A Month After Former President Castillo’s Arrest, Protests Continue To Destabilize Peru

After a two-week holiday hiatus, protests in Peru have re-ignited, causing airport closures and tourism reroutes in the hopes of restoring Pedro Castillo to the presidency and securing incumbent president Dina Boluarte’s resignation. Castillo had been a dedicated schoolteacher and union leader before running for office in 2021 as the representative for the Free Peru party. Last month, after attempting to dissolve Congress to “re-establish the rule of law and democracy,” President Castillo was impeached, removed from office, and arrested on accusations of corruption, at which point then-Vice President Boluarte was sworn in. Peru’s first female president is battling both supporters of the previous grassroots leader and a population disappointed in a political system brimming with corruption and inconsistency. Now, despite 22 deaths in December, the protestors have returned, putting further pressure on Peru’s fractured political state.

Both Peru’s rural regions and the capital city of Lima have seen protestors en masse. 15 people, including two police officers, were left injured during demonstrations at the Inca Manco Capac airport in Juliaca on Friday, according to Reuters, and 2,062 tourists visiting the historic site of Machu Picchu were evacuated earlier in the week before trains running to and from the Incan citadel were suspended. President Boluarte has called for “peace, calm, unity to promote development of the homeland,” to no avail.

“As long as Mrs. Dina Boluarte does not resign, this will continue,” one protestor, from the southern region of Apurimac, told Exitosa Radio.

Peru has seen six presidents in the span of seven years, but more troublesome than this frequent presidential turnover is the pattern of conspicuous behaviour by senior officials. “Every president elected in the last four decades has either been impeached, imprisoned, or sought in criminal investigations,” says Bloomberg News. President Fujimori’s human rights violations in the 1990s were succeeded in the early 2000s by construction giant Odebrecht’s bribery scandal. In what came to be a house of cards, Presidents Toledo, Garcia, Humala, and Kuczynski were each served with allegations of awarding lucrative contracts in exchange for monetary compensation while in office.

When Pedro Castillo ran for president in 2021, he sought to change the narrative – from political turmoil to solidifying the Peruvian economy. Neither career politician nor child of wealth, Castillo’s informal campaign slogan was “No more poor people in a rich country.” His platform promised to put money back in the hand of the people by nationalizing the state mining industry. Castillo’s promise remains unfulfilled, and Castillo himself remains imprisoned, but the country’s largest association of indigenous groups (La Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana, A.I.D.E.S.E.P.) and the national federation of labor unions still support him.

However, not everyone is hoping to see Castillo back in office. “Two thousand brothers and sisters are marching on Lima to drive out the useless, corrupt, coup-plotting, delinquent, murderous, looting rats in Congress,” protestor and Indigenous leader Jorge Chaoca, an Ashaninka from the central Amazon region, told Al Jazeera. “Our mobilization has no interest in liberating Castillo.”

The future of Peruvian stability rests on Congress and the President’s ability to work together, present a unified front, and answer the greater population’s calls. While sweeping change will not take place overnight, Boluarte can take steps to further relations between the executive office and the legislature. However, federal leaders have an obligation to listen to citizens’ concerns, especially those which have amassed to a level of nationwide disruption. President Boluarte and her congress must address the problems her constituents have identified to extinguish the mass demonstrations and prevent continued violence.

The renewed pressure for the truth that protestors have placed on a political system once fraught with crime is a step forward for political progress. Now, Peru’s judicial system is tasked with eliminating complacency and executing the timely, just prosecution of bad actors. With concentrated effort by elected officials, fair elections, and a refocus on economic progression, Peru can make strides in building a political system worthy of its citizens’ trust.