Peru: Eight months after Dina Boluarte usurped government, the future of the Peruvian people is at risk
Following Pedro Castillo’ dismissal on December 7, Dina Boluarte — his vice-president — took over the reins of the Peruvian government, in a move legitimised by Congress and supported by the big bourgeoisie. Boluarte usurped the presidency with the aim of crushing the people's struggle and guaranteeing the continuity of the neoliberal model.
The Peruvian people responded to Boluarte’s authoritarian government by taking to the streets. Between December and March, Peru experienced a multidimensional crisis. In response, the National Police of Peru (PNP) and the army, under Dina’s command, brutally repressed the protesters, leaving 70 people dead.
In July, a further day of action was held, but this time containing a new element. An important step towards unity — so vital for the struggle — occurred between the National Unified Committee of Struggle of Peru (CONULP), an organisation forged in the heat of the struggle and representing the southern regions, and the National Assembly of the Peoples (ANP), a united front involving the Workers' General Confederation of Peru (CGTP), trade unions, some leftist forces etc. These two spaces came together and initiated the 1st National Encounter on July 1-2, which was attended by about 750 delegates from different provinces. After debates and discussions, they agreed on a political platform whose central slogans are: dismissal of the usurper government; dissolution of Congress and convocation of a constituent assembly; trial and punishment for those responsible of murdering protesters; reparations for victims; and freedom for all political prisoners, including Castillo.
But the attrition of months of mobilisation, the role of the trade union bureaucracy and the agreement achieved between the different sectors of the right all constitute a challenge to the popular movement and Peruvian resistance. Will Boluarte remain in the presidency until 2026? Will she fall due to street protests or another coup carried out by the same elites that put her in power? Will Dina succeed in solving the serious social problems confronting society or will failure to do so mean the people return with greater force to the streets?
Castillo, Boluarte and the struggle of the Peruvian people
Peru is a country immersed in crises: political crisis, economic crisis, environmental crisis, food crisis. As in many other countries in the region, the failure and collapse of the neoliberal economic model has left the majority of the people facing a multi-dimensional crisis. As a result of this, Peru is a country with no direction and no future.
The situation had deteriorated in the post-pandemic years. Inflation, unemployment and political insecurity all worsened in 2022. That year, 47% of Peruvian households suffered from food insecurity. In 2023, the scenario is even worse with rising inflation, soaring food prices, no job recovery and negative economic growth. These factors have been made worse by climate change, the effects of which have caused death and destruction.
Representing a hope for change, Castillo wins popular support
Faced with a country on the road to barbarism, a section of the population broke with the traditional parties at the 2021 general elections. Combined with the crisis that the right found itself immersed in, this situation generated a strong polarisation that became more acute by the day. Many social movements, fighting for their demands and, at the same time, against corruption, started searching for a solution to the crisis. In this context, the call for a New Constitution began to grow.
During the election campaign, Castillo’s figure continued to grow. For a section of the population, especially in the most remote parts of Peru, Castillo was increasingly seen as a light at the end of the tunnel; a great opportunity to advance a process of necessary changes in order to improve the situation of millions and, above all, make reality a constituent assembly that could bury the Fujimorist constitution.
Thousands voted for Castillo, who was invited by Perú Libre (PL) to stand as its candidate. With an electoral campaign promoting a progressive message, he won support among the most humble and abandoned sectors, and made it through to the second round run-off, where he faced Keiko Fujimori, the candidate of the extreme right and head, not of a political party, but of a criminal organisation. On the other side of the aisle to Keiko was el profe (the teacher) who maintained an important support base. The results of the second round saw Castillo win with 50.12%, representing 8,835,579 votes, while Fujimori got 49.87%, equivalent to 8,791,521 votes.
Castillo was a teachers' union leader, who in 2017 led a 60-day-long teachers' strike despite not having the support of the official union, SUTEP, which was led by Patria Roja (PR). Castillo marched on Lima together with 40 teachers from various provinces and camped in Plaza San Martin for 60 days. This struggle established Castillo as a point of reference for his colleagues and won him the sympathy of a section of the population. Together with the fact that he was a rural teacher and Quechua speaker from the most remote part of Peru, this explained why the countryside and poorest gave him a vote of confidence against the traditional neoliberal and right-wing parties.
As soon as Castillo won, the right wing declared war on him as they saw that an opportunity for change was opening up and that the economic interests of their partners in the CONFIEP (Confederation of Private Business Institutions) were at risk. After several attempts by Fujimorism and the right to prevent Castillo from taking office (accusations of fraud, knocking on the door of the military barracks, protesting at the Organisation of American States), the war against Castillo continued in Congress, where they blocked any attempt at reform, especially the referendum to allow the population to democratically decide whether they agreed to a constituent assembly. The right wing in Congress dedicated itself to challenging Castillo's cabinet appointments, with the aim of removing him from office. Within a year and a half they presented three impeachment motions, the first two of which were thwarted by the popular mobilisations demanding their vote for Castillo be respected.
