Protests against Dina Boluarte’s government were rekindled Wednesday, July 19, in Peru, with mass demonstrations in Lima and echoes in other parts of the country. According to the Ombudsman’s Office, there were marches in 59 provinces and road blockades in 64, representing 32.7% of the territories nationwide. And while the Ministry of the Interior reported that there were just 21,000 people mobilized throughout Peru and no more than 1,500 in the capital, these figures failed to tally with the government’s enormous security deployment or with the mobilizations seen in the streets of the capital, where protestors demanded the resignation of the president and an early election just four months after a long wave of protests that shook the country between December and March.
There was a notable creative edge this time round to some of the demonstrations. In Plaza San Martín, one of the epicenters of the so-called third takeover of Lima, and on the eve of the Barbie premiere, a mock-up of a “Barbie dictator” flagged up the repression experienced by protestors after President Pedro Castillo was ousted in December for trying to temporarily suspend Congress. Students from the School of Fine Arts had designed a two-meter box of pink cardboard emblazoned with slogans: “Certificate of impunity,” “Kill,” and “includes dum-dum and tear gas bullets.” This last slogan referred to a statement made by Boluarte about 18 civilians killed in the city of Juliaca last January. According to the president, they died after being shot by Bolivian paramilitary forces using “a handmade weapon called a dum-dum,” a theory that has never been proven. The box was big enough to invite each citizen to inhabit it during the course of the march. At one point, a woman with heart-shaped glasses and a presidential ribbon stepped inside to hold the toy gun and the photo went viral.
The demonstration kicked off at 4 p.m. at Lima’s Plaza Dos de Mayo. The bulk of the protestors consisted of Peruvians who had made difficult journeys to the capital from the provinces. The Aymara delegation from Puno, for example, faced four police blockades before finally arriving in Lima as the president had ordered strict control of all vehicles bound for the capital. Among the protestors were also university students, labor unions, feminist and LGBTQI+ collectives, religious groups and even senior citizen associations.
Protestors’ banners conveyed different grievances, though all coincided in demanding Boluarte be removed from power and general elections brought forward, a scenario that the president rejected in June. One demand that is proving divisive among protestors is the release of former president Castillo, who is being held in Barbadillo prison with two sentences hanging over him: one for being the alleged leader of a criminal organization and the other for rebellion following his attempted self-coup in December. “The people deserted Castillo, a cholo [migrant mountain peasant] like us,” was one message that boomed through a loudspeaker in the Plaza Dos de Mayo. Also in the plaza were two cardboard coffins with the names of the 49 civilians killed in the crackdown by security forces in the last wave of protests.
Meanwhile, a collective from the Tacna region, in the south, demanded the freedom of Betssy Chávez, the chief of Castillo’s last cabinet, who is also behind bars after being sentenced to 18 months for her part in the so-called self-coup. What is certain is that there were those who took to the streets knowing that they would be marching alongside banners emblazoned with messages that did not coincide with their own.
Unlike the protests staged during the first quarter of Boluarte’s presidency, the police allowed civilians to reach the Congress building on Abancay Avenue, shortly after 6 p.m. However, they then reinforced the security presence and began to fire tear gas into the crowd. Eight people were injured — six civilians and two policemen — among them a freelance photographer.
In the country’s interior, there was a notable confrontation between police officers and civilians in the Plaza de Armas in the city of Huancavelica in the Peruvian highlands, as well as the burning of a cardboard coffin in front of a local government office in the region and the takeover of the National University of Cajamarca by students, all of which ended the first day of a new chapter of social upheaval in Peru.
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