Cracking down on protests in Peru could lead to authoritarianism, experts say

Cracking down on protests in Peru could lead to authoritarianism, experts say

a young man in pigtails in Peru pushes against a line of police officers in riot gear

Demonstrators demand the release of students arrested at a university in Lima on January 21. Photo: Ernesto Benavides/AFP via Getty Images

Anti-government protests in Peru are entering their second month, with growing concern among human rights groups and political observers that the police’s deadly crackdown on demonstrators is leading to a democratic decline in the country.

Situation: About 60 people have been killed and more than 700 injured in the past month as protests spread from rural areas across the country.

  • The situation led authorities to close Machu Picchu on Saturday, stranding tourists in one of the most visited places in the world and cutting off a key source of income for the country.
  • This weekend, police entered the largest public university to disperse protesters and detain students, who police say had entered the building illegally. The National University of San Marcos denounced it as one abuse of power.

Catch up quickly: The protests began in early December after former President Pedro Castillo was impeached and arrested for attempting to dissolve Congress during an impeachment vote.

  • Dina Boluarte, who was vice president, replaced him — but Castillo’s supporters want her to resign, accusing her of colluding with Congress, which they also want to dissolve and make way for an immediate election.
  • Boluarte has said “if we have made mistakes in achieving peace and calm then I apologise”, and that she will not resign “in response to a minuscule group making the country bleed”.
  • Boluarte has also claimed that the ammunition related to the deaths does not come from the police or the military.

What they say: The government’s refusal to withdraw the police is indicative of a “dangerous transition to authoritarianism,” dozens of Peruvian political scientists and academics wrote in a letter published yesterday in several Peruvian newspapers.

  • That makes any dialogue unlikely, political scientist Paula Távara Pineda of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru told Axios Latino.
  • “If there is no real action from the government… I fear we will be stuck with no way forward with this conflict, and uncertainty about what comes next will only increase,” she added please.
  • The protests also involve people who are angry about the police’s actions, not just Castillo’s supporters, says Távara Pineda.

Many of the dead during the protests are between the ages of 15 and 30, according to the country’s human rights ombudsman.

  • Many died from projectile or bullet-like wounds to the head and chest, according to a review of autopsy reports by health news platform Salud con Lupa.
  • Edgar Stuardo Ralón Orellana, envoy to Peru from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said last week that investigations should be carried out swiftly into possible excessive use of force by the government.
  • Police have not responded to allegations of excessive use of force.

The big picture: What is happening in Peru is indicative of the growing disenchantment with government institutions seen across Latin America, analysts say.

  • Protesters in Peru say the current Congress is not representative of the people – especially indigenous communities – and that the country needs a new constitution.
  • Only 1 in 5 Latin Americanss says democracy is working and trust in congressional bodies and judicial departments has plummeted, according to the main regional poll conducted by Latinobarómetro in 2020 and 2021.
  • This could “pave the way for authoritarian populists railing against a failed establishment” to take power in the region, warns a recent article in Johns Hopkins’ Journal of Democracy.

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