This story originally appeared in Peoples Dispatch on January 10, 2023. It is shared here with permission.
On Monday, January 9, Peruvian security forces brutally repressed an anti-government protest in Juliaca, a city in southern Peru’s Puno region, killing at least 17 protesters and leaving at least 68 others severely injured. The dead included at least two teenagers.
According to reports from local media, Peruvian police and military officers opened fire on thousands of protesters who had occupied the Juliaca airport as a part of nationwide protests demanding the release of former left-wing President Pedro Castillo, the resignation of de-facto President Dina Boluarte, the dissolution of the right-wing dominated unicameral Congress, fresh parliamentary elections, and a new constitution through a Constituent Assembly.
Photos and videos shared on social media networks showed victims bleeding from their heads, with pellet wounds on different body parts, people carrying people with severe injuries on their backs and in their vehicles to help them get to hospitals.
This was the second massacre at the hands of Peruvian security forces in one month of social protests demanding structural changes to the country’s political system. On December 15, 2022, the security forces massacred ten people and severely injured 52 others in Ayacucho, while trying to unblock the local airport which was occupied by protesting residents.
With the latest victims, the death toll from state repression of anti-government protests rose to 46.
Peru’s Ombudsman Office requested the public order forces to comply with international standards in using force against protests and urged the Prosecutor’s Office to carry out a rapid investigation into the deaths.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the death of people in Juliaca, and urged the Peruvian State to take immediate measures to prevent and punish the excessive use of force in social protests; and to continue generating effective mechanisms of dialog to address social conflict and prevent violence. IACHR also announced that it would send another delegation to Peru to visit Lima and other cities from Wednesday to Friday to evaluate the situation.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Peru also expressed its “deep concern over the escalation of violence in Peru,” and called for the adoption of urgent “measures to prevent more violence and ensure respect for human rights in the context of peaceful demonstrations.”
Since January 4, tens of thousands of people, mainly from Indigenous and peasant communities, have been taking to the streets and organizing roadblocks in different parts of the country to express their rejection of the Boluarte government, demand respect for their vote and reinstatement of their democratically elected president.
Castillo was overthrown in a legislative coup carried out by the right-wing opposition majority Congress on December 7, after he tried to dissolve Congress and rule by decree. He was swiftly arrested following his dismissal for allegedly “breaching constitutional order.” On December 15, the Peruvian judiciary extended Castillo’s preventive detention to 18 months on the Prosecutor’s Office’s request, which is investigating him for the crime of rebellion, among others.
Puno, Arequipa, Cusco and Tacna are among the regions where massive anti-government protests have been taking place following the resumption of an indefinite national strike after the New Year break.
Following the massacre in Juliaca, the Indigenous and peasant communities along with several popular movements, social organizations, student associations, and trade unions called for the intensification of protest actions against the Boluarte government, and a march to the capital Lima to press for her resignation.
In the evening, thousands of people demonstrated in the streets and organized cacerolazos in Arequipa, Apurimac, Cusco, Puno and San Miguel. A cacerolazo is a form of protest in which demonstrators make noise by banging utensils.
Speaking at a press conference from a “national agreement” meeting on Monday with representatives from the country’s regions and various political institutions, Boluarte said she doesn’t understand why people are protesting. She said that she could not respond to all the demands of the protesters.
“I have already explained to you that the four political points are not in my hands. The only thing that was in my hands was the advancement of elections, which we have already proposed,” said Boluarte.
“The Constituent Assembly does not pass through the hands of the Executive [president]. If, with this pretext, they are taking to the streets, the brothers from the regions where there are acts of violence, they are deceiving themselves,” she added.
Additionally, she continued criminalizing the protests, without apologizing for unleashing brutal repression.
“What you are asking for is a pretext to continue generating chaos in the cities. In peace and order everything can be achieved, in the midst of violence and chaos it gets more complicated, it becomes difficult,” said Boluarte.
Meanwhile, the Boluarte administration’s handling of the protests was widely criticized by various political leaders.
Vladimir Cerrón, progressive leader and the founder of Free Peru party that sponsored Castillo’s presidential candidacy in 2021, called for Boluarte’s resignation.
“Dina, you should quit! The longer you are in power, the worse your legal situation will be, if with 28 deaths you had doubts and you have a prosecutor’s file investigating you for those crimes, with these 12 more deaths they could send you to prison for decades, while others benefit,” Cerrón tweeted.
With respect to her response that she couldn’t address protesters’ key demands, Cerrón explained how she actually can. “There are two paths: 1. A bill from the Executive to the Legislative, without going through commission due to the urgency of the case, the people convene outside Congress and the plenary vote, and 2. Return to the 1979 Constitution (Article 307) and convenes a Constituent Assembly,” he said.
Verónika Mendoza, former presidential candidate for the progressive New Peru movement, also criticized Boluarte’s response.
“Stop the massacre in Puno! There are already close to 40 Peruvians assassinated in less than a month of [a new] government! Mrs. Dina Boluarte, how can you continue in office and claim a ‘national dialogue’ at the same time that the ‘law enforcement agencies’ shoot to kill our compatriots? Resign now!” tweeted Mendoza.
“Given the critical situation we are going through, Dina Boluarte and the president of Congress must leave their positions so that—with a new board of directors of Congress—a transitional government can be built hand in hand with a broad platform of social and political organizations. From there, the elections should be brought forward to 2023 and a referendum to consult the people whether or not they want a new Constitution be called. By now we should all be clear that repression does not solve anything, it only exacerbates the conflict,” she added.