The hoped for change seemed to be approaching at every moment. Support for Castillo was mobilised in the streets. A united front was established (Front for Democracy and Governability), which brought together various social organisations and left-wing forces; a front that was ready to fight alongside the profe to build a different Peru of opportunities, justice, work with a decent salary, education, health, etc.
A frustrated hope
But Castillo, now in the presidency, faced a dilemma: seek to advance the proposed changes together with the organised people or adapt to the regime and give in to the right, thereby becoming yet another government that defrauded the people.
And so it was that the hopes for change once again began to fade. Castillo increasingly turned to the right, seeking to obtain the consent of the right and to govern in harmony with conservative sectors. This led him to cede more and more, leaving to one side his program for change.
The four different cabinets that Castillo presented, composed in some cases of politicians with no experience, only demonstrated that this government's orientation was one of neoliberal continuity. It is impossible to enact structural changes with neoliberal lobbyists, such as Oscar Graham and Kurt Burneo, his last two ministers of economy, respectively.
Another negative aspect was that he surrounded himself with officials that had been proven to be corrupt. Despite suggestions he remove them, he refused to do so. To this day, there is no proof that Castillo himself was involved in corruption, but it is clear that he knew it existed and did nothing about it. Why he continued to work with corrupt people is a question Castillo will have to answer himself.
A year and a half went by, and with the crisis growing like a snowball, he failed to enact the reforms he had committed to implementing. The same was true for the 6-point program he signed with New Peru in order to gain their support, but which was left in a desk drawer somewhere.
As the crisis deepened and popular demands were postponed, the honeymoon between Castillo and the people began to come to an end. Strikes and demonstrations against the government demanding its problems be resolved began to occur.
A year and a half of government passed, and the famous phrase "a teacher’s word" became just that: a phrase. The permanent attacks from the right, with the aim of removing Castillo from office, together with the clumsy and erroneous decisions of the profe, who wanted to demonstrate that the economic interests of big business were not at risk in order to continue in government, led to Castillo’s base distancing themselves from him and towards a permanent crisis.
Third impeachment motion and that fateful December 7
Using nonsense arguments, the right wing in the Congress presented a third impeachment motion against Castillo. Right up until the day of the vote in Congress, December 7, the right did not have enough votes to pass the motion. That same day, however, Castillo gave them a hand, thereby enabling the ultra-right to achieve their goal.
It is worth noting that while a popular mobilisation had been called against Castillo’s impeachment, the main motivation for this mobilisation was no longer support for the government but rather concern that if Castillo was impeached, something worse would follow given the reactionary and racist right would takeover government, a negative scenario for the social movement.
That day, hours before the mobilisation, Castillo proposed to dissolve Congress, a decision he took alone, without consultation, in a clumsy move reminiscent of much of his administration. This move shifted the balance of forces within Congress, given that, according to the rules of the game, this was a coup. Certain politicians change their vote on the motion, ensuring enough votes to impeach him.
Days earlier, Castillo's vice president, Dina Boluarte, who had sworn loyalty to him, broke with Castillo after reaching an agreement with the right, whereby they would back her to take Castillo's place — a smart move by the right — and use her as a Trojan horse to take over the government, with Boluarte as a puppet in their service.
After Castillo's attempt to close the Congress, the judiciary ordered his arrest and he remains in prison to this day.
The start of a political process and state violence
The great majority of the population understood the nature of threat that this change in the political chessboard represented: the most reactionary, racist, authoritarian political sector, with marked fascist traits, stood behind the figure of Boluarte. This sector could now advance towards its main objective: to take over the government for itself, without intermediaries. Keiko Fujimori was the most likely candidate of big business and the reactionary right. To this end, they have sought to take over state institutions, in particular the JNE (National Jury of Elections), the judiciary, the Constitutional Tribunal and the Ombudsman's Office.
On the side of the popular movement, a process of struggle and mobilisation began in the south and centre of Peru, particularly in Puno, which became the vanguard of the process. The main demands were for Boluarte’s resignation, the closure of Congress and a referendum on a constituent assembly.
The government responded with an iron fist, brutally repressing the demonstrations. With the clear objective of crushing the people’s struggle and their hopes for change, the Armed Forces and Boluarte's police murdered nearly 70 brothers and sisters. The massacre in Juliaca, where 18 brothers and sisters were murdered in one day, was the most repudiable act. It will remain in the collective memory, much like the massacres of Cantuta and Barrios Altos. And Boluarte, who was seeking to be remembered as the first woman president, will be recalled as the murderer of 70 brothers and sisters.
Amid the heat of the struggle, the movement’s slogans became clearer and clearer. Rarely is there a national consensus on a set of slogans. This time around, however, a political and democratic process led to an agreement on demands: Boluarte out, close Congress and for a Constituent Assembly as a way out of the crisis. Other slogans have since been added to these, such as reparation for the families of the murdered, freedom for political prisoners and punishment for the murderers.
