LIMA, Peru — A relative calm, if suddenly, presidential power transfer in Peru last week turned to violence and unrest as supporters of the former president ramped up claims that his ouster was illegitimate and staged attacks on police stations, courts. , factories, airports and journalists.
The protesters, supported by organizations representing some unions, indigenous groups and poor farmers, are demanding new elections as quickly as possible.
At the same time, leftist leaders of several Latin American countries have backed former Peruvian leader Pedro Castillo, who was sacked last Wednesday and arrested after he tried to suspend Congress.
The unrest has grown and spread to different parts of the country as the government, while condemning the violence, has struggled to stabilize the situation and respond to protesters’ demands.
According to Peru’s ombudsman office, at least seven people have died in the clashes, with all of those killed appearing to be protesters, among them several teenagers. Amnesty International and local human rights groups have accused the police of responding with excessive force in some cases.
On Tuesday, the country’s new president, Dina Boluarte, called for “calm.”
Speaking outside a hospital in Lima, she said: “The situation enveloping this country is causing anguish to the entire Peruvian family.
“I’m a mother of two and I don’t want to go through this when our loved ones are dying.”
Mr. Castillo, a former leftist teacher and union activist, who win the presidential election by a narrow margin last year, fought to rulefaces accusations of corruption, incompetence and mismanagement, while lawmakers appear to want to oust him.
Last week, facing his third impeachment vote, he announced he would dissolve Parliament and form a new government ruled by decree.
The move was widely condemned by both opponents and former allies as a coup attempt. Within hours of Mr. Castillo’s arrest, Congress had voted to impeach him and the vice president, Miss Boluartea former ally, took office.
Things to know about the overthrow of the President of Peru
Events unfolded at breakneck speed leaving many Peruvians struggling to understand what was happening.
Now, many of Castillo’s supporters, especially in the rural areas where his base is formed, are reacting, saying they feel robbed of their vote.
Some protesters said they hoped their movement would grow as police responded to the protests with what they called a heavy hand.
A police general, Óscar Arriola, said that 119 policemen were injured in recent clashes, while Amnesty International said it had verified images of police officers firing tear gas canisters. from close range directly at protesters in a main square in the capital, Lima.
In her speech, Ms Boluarte said that she “instructed the police not to use any lethal weapons, including rubber bullets”, adding that she had asked the Interior Secretary “identifying those who used these weapons”. harming our brothers and sisters.”
On Monday night, several countries with leftist presidents allied with Mr. Castillo, Peru’s first leftist president in more than a generation, issued a joint statement called the outgoing president a “victim of undemocratic harassment” and urged the people to respect the “will of the citizens” who elected him.
The statement issued by the governments of Colombia, Bolivia, Argentina and Mexico called Castillo “president” and made no mention of Boluarte.
Last year, Mr. Castillo campaigned on a pledge to tackle poverty and inequality. His motto – “no more poor in a rich country” – and his call to rewrite the constitution have invigorated many rural farmers in a deeply unequal country where The urban elite vehemently opposed his candidacy.
To date, no single leader has emerged to try to unify the disparate groups. Peru has been plagued by political upheaval and high-profile corruption scandals that have led to six presidents since 2016.
Castillo’s supporters have made various legal arguments as to why Castillo’s removal is illegal and are calling for Boluarte to call new elections.
The new president, who called for national unity when she was sworn in last week and then formed a center-right Cabinet, has said she will try to move the next presidential election to two years, to 2024.
But that effort will need congressional approval.
Authorities arrested Mr. Castillo, and the prosecutor’s office said it had directed his arrest on charges of “sedition.”
Appearing at his second court appearance on Tuesday, Mr. Castillo said he had been unjustly arrested and that he would “never resign.”
“Nor will I give up the popular cause that brought me here,” he said, before calling on the authorities to “stop killing these justice-hungry people,” referring to the protesters.
When a judge interrupted him to ask if he had anything to say in his defense, Mr. Castillo replied: “I am not guilty of conspiracy or rebellion.”
In an interview, Victoriano Laura, 48, a miner in the city of La Rinconada, high in the Andes, said many people traveled from La Rinconada to the city of Juliaca, about 160 kilometers away, to participate. protest.
Laura said he believes Castillo has the right to dissolve Congress, that he should be released, that Boluarte should resign — and that a new election should be held for the purpose of writing a constitution. new.
“People are very angry,” about the president being removed, he said. “The violence is starting due to provocation by the police and people are not going to keep quiet.”
Peruvian authorities have closed at least two airports amid the protests, including the airport in Cusco, used by tourists visiting Machu Picchu and the surrounding area known as the Sacred Valley. an important source of income for the country.
Train service to and from Cusco and Machu Picchu has also been suspended, according to a travel warning from the US embassy in Lima.
In a speech outside the hospital on Monday, Ms Boluarte said her government would be “a transitional government, calling for calm, calling for dialogue and working together.”
“I am also traumatized and dismayed by the arrest of former President Pedro Castillo,” she said, adding that she has no dispute with him and that like most of the country, she feels confused by his recent actions.
Genevieve Glatsky contributed reporting from Bogotá.