Perú: Christmas during a state of emergency

Ingrid Sánchez. Photos by Candy López.

Peru woke up this Christmas in a state of emergency and without justice for those murdered by the government of Dina Boluarte; with mobilizations in the interior of the country and with a sit-in in Lima’s Manco Capac Square, where inhabitants from different regions of the country conglomerate to continue the protests that were unleashed after the arrest of President Pedro Castillo on December 7.

The military are guarding the strategic areas of the Peruvian capital where the demonstrations have taken place: Plaza San Martin, Manco Capac Avenue; as well as the Congress and the Palace of Justice which, in the context of the state of emergency, has been closed in the last days.

Mobilizations in Lima do not usually reach the Plaza Mayor, where the government palace and the Lima Cathedral are located: for decades it has been closed to mobilizations, so protesters tend to congregate in the Plaza San Martin. However, now that they have also been expelled from there, they gather in the Plaza Manco Capac, further away from the historic center of the city.

The plaza takes its name from the sculpture of what is considered the founder of Inca culture in Cuzco. Manco Capac raises his arm and seems to point the way forward for the indigenous people, who at the first opportunity explain the original myths of Cuzco, capital of the Inca Empire until the arrival of the Spaniards. At its feet, at the base of the sculpture, there are symbolic coffins of those killed in the last mobilizations and groups of people heatedly discussing the current political situation.

“The corrupt are no longer robbing you, the corrupt are murdering the people. There are no more human rights, we are unprotected” harangues Silvana del Aguila after singing the traditional song “Flor de Retama” which refers to the police repression against the 1969 Huanta rebellion that left around 20 people killed, among them some students, in 1969.

Peruvians do not forget easily; in their speeches, in their harangues, in their shouts and in their daily conversations the past is always present: the internal armed conflict of the 1980s, the Fujimori dictatorship, the repression of November 14, 2020, that left two university students murdered: Inti Sotelo, 24 years old who died from the impact of a projectile at heart level and Jack Bryan Pintado Sanchez, 22 years old, killed by 11 projectiles in the face, head, and thorax.

The climate in Lima is rarefied and in tense calm. Although no mobilizations have been called in the capital, the population seems to be on the alert. “There is no need to go it alone. The police are committing abuses, they pick up people who are then not known about”, “They go too far because they feel protected by the state of emergency”, are some of the comments most often heard in the conversations of Lima residents.

However, repression, harassment, persecution and “terruqueo”, as they call the government strategy of calling all demonstrators “terrorists”, have not been able to stop the social explosiveness, especially outside Lima, which seems to be a bubble of tranquility.

Last December 21, Jorge Chavez, retired Army General, was sworn in as Minister of Defense. Besides having held the position in 2020, he has studies in the National Guard of West Virginia, United States and in the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies at The William Perry Center in Washington, United States.
A few days after taking office, he stated in an interview with the media Perú21 that he does not consider that the political crisis is over and that he will initiate a restructuring and reorganization of the Ministry.

“The crisis is not over, we are not going to declare ourselves triumphalist and say that everything calmed down, it is not so. We have not had (functioning) an organ as important as the National Intelligence Directorate (DINI) that can make us see. It is the eyes and ears of the State in the face of threats that may arise internally or externally. This has been a deficiency, and we are going to recover it”, affirmed Chávez.

He also explained that the Police is currently “working to identify the people who are taking advantage of the popular discontent”. The demonstrators in Manco Capac are witnesses of this and denounce that police agents appear in the square dressed in civilian clothes, ask questions and take photographs, for which reason they are becoming more and more distrustful of strangers.

In regions such as Puno and Cuzco, mobilizations continue and even in La Convención, a region of Cuzco, there were confrontations with the army on December 25.

The demands are varied and in some cases dissimilar. Some organizations reject the fact that the Congress has decided to call elections for July 2024 because, they consider, it is too much time. Others do not recognize the elections because they continue to claim Pedro Castillo as the legitimate president and demand his freedom. Some other voices consider that the elections will not solve anything since the only candidates that could be presented represent the ultra-right and therefore demand the creation of a Constituent Assembly to promulgate a New Constitution.

Spontaneity is what prevails in the current political situation and although the analysis may vary in some nuances, all agree that the mobilizations will intensify in the coming days.

In the Manco Capac square, expectation reigns and the voice is passed, discussed and denounced with arguments that not only cover the national reality but even the international reality.

“Why did they carry out the coup? Why do they want to submit us to their system from the United States? First, because we know that the United States is a society in crisis, with the Federal Reserve”, analyzes Sergio Cifuentes, originally from Huánuco.

Cifuentes, who vindicates the Inca culture and affirms that the answer to Peru’s problems lies in its millenary traditions, claims to have known the Soviet Union, to have witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and to have met international figures such as George Soros.

But, although other Peruvians have not traveled as much as Cifuentes, the analysis and denunciation of foreign interference in the country’s political life are the common denominator.

“We have been invaded. We have more than 51 U.S. military bases in Peru and millions of Venezuelans. That is an invasion”, vehemently explains an elderly man to a woman who listens to him with wide eyes while waiting for the start of the political-cultural event that has been called by various organizations in the square.

For Silvana del Aguila, who claims to have been right-leaning until a few months before Pedro Castillo’s arrest, the explanation for what is happening in the country is simple.

“The big problem is that they want the wealth of Peru, the United States, with the rich of Peru. And then now they call President Castillo a terrorist, a dictator, a communist and all the people here say that they are terrorists because they want to keep the wealth, they do not want to change the Constitution of 1993 and that is the reality, that is their strategy”, she explains not only before the microphones that interview her but also before the group of people that have gathered around her when people have heard her speak out loud.

The Peruvian tradition of unwrapping the agora, the public discussion of any topic, does not stop neither for the state of emergency nor for Christmas.

This December 25, with much concentration and tension, the Peruvian people discuss what to do next.