In January, the brothers and sisters from the south took the decision to travel to Lima and stage mobilisations there during the months of January, February and March. Lima became the epicentre of the process, where the brothers and sisters from the south received the sympathy and support of left-wing and progressive organisations, such as Nuevo Perú (New Peru), which opened up its headquarters to house the protesters — the only party that housed comrades and daily provided them with more than 3000 lunches thanks to the call for solidarity that was made for donations and food for the protesters.
There were two waves of struggles in Lima in the first months of 2023. The intense heat did not stop the marches, even that of the ones who sacrificed themselves to march from Huaycan to Lima. But the lack of unity within the body that was leading the struggle was a factor in the failure to bring down the Boluarte government.
On the government’s side, the armed forces, the PNP, the right wing in Congress, big business and imperialism closed ranks in defence of the regime and the 1993 Constitution.
That was how the first two waves came to an end, with the process of mobilisations taking a break to recover its strength and, above all, draw conclusions and obtain clarity over what was needed to win. In the south, CONULP was formed.
Three Tomas (takeovers) of Lima
After a few months, and following discussions regarding the results of the first two waves of struggle within different spaces, all but a few sectarian sectors drew the same conclusion: what was required was the broadest unity, both in organisational terms and in the streets.
An important step was taken in search of this much-needed unity when the ANP and CONULP united to convene the first National Encounter on July 1-2, which was attended by delegates from numerous provinces, who agreed on political slogans and a social platform.
There were some points of disagreement, with a minority sector proposing the reinstatement of Castillo, without a solid political argument. In contradiction with this call, another sector proposed bringing forward elections. Neither slogan was included. Instead it was decided to continue the discussion with the rank and file.
The agreed upon slogans at the meeting were:
- Convene a "Third Toma (takeover) of Lima" for July 19
- Boluarte out
- Close Congress
- Referendum for a constituent assembly
- Reparations for the families of the murdered brothers and sisters and freedom for political prisoners
- Jail for those responsible of the murders
As July 19 approached, the government and right-wing media began a campaign of terror, raising the spectre of more deaths. In spite of these threats, July 19 was an impressive day of struggle, with numerous delegations coming from the provinces to Lima. There were also protests in many provinces, but Lima was the epicentre with its strong mobilisation in which different sectors from Lima that had not taken part in the first months of mobilisation actively joined in. It was a demonstration of repudiation towards Boluarte and the Congress — a powerful blow to the government.
Right now, the process remains open-ended. There are at least two possible scenarios: either a reactionary government with fascist traits is consolidated or we move forward with a process of structural changes. What is at stake is the future of Peru.
Nuevo Perú and the vacuum of leadership
The disastrous governments of the past 30 years, with their permanent abuse and exploitation, had generated an erosion of support for political parties that by 2020 led to the explosive and massive mobilisations against the coup led by Manuel Merino, which lasted only 5 days. This was the beginning of a process of rupture with the traditional parties. Added to this the betrayal of former president Ollanta Humala, the rightward shift of Castillo, and the capitulation of Perú Libre in Congress, the problem of building and consolidating the influence of the left has become an uphill struggle.
At present, the only national organisation with a transitional programme with which it is possible to accumulate forces is Nuevo Perú. It is a space that could become a reference point. Our current within the party is waging a battle to ensure it does not change course or strategy.
Nuevo Perú is close to achieving electoral registration, which would be of great importance and significance. It is almost impossible for a party to achieve registration in Peru, even more so for a party that is not part of the political system. With 40,000 members and local committees in 80 districts, Nuevo Perú has already surpassed the requirements of the JNE of more than 30,000 members and committees in 40 districts.
Having Veronika Mendoza as the party’s main spokesperson is an advantage. Mendoza is a psychologist and anthropologist, who in the last elections obtained 7.9% of the votes with a program of reforms that, among other things, included anti-neoliberal measures and independence in relation to imperialism — a program that could open the path for anti-capitalist struggle in Peru.
The current process of mobilisation has helped Nuevo Peru achieve registration. This party could become a reference point for thousands of workers, youth and peasants all over the country. Achieving electoral registration will be an important step given the challenges that the Peruvian left faces.
Our current, Súmate (Join Us), has been pushing forward the process to bring down Boluarte and her henchmen in Congress. But to differentiate ourselves from the rest we believe that we must propagandise the idea that the basic struggle of the Peruvian people needs to go beyond demanding the departure of Boluarte, the murderer and puppet of the right, and be against the economic model and the capitalist system that is dragging the world into an abyss.
We need to be conscious of what we are facing and prepare ourselves for a longer-term process. At the same time, one task we need to carry out amid the heat of the struggle is to build a political instrument independent of the regime and its parties, which breaks with the status quo and, together with the organised people, decides the future of our nation.
Antonio Neto is a geographer, high school teacher and member of the international commission of the Movimento Esquerda Socialista (Socialist Left Movement, MES), a tendency within the Brazilian Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (Socialism and Liberty Party, PSOL). Jorge Escalante is a sociologist and a national leader of Súmate and Nuevo Perú.