Massive protests are occurring in Peru in a widespread rejection of the right-wing coup against President Pedro Castillo on December 7.
The coup was the final act in a destabilisation campaign against Castillo, since he was democratically elected in July last year.
In a last-ditch attempt to prevent an impending impeachment vote, Castillo announced in an address to the country on December 7 that he would temporarily dissolve the right-wing dominated Congress in order to start the process for a new constitution. Under article 134 of the current constitution, the president is allowed to dissolve Congress and call for new congressional elections if the body denies a vote of confidence to two ministers, which happened.
The closure of Congress and the formation of a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution have been persistent demands from social movement organisations.
In response to Castillo’s announcement, Congress rushed through its impeachment vote and Castillo was arrested for so-called “rebellion”. Peru’s judiciary — dominated by right-wing lawyers serving the interests of Peru’s oligarchy — ruled on December 15 that Castillo be kept in pretrial detention for 18 months.
Congress swore in new president Dina Boluarte, who was Castillo’s vice president. Boluarte allied herself with the right wing to govern, abandoned Castillo and unleashed brutal repression against protesters.
Along with the widespread rejection of Boluarte’s coup government, the uprisings centre around the key demands of: the closure of Congress; Castillo’s release; the formation of a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution; and for general elections to be brought forward.
Protesters marching under slogans like “Que se vayan todos” (“They should all go”) and “Close Congress” reflect widespread dissatisfaction — Congress has an approval rating of just 6% — and anger at the political establishment.
The protests started in Lima outside Congress and the police station where Castillo is being held, and grew across the country as the regions mobilised.
There have been huge uprisings in the regions of Apurímac, Ayacucho, Cusco, Arequipa, Huancavelica, Ica and Cajamarca — poorer regions with high Indigenous populations — where Castillo has a huge supporter base.
Social movement organisations, students, farmers, women’s rights groups and Indigenous people have mobilised in the face of brutal police repression.
Unions in Cusco, Huancavelica, Arequipa and Ayacucho called an indefinite strike starting from December 12.
The Agrarian and Rural Front of Peru and the National Peoples Assembly denounced the coup and announced a national strike. “We declare ourselves in popular insurgency against the coup planned and executed by Congress, the leaders of the armed forces, the mainstream media and the Judiciary, on behalf of the powerful economic groups.”
Women for a New Constitution, a grassroots alliance demanding a gender-equal, diverse Constituent Assembly, released a statement on December 11 condemning the coup and reiterating calls for a new constitution. “We reject the fact that Dina Boluarte and the coup-plotting Congress are ignoring the demands of the citizens.”
The General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP) called for Boluarte’s resignation in a December 16 statement and condemned the brutal repression of protests.
The National Organisation of Andean and Amazonian Indigenous Women of Peru (ONAMIAP) rejected the coup government in a December 13 statement and called for Castillo to be freed. “We demand the release and reinstatement of President Pedro Castillo, because the [racist oligarchy’s] hatred against him … is hatred against the people who voted for him, against those of us who dare to say that we have rights and question their hegemonic system of privilege and corruption.”
Mine workers in Arequipa gathered in the province of Camaná, Arequipa, chanting “Close Congress”.
Protesters occupied an airport in Ayacucho on December 15, before police and the army attacked them. The military shot protesters and launched tear gas from helicopters, killing two people.
Unionists, workers, feminist organisations and Indigenous people marched in Chiclayo, in the Lambayeque region, calling for the closure of Congress, a Constituent Assembly and Castillo’s release.
More than 100 roads have been blocked in 14 of Peru’s 24 regions, with the most occurring in Cusco (19), Arequipa (19) and Apurímac (17).
In response, the coup government has unleashed brutal police and military violence to repress the protests. Police have indiscriminately fired bullets and used tear gas canisters and batons against protesters, killing at least 25 people — mostly teenagers — and injuring hundreds.
Boluarte declared a countrywide state of emergency on December 14, restricting people’s freedom of movement and assembly. This authorised the army to be deployed in huge numbers to repress protests.
The coup government imposed a curfew for 15 provinces on December 15. Many have continued to defy it, and thousands joined cacerolazos — beating pots and pans from houses — at night and in the early morning.
Boluarte also dismissed the calls for a Constituent Assembly, saying it is “not the time”.
Under pressure from the protests, Boluarte announced she would bring forward general elections from 2026 to the end of next year. But protests have continued, as the wider and more important demands have not been met.
ONAMIAP called for changes beyond new elections: “We do not want changes of faces, as is always the case, but structural changes, for the convocation of a popular, plurinational, sovereign and gender-equal Constituent Assembly.”
Corporate-owned media, serving as the mouthpieces for Peru’s oligarchy, have been quick to label protesters as terrucos (terrorists), or a violent minority. This is a decades-old, racist strategy used by right-wing media and politicians to discredit progressive and Indigenous movements. Castillo, who is from a poor, peasant background, faced this during his tenure and particularly in the lead-up to being elected last year.
Media outlets have tried to reinforce this narrative, propagated by right-wing figures in Congress, by focusing on any protests that become violent, instead of the concrete demands being put forward. ONAMIAP denounced the mainstream media outlets that “hide or distort our protests and demands, blaming those of us who march for the excessive violence exercised by the state, calling for an ‘iron fist’ to re-establish order”.
The coup government has used this narrative to justify targeting Indigenous and grassroots organisations. Police raided the headquarters of the Campesino Confederation of Peru in Lima on December 17, detaining more than 50 people inside on alleged “terrorism” charges. They were freed 14 hours later, without charge, after hundreds protested outside the headquarters demanding their release.
Protesters filled Huamanga Square in Ayacucho — a city with a high Indigenous population where police have killed at least eight people — on December 17, chanting “We are fighters, we are not terrorists”.
A farmers organisation’s peaceful blockade of the Pan-American highway in Tacna, Peru’s southern-most region, demanding the closure of Congress, received scant media coverage.
International media coverage has, in many cases, presented a distorted picture of the situation in Peru.
Corporate Western media has helped legitimise the coup regime by instead referring to Castillo’s “illegal coup attempt”, parroting the “corruption” allegations against him and painting protesters as “violent” demonstrators.
Western bourgeois media, such as the Guardian, has misreported the situation by describing deaths as merely “clashes between security forces and protesters”, rather than as intentional violence perpetrated by the army and police.
As is the case with most coups against leftist Latin American leaders, the long arm of United States imperialism played a role.
US ambassador to Peru Lisa Kenna — a former CIA agent with a long history of meddling in foreign affairs on behalf of the US — met with Peru’s defence minister the day before the coup, who eventually ordered the army to turn on Castillo.
Kenna met with Boluarte soon after the coup, denouncing Castillo and welcoming her “unity government”.
US assistant secretary for western hemisphere affairs Brian Nichols, one of the US government’s top advisers, also confirmed the country’s support for the coup regime. “The US welcomes President Boluarte and looks forward to working with her administration towards a more democratic, prosperous, secure region,” Nichols tweeted. “We support her call for a government of national unity and applaud Peruvians as they stand together in support of their democracy.”
The Organization of American States (OAS) — the US-dominated group that played a major role in the 2019 coup against Bolivian President Evo Morales — was quick to support the Boluarte regime following the coup. “We welcome President [Boluarte] and her call for national unity,” it tweeted on December 8. “We reaffirm [OAS] support for democracy, peace, institutionality and the urgent need to rebuild the democratic path.”
The US state department has continued to support the coup government, despite widespread condemnation within Peru and internationally.