In Heart of Peru’s Protest, a Pause to Mourn the Dead

AYACUCHO, Peru — In addition to burning tires and barricades guarded by angry protesters, after the judicial court was set on fire and the military was dispatched to intervene, a funeral is being held. conduct.

In a white coffin covered with the Peruvian flag, the body of 22-year-old Clemer Fabricio Rojas moved down the street Saturday in a crowd so dense it appeared to be floating. His mother groaned. And then, as soon as the coffin passed an intersection, a second coffin was carried down the street, this coffin held the body of Christopher Michael Ramos, just 15 years old.

“Justice!” the mourners shouted.

Peru is reeling from mass protests more than a week after Pedro Castillo, the country’s first leftist president in more than a generation, try to dissolve Congress and ruled by decree, causing a dizzying drama that led to his arrest and appointment of his vice president as the new chief executive officer.

Protests by Mr. Castillo’s supporters led to confrontations with police and the departed army at least 25 people diedhundreds of people were injured and a country deeply divided over the mandate of the new president, Dina Boluarte, a former ally of Mr. Castillo. Peru remains in a state of emergency, with many civil liberties suspended and the military and police accused of enforcing curfews in parts of the country.

In some places, tensions are more apparent in Ayacucho, a mostly poor rural area far from the capital that on Thursday was the scene of a brutal encounter between protesters and the military. It left nine people dead, including Mr Rojas and Mr Ramos.

In an interview, the local head of inspector’s officeDavid Pacheco-Villar, said that after a group headed towards the airport, possibly intending to use it as a protest site, soldiers responded with a “disproportionate use of force”, proceeding an hour-long siege of the airport and surrounding area. Town.

Pacheco-Villar confirmed that at least two videos circulating on social media showed soldiers pointing their weapons at body level, while at least one other video showed troops dropping what appeared to be tear gas canisters from the ground. Helicopter.

Other videos of the day showed protesters hurling stones and perhaps using slingshots. Pacheco-Villar said he had not seen evidence that any civilians had guns but the prosecutor’s office would investigate what happened Thursday.

Department of Defense said in a statement that their soldiers at Ayacucho responded to an attack by a “crowd” armed with “blunt objects, explosives and firearms”.

“The Joint Command of the Armed Forces deeply regrets the deaths of these people,” the statement said.

The protests in Peru reflect growing frustration in much of Latin America, a region rich in natural resources where wealth often does not flow to the poor.

Anger over poverty and inequality dates back to colonial times but has flared up in recent years — first after rising oil and metal prices filled government coffers but failed to generate get meaningful fairness, and then more recently like a pandemic and inflation wiped out any gains made.

In recent years, mass protests in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and elsewhere have posed significant threats to stability.

Mr. Castillo, a farmer, teacher and union activist, won the democratic election for last year’s presidency, although he has never held office, is supported by rural Peruvians who have long felt excluded from the corridors of power. Like many of the country’s politicians, his government was mired in corruption scandals from the start and was plagued by a political establishment that was also in trouble.

face to face third attempt Before Congress to impeach him this month, Mr. Castillo announced that he would dissolve Congress and form a government governed by decree. The measures are clearly beyond the limits of presidential power in the Peruvian Constitution. Mr. Castillo’s opponents, and even his own cabinet, declared it a coup attempt — and it was a clumsy move, as he appeared to attract no support for the coup. there.

But some of his supporters argued in interviews that Mr. Castillo was manipulated by cunning elites to regain power, and they began call him to be reinstalled.

Ayacucho is a 10-hour drive southeast of Lima into the mountains, to a landscape of bare hills and prickly pear cactus forests. Its capital, called Ayacucho but known to locals as Huamanga, has a colonial-era square and narrow streets. In 1824, the area was the site of the battle that ended Spanish rule over Peru. Many of Ayacucho’s residents are indigenous, with the older generation speaking Quechua first and Spanish second.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Ayacucho became a central battleground in Peru’s internal conflict, pitting a brutal Marxist group called the Shining Way against a sometimes violent government equally powerful. Poor farmers, caught in the middle, are often unjustly accused of being Shining Path collaborators.

At least 70,000 people Across the country have died in violence, more than a third at the hands of the armed forces, according to a truth commission.

Today in Ayacucho, deep distrust of the military and the central government continues, with many saying that anyone who dared to protest was flagged as “terruco” by the authorities – a local word. Means “terrorist”.

Mr Pacheco-Villar, head of the local ombudsman’s office, said Thursday’s protest had begun peacefully in the city centre, but the soldiers made a “serious error” when they tried to stop the march from entering the main square.

Eventually, the group entered the square, and around midday, some decided to go to the airport, he said. There, the military asserts, the soldiers were attacked and responded in self-defence.

Mr. Pacheco-Villar, who lives a few blocks from the airport, said he heard gunfire. Videos began to go viral of people being wounded and dead, as well as others shouting in the streets for soldiers to leave. Helicopter flying overhead. At least 61 people were injured.

Mr Rojas’ cousin, Mayra Conori, 23, was among those at the airport on Thursday. “They shot at us from the open,” she said. “They killed us in the most cowardly way.”

Amid the chaos, protesters set fire to several local government buildings, while also attacking other entities.

Mr. Rojas and Mr. Ramos both come from poor families in Quinua, a small town an hour’s drive from the department’s capital.

Mr. Rojas is studying mathematical physics at a public university. On Saturday, his friends and family carried his body across the main square in Ayacucho in a march led by his 14-year-old brother.

“He’s not a delinquent!” the crowd shouted. “He was once a student!”

“Close the Congress!” they continued.

And then pointed out the new president: “Dina! Assassin! Everyone rejects you!

The mourners then drove to Quinua, where they filled a large white church for Mass.

Outside, as church bells rang, boys beating drums lamented and women in traditional braids, skirts and black hats stood silent, tears rolling down their faces. .

Mr. Ramos, 15, was among the youngest people killed in the protests. In Quinua, his sister, Analuz Ramos, 18, said she was like a mother to him, taking care of him while their parents worked.

Their mother sold food on the street, while their father was a bricklayer.

“What I would suggest,” Ms. Ramos said, directing her comments to the protesters, “is that they keep fighting.”

After Mass, a local orchestra played a mourning song, marched with two coffins and at least a thousand people through the streets.

Among them was Marleni Durán, 48, a mother of two, who described life in the area as difficult. She says she wakes up at 4 a.m. to buy alfalfa, which she resells at the market, along with a traditional corn dessert. She ends her day around 10pm

Thanks to this, she said, Ms. Durán takes home about $8 a day, while a large gas cylinder for cooking has roughly doubled the price.

Her older sister, Luisa Quispe, 59, pointed towards the dead. “Here, you have justice if you have the money.”

Finally, the coffins were carried to the cemetery’s archway, where they were lifted, tossed and turned, for the two young men to dance one last time.

Then, huge crowds passed under the archway, marching through the cemetery’s brick and concrete crypts, and Mr. Rojas’ family prepared to take his body into the vault.

His mother, Nilda García, bent over the open coffin, crying in Quechua, “We’ll never see my son again!”

Immediately after, the coffin was closed, the flag of Peru was removed and crumpled into a ball.

As the coffin disappeared, Mrs. García fell to the ground, while Mr. Rojas’ friends, enraged and grief-stricken, began to grab hold of the crypt.

“My little Clemer!” Miss Garcia shouted. And then the boy drummers caught on.

Mitra Taj Contribution reports from Lima, Peru.


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