President Pedro Castillo came to power on a leftist platform with the support of Peru’s poorest and most marginalised people. In response, anti-democratic forces and their powerful capitalist backers have dedicated themselves to ousting Castillo ever since his victory last July.
Dominated by an alliance of right-wing and far-right parties, Congress has played a particularly obstructionist role as part of a coup strategy against Castillo.
Although Castillo’s Perú Libre party has the most representatives in Congress, they are outnumbered by the combined weight of right-wing and far-right parties, such as Fuerza Popular and Acción Popular, who have allied together to try and topple Castillo.
Congress has blocked more than 30 bills presented by Castillo and his cabinet in the past year. These bills aimed to: eliminate criminal immunity for high-ranking state officials; introduce a referendum on a new constitution and Constituent Assembly; and implement moderate agrarian reform.
On the other hand, Congress has passed laws that grant more power to it while restricting the executive branch. The stage has been set for a legislative coup.
Congress has already impeached three ministers and passed censure motions against more than a dozen other ministers. They have been aided in this by a right-wing media smear campaign.
Right-wing Congress President María del Carmen Alva — who is supposedly responsible for helping maintain cooperation between Congress and the executive branch — has been involved in multiple plots to remove Castillo from office, including two failed impeachment attempts against him.
Phone call audio leaked on June 3 revealed Alva’s nefarious plan to seize power by impeaching Castillo and Vice President Dina Boluarte. Under the Constitution, if the president and vice president are deposed, then the president of Congress assumes the presidency and must call new elections.
In the audio, Alva said she would call a presidential election, but not a general election, and then return to her position as Congress president. This would ensure the right-wing dominated Congress maintained its control over the government.
Peru is facing rising costs of living pressures due to inflation, Western sanctions against Russia and big oil companies’ profiteering from the war in Ukraine.
Peru imports about 75% of the oil it consumes and relies predominantly on fertiliser imports from Russia.
The impact of rising oil and fertiliser import costs have had effects on the cost of food, transport and construction, in a country still reeling from the impacts of COVID-19.
Peru experienced the world’s highest COVID-19 per capita death rate at the peak of the pandemic, during which more than 30% of Peruvians were pushed into poverty.
It is in this context that right-wing groups have sought to build a movement against Castillo.
José Carlos Llerena, educator and representative of ALBA Movimientos Peruvian Chapter, told Brasil de Fato there is legitimate discontent about the cost of living and against the government — manifested in recent strikes and protests — but that right-wing forces have exploited this discontent to promote their “coup strategy”.
After a transport workers’ strike against rising fuel prices on March 28 in Huancayo, anti-Castillo groups seized the opportunity to mobilise against him in Lima on April 5.
Llerena said: “They came out [onto the streets] in the richest and most affluent neighbourhoods, white families wearing the Peru football jersey, promoting a chauvinistic nationalism, protesting against a supposed dictatorship. This formula we already know from Brazil, [and] in Bolivia.”
These groups have presented few demands beyond calls for Castillo to resign and have often resorted to violence. Far-right group La Resistencia — who are linked to right-wing parties Fuerza Popular and Renovación Popular — burned shops, broke into the National Election Jury offices, destroyed part of the Public Ministry building and attempted to violently storm the Congress building in Lima while Castillo was inside.
Weeks later, grassroots organisations mobilised to protest rising costs of living, the obstructionism of Congress and demand a new constitution.
The current constitution, introduced by former President Alberto Fujimori in 1993, helped entrench the neoliberal economic model. It allowed for the privatisation of public services, undermined democracy and concentrated power and wealth in the hands of the economic elite.
The United Organisations of the Cusco Region — an alliance of 14 unions and grassroots organisations — announced a 48-hour national strike for April 18.
In an April 11 statement, it said: “The people of Cusco reject this Congress that cares only for the economic and financial interests of the monopolies and oligopolies embodied in the corrupt CONFIEP [National Confederation of Private Enterprise Institutions] that whimsically raise the prices of essential products. They are the ones that will always defend the neoliberal model.”
Peru’s economy is dominated by oligopolies and monopolies.
Grupo El Comercio, a huge media conglomerate and long-standing supporter of right-wing politicians and parties, controls 78% of newspapers.
Four banks represent 95% of the sector’s net income and 83% of all loans and deposits.
One company, Alicorp, controls a huge share of the market for products such as mayonnaise (95%), bottled sauces (91%) and soap (76%).
Three companies — Zeta Gas, Lima Gas and Solgas — control 73% of the liquefied petroleum gas market.
Price-fixing and speculation have resulted in huge profits for a few companies, while the cost of basic goods for Peruvians has increased.
In recognition of their damaging impact, protesters in Cusco carried signs that said: “Down with AliCorp”, “Close the Congress” and “No to monopoly”.
The National Organisation of Andean and Amazonian Indigenous Women of Peru (ONAMIAP) joined the protests and reiterated its demands in an April 19 statement: agrarian reform, a national Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution and the closure of Congress.
In an April 19 statement, ONAMIAP said Congress “is only dedicated to destabilising the country, through impeachment requests and the enactment of useless laws”.
“We demand a new constitutional process, real agrarian reform that prioritises collective territories and strengthens indigenous economies, [and] to change this capitalist and centralised system that deprives us of rights and destroys mother nature.”
Despite their size, the protests in Cusco received little mainstream media coverage compared to the right-wing demonstrations in Lima. This is because, rather than calling for Castillo to resign, the bulk of the protests in Cusco centred around agrarian reform and a new constitution.
Corporate-owned media focused instead on smaller, right-wing protests in Lima demanding Castillo’s resignation.
More recently, right-wing groups held an anti-Castillo protest in Lima on June 4.The fizzling demonstration ended with a rambling speech from far-right congressperson and self-described “Peruvian Bolsonaro”, Rafael López Aliaga.
A homophobe who opposes abortion and espouses COVID-19 conspiracy theories, he previously led chants of “Death to Castillo” at a rally following the elections last year.
Despite the poorly organised small turn-out, conservative TV station Willax — whose owner supported the Fujimori dictatorship and regularly peddles anti-Castillo conspiracy theories — gave hours of airtime to the protests.
Critics from the left argue Castillo risks losing his supporter base — campesinos (poor farmers), rural workers, Indigenous people, unions and some urban working-class who voted in unprecedented numbers to bring him to power — by moderating his initially leftist platform.
Right-wing forces have worked from day one to destabilise the Castillo administration. If Castillo loses this grassroots support, he will be left even more vulnerable to attempts to oust him.