The protests in Peru after the impeachment of President of President Pedro Castillo are continuing. While the United States has established contact with the new installed President Dina Boluarte – in an obvious attempt to lend legitimation, several Latin American countries are insisting that Castillo continues to be the legitimate president.
But the duration and radicalism of the protests indicate a much deeper conflict within the country that goes beyond the presidency.
On that conflict, I spoke with Ollantay Itzamná. He describes himself as “Quechua with Peruvian passport”, has lived in Peru, Bolivia, Honduras and Spain. An anthropologist, lawyer and peasant Itzamná lives currently in Guatemala and organizes here protests against the recent coup. Itzamná also maintains a blog where he frequently informs about the background of the conflict and its regional repercussions.
What is the background of Peru’s continuing political instability that even questions governability?
There are two reasons for that: one is of historic nature; the other is within contemporary politics.
Historically, the elites from the capital Lima have not taken for serious great part of the population. Neither as Peruvians, nor as citizens. The classist-racist elite dominated the country completely. The continuation of the process has led what we call the “internal colonization”.
In terms of conjuncture, the 1993 constitution allows the Congress to approve or disapprove ministers. A two-thirds majority of the Congress can impede the President. And the elite that exercises the neoliberal policies does not want to change the constitution.
And both reasons coming together, they do not want a ‘peasant-president’.
That is why the traditional oligarchy and the United States have together pursued this coup. It is funny, the new President, Dina Boluarte, is much more communist that Pedro Castillo ever was. She worked from her youth on in different communist organizations. Despite that, she is accepted by the oligarchy.
Boluarte a “radical ‘communist’ well accepted by the oligarchy”
How do you see the current President Dina Boluarte?
Boluarte is only a servant. She is not governing. She has no real authority. She has no government plan. And she has surrounded herself with technocrats whom Castillo had pushed out.
Now, she is passed from TV channel to TV channel to pretend that she was governing. But her task is to restoration of the neoliberal power – with a smiling face.
Once her task is completed, she will be placed into the same prison cell as Pedro Castillo. She will not be protected by the elite. Just as it happened with Jeanine Áñez in Bolivia, who after loosing elections was sent to prison.
Expectations from a constitutional assembly
What are the main demands of the protesters? What is the expectation from a constitutional assembly that shall produce a new constitution?
These can be summarized in four points.
1. The establishment of a plurinational state, where the various indigenous groups do not have to cease to exist. 2. Against certain groups that even demand the separation of the state of Peru, the recognition of autonomous territories with self-determination. 3. The 1993 Constitution prohibits the state any economic activity outside of certain boundaries. The state shall only be armed forces and police according to that constitution. Against this, a ‘plural’ or mixed economy is demanded. 4. The collective rights of the people. Currently, it is practically forbidden to be indigenous. That is why they organize themselves in peasant groups and associations and are recognized only as such.
In addition, transcending the anthropocentrism in favor of the concept of ‘Madre Tierra’, mother earth. The introduction of constitutional ecologism is needed, which also includes changing the perspective of development.
The current congress has the mission to privatize everything, from mines to water, and to hand these riches over to private hands. They want to establish monocultures. They even want to privatize the air, the oxygen that we all breathe.
People have overcome “fear from political power”
How do you evaluate the protests and the protesters?
In a broader context, the protests show that people have overcome their fear before the political power. The hegemonic sociology was always saying that the people did not rise up because of their fear of power. But now, in 2022, there are people in the protests whom we call Peruvians, although they do not speak Castilian.
They clearly take historic figures such as Tupac Amaru as examples. They represent accumulated rebellion. They do not only defend Pedro Castillo, they depend the popular will. The common consciousness is that the coup did attack all of us.
There is indeed a lot of criticism against Pedro Castillo from people who sympathized with him.
Sure, a lot of people are disappointed with him. He was nıt fulfilled much of what he had promised. I had voted for him, but I am disappointed of his government as well.
Despite of that, we will not punish him but defend him, because in his personality, we are defending our own will.
Latin America appears with new pride
How do you evaluate the reaction of other countries to the coup?
The United States have not surprised. They do not pursue anymore the classical coups with only the military involved, but new ones that are civico-militar. They have become aware that, if they only remove militarily, the leaders come back at the elections. Therefore, they are trying to place constitutional obstacles. They are trying to force Castillo to abandon politics generally.
In fact, they are losing the war in Ukraine. And if they lose control over Europe too, than nothing there’s left for them except what they call the ‘backyard’ – Latin America. Hence, they are trying a new recipe that shall be applied to other countries of the continent as well.
As for the Latin American countries: They are appearing as new political subjects. Their open and clear, expressed position against the coup is part of that. They are starting to distance themselves from the North and to display a new pride. We will have to see how far that gets when CELAC meets in January.
In general, the geopolitical stage is changing rapidly, and even the Chilean President Gabriel Boric has had to adapt a new position.
Peruvian military politically organizing itself
How is the Peruvian military positioning itself?
That is a good and difficult question. During the presidency of Ollanta Humala (2011 – 2016), the military has started to develop its own political organization. This is still in the making and has not expressed itself openly yet. I think right now, they are observing the situation – and preparing for the elections of 2024, when they will appear more clearly on the political theater.
Coming back to the protesters demands. Which points are according to you the most urgent and decisive ones?
They demand firstly the closure of the Congress, which had already been disapproved by 96% before the coup. Secondly, they demand that Pedro Castillo shall be reinstated. Thirdly, they ask for new elections as soon as possible. And their fourth demand is the establishment of a constitutional assembly.
I think the liberation of Castillo is difficult. The elite had 7-8 cases against him in hand, but they impeded him due to his declaration to dissolve the congress. Now, he is turning into a political prisoner.
And as the protests continue, he is becoming a legend, a hero everyday more and more. And as for the constitutional assembly: this proposal was vaguely supported until now, today, it has become inevitable.