa de Ayacucho) were arrested by the Dircote, where an attempt is being made to prosecute them for “terrorism,” using as the only evidence the fact that they have “pronounced” themselves in favor of a Constituent Assembly.
Associated with the right-wing sector is the so-called political center (the old and new parties of the bourgeoisie), which see in these mobilizations a threat to the democratic regime on which they base their power. They want them to be defeated, using more legal and constitutional “forms,” but no gentler. Prime Minister Otárola acts as a direct link between the most conservative wing of Congress and the government, while Boluarte zigzags between both sides. But, when the repressive onslaught failed and Boluarte attempted to resign, some of her ministers abandoned her. She is holding her ground in the midst of a countermovement, supported by those sectors that want her to pave the way for them before the elections.
A new front has been opened against Boluarte in the foreign sector. After the initial recognition given to her by most countries, now the pronouncements are almost unanimous against the flagrant violation of human rights and the need for a political solution to the crisis shaking the country. Pronouncements in this respect are coming from the Vatican as well as from the UN and the OAS. The pronouncement of Boric, president of Chile, was particularly strong, when he said: “People who go out to march are shot by those who should defend them.” The Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) itself issued a report that is a worldwide scandal: most of the deaths that have occurred respond to a pattern: they are shots aimed at the head or the abdominal region, with the purpose of killing, not deterring, and most of the victims were not even in the front line.
The government attempts to confront everyone in the diplomatic arena, and its speeches to the outside world (Boluarte appeared virtually in an audience with the OAS) are so fallacious that nobody believes them. The regime is cornered here and abroad. Even so, one sector, the extreme right wing, wants to go all the way and achieve its goal of defeating the rebellion. The other side of the bourgeois political spectrum is ready for a way out, now offering to bring forward the call for elections, but keeping Boluarte until the transfer takes place.
The way out
In this context, the very positioning of the fundamental classes tends to change. Important sectors of the middle classes, who, frightened by the “rioters”, supported or kept silent in the face of the bloody repression, now support part of the demands such as rejecting the repression and moving forward the elections. The bourgeoisie distances itself from its right wing, which shows willingness to take it to the edge of the abyss, and is now inclined to move the elections forward to the end of this year, as a sort of lesser evil, at least to avoid further aggravation and to gain time while a new plan is being made. Of course, this does not fit in with the fundamental demand of the demonstrators, who, at the very least, are after Boluarte’s head. But they are playing to isolate her by putting the democratic sectors on her side again, and they intend to take advantage of the anguish that is being experienced in the areas in conflict.
The maximum expression of this shift is given by Fujimorism. This party, with a strong presence in Congress, went from supporting the official policy to proposing to bring forward the elections for this year (October), coinciding with the democratic elite and the reformist left of Veronica Mendoza. The proposal implies a change from the previous agreement (also taken under pressure from the struggles on Dec. 29) to hold elections by April 2024, and must be approved by Monday the 31st, the date on which the present legislature closes. The second legislature, convened for Feb. 15, would vote on the ratification. But the approval by the Congress of these changes to “get out” of the crisis is not easy. [This congressional vote was taken and failed to approve moving the election up to the end of 2023—editors.]
The vote requires more than two thirds of votes (87) and to achieve it requires a multi-party agreement. The opposition of only one of the parliamentary blocks makes an agreement impossible. The debate on the proposal on the night of Jan. 27 resulted in a vote of 45 in favor of advancing the elections to October of this year (and 65 against); showing that they are far from the 87 needed. Therefore, the crisis will only worsen before a way out can be found. Thus, the demonstrations and clashes will grow in the coming days, and under their fire the various forces of the parliament will stretch like chewing gum all the opportunities for stalling their demands.
Knowing this, the demonstrators propose the fall of Boluarte as a way out—which is the only viable one from their point of view. Not only because she is responsible for the deaths, but also because it would precipitate the call for elections in accordance with the Constitution.
But achieving this solution implies a bigger struggle. It is a question of defeating the policy of the union—which continues to accompany the struggle rather than make it its own in order to guarantee the triumph of its fundamental demands—and of the reformist “left” itself, which centers everything on the parliamentary solution; some are allied with Fujimorism to approve the bill to bring forward the elections to October, and others (Teachers’ Bloc and Perú Libre) ally themselves with the other right-wing sectors that oppose it.
Translated by: John Joseph
PST (Socialist Workers Party) is the section of the International Workers League-FI in Peru.