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Protesters in Peru Demand Justice for Ousted President Pedro Castillo


LIMA, Peru — Outside a detention center in the foothills of the Andes, a camp has taken shape in recent days, with some 1,000 people traveling hundreds of miles to demand the release of the tallest detainee: the former their president, Pedro Castillo.

Milagros Rodriguez, 37, a supporter, said they would stay until he was reinstated, or until “the civil war begins”.

Mr. Castillo, a former teacher and union activist who promised to fight for the poor who was at the center of Peru’s dizzying political drama, was sacked last week after he tried to Dissolution of Parliament and the establishment of a government governed by decree. Within hours, he was arrested, charged with sedition, and his vice president was sworn in.

Now, Dina Boluarte is the sixth president in five years in a country reeling from a long history of high-profile scandals and deep divisions between the rural poor and the urban elite. town.

During a televised virtual trial on Thursday, a judge ordered Mr. Castillo to be held in pre-trial detention for 18 months while his case progressed. Mr. Castillo declined to appear at the hearing.

What began as a relatively peaceful power transition quickly erupted into widespread violence that left at least 16 people dead, many of them teenagers, and led to attacks on police station, court, factory, airport and military base.

According to the country’s ombudsman’s office, at least 197 civilians and more than 200 policemen were injured in the clashes, in a statement on Thursday calling on security forces to “immediately stop using guns and tear gas bombs dropped from helicopters.”

The government responded to the unrest by imposing a national emergency, suspending guarantees of many civil liberties, including freedom of assembly. In an effort to quell the unrest, the new president has called for early elections, as early as December 2023, a move Congress is debating.

Boluarte, a former ally of Mr. Castillo, finds herself increasingly at odds with rural Peruvians who elected the two of them to office last year. On Thursday, her government extended the state of emergency, imposing curfews in 15 provinces.

“Violence and radicalism will not end a legitimate and legitimate government,” she said, speaking Thursday at the graduation of military officers. “There is no place for fear, only courage, solidarity and hope for a country that deserves more politicians.”

Mr. Castillo is a leftist from an impoverished farming family in the Andean highlands who had never held office before becoming president last year.

While Peru has enjoyed a long period of commodity-driven economic success that lifted millions out of poverty earlier this century, that wealth has not reached the majority of the country’s poor. especially in rural areas that bear the brunt of Peru’s chronic inequality.

The protests against Mr. Castillo’s removal have grown so quickly, many protesters say, because, despite his misdeeds, he represents the voice of a section of the population from have long felt marginalized by the elite.

“I am against the fact that my children do not have the same opportunity as the upper class,” said Delia Minaya, 49, who drove an hour to the development camp outside the prison complex, bringing breakfast for dozens of people. . of strangers.

She says she spent years working at a clothing factory – often with 20-hour shifts – sending her two children to private school.

It’s not like she’s a die-hard Castillo supporter, she said. But he should have had a chance to rule for people like her. “It breaks my heart to see my brothers fight every day for the damn system we have in Peru,” she said.

Several supporters arrived at the detention center on December 7, the day that Mr. Castillo was arrested. Since then, more and more people have appeared and turned the area into a village where some people now live.

According to one volunteer chef, there is a community kitchen under a blue tent that serves about 1,000 people a day, with donations of vegetables puffed from plastic bags around him. In addition, donation pads were stacked at least 7 feet high, while handmade signs hung everywhere, calling for Mr. Castillo’s release.

“Congress sells out, people reject you,” reads a banner across from the detention center.

On Thursday afternoon, a long line of police stood guard, guarding the complex’s giant doors. Tents line the street. And some protesters wore plastic construction hard hats – to protect them if they clashed with authorities.

“We are mourning for our president,” said Ms. Rodriguez, an accounting assistant from Junín, a town more than 200 miles northeast of Lima.

Bryan Pando, 29, a Peruvian who lives in Buenos Aires, said he flew to Lima in the afternoon when he heard that Castillo had been arrested. As a medical student, he has lived at the camp ever since. More than two decades ago, his parents immigrated to Argentina “because there were no opportunities in Peru”.

Now, they’re a comfortable middle class there, “and in this country,” he said of Peru, “almost nothing has changed.”

“Unfortunately, we are deeply rooted in corruption,” he said. “We all seek justice,” he said of the group outside the prison. “Because what they did to the president, our president, is a huge injustice.”

Demonstrator after protester expressed deep anger towards Congress and the national media – which many call the “mercenary press” – all of which they claim are to function as representatives of the rich.

A woman bragged about setting fires on the street and overturning a journalist’s car during a protest in Lima the day before. “We’re done talking,” she said.

Nearly all of those interviewed said they believed Mr. Castillo was manipulated to try to dissolve the government. “All of this was planned,” Mr. Pando said.

The manipulators are “the country’s monopolies,” he said.

On Thursday, there were clashes between police and security forces outside the two airports, while the ombudsman’s office counted 113 road blockades and 56 rallies across the country, a figure the highest daily since the protests began.

Among the dead was a 16-year-old man who was run over by a vehicle as protesters lifted a blockade order in the northern area of ​​La Libertad.

An ambulance that was taking four patients to a hospital in the Amazon town of Puerto Maldonado was stopped and stoned by protesters on Thursday.

Closed airports and roads have stranded Peruvians across the country, leaving food arriving in the capital rotting on highways, while many foreigners are stranded at tourist destinations like Thung Sacred Valley, home of Machu Picchu. One traveler, afraid of being in a small town with no supplies, said he walked 21 miles with his wife and 4-year-old son to reach a larger community.

In a speech to the country’s diplomats, Peru’s new foreign minister Ana Cecilia Gervasi announced that the country was summoning its ambassadors to Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Mexico back to Lima to protest what she called “the interfere in the internal affairs of Peru”. .”

A few days earlier, the leaders of those four countries had released a statement in which they condemned the dismissal of Mr. Castillo and appeared to recognize him as the country’s president. All four countries have leftist leaders and are part of a wave of leftist presidents elected to power in Latin America who have tried to unite around common goals, including seizing power from the elite.

In her speech, Ms. Gervasi called for “unlimited respect” for the law. Without that, “the continuity of the nation will always be at risk,” she said.

Genevieve Glatsky contribution report from Philadelphia.

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