The Political Turmoil in Peru


While the majority of what we read on the news focuses on conflicts closer to our doorstep, we should not turn our backs on the ongoing political crisis unfolding in Peru, which political experts predict could have serious implications on the peace and stability of the wider South American continent. Although Peru’s political crisis is not new, the events that have shaken the country since early December 2022 have led to President Pedro Castillo being ousted and then detained and hundreds of protests. Castillo was impeached on December 7 by Peru’s Congress. A vast majority of Peruvian lawmakers voted in favour of his impeachment immediately after Castillo declared a state of emergency and announced he was dissolving Congress.

Castillo’s removal is just one of the many events that have been part of Peru’s recent political instability which dates to 2016. It initially took place between the government of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) and allied parties against the majority-Fujimorist Congress.

How did we get here?
The crisis emerged in late 2016 and early 2017 when polarisation led to a schism between the Executive and Legislative branches. Kuczynski later resigned in March 2018 after a vote-buying scandal emerged. His successor, Martín Vizcarra, initiated a series of anti-corruption reforms. After a series of disputes with the Fujimorist-led Congress, Vizcarra dissolved Congress and called for snap elections which took place in January 2020. After an unsuccessful impeachment attempt by Congress, Vizcarra was removed by Congress led by Manuel Merino. The removal was met with mass unrest, and Merino was ousted 5 days later following 2 deaths in the protests. The crackdown against the unrest was widely condemned by human rights organisations.

Congress later chose Francisco Sagasti to lead a transitional government. In the aftermath of the 2021 Peruvian general election, a crisis emerged between supporters of Pedro Castillo and Fujimorists led by Keiko Fujimori. After multiple attempts to remove Castillo were unsuccessful, mass unrest broke out in April 2022. Castillo attempted a self-coup in December 2022 and was subsequently impeached and removed from office. Castillo was replaced with Dina Boluarte, which led to protests. The protests turned violent, which led to a violent crackdown and accusations of human rights abuses. Boluarte has promised early elections in 2024 although this has yet to be ratified by lawmakers in Peru. The delay to bring elections forward may cause protests to continue whilst citizens impatiently hope for political stability.

Spotlight on UK-Peru Relations
The UK can play a key role in ending the political crisis and it is vitally important that it seeks to do so as an important ally of the South American country. The UK currently sits on the UN Human Rights Council until the end of 2023 and they should use this position to lobby the Peruvian government to ensure that freedom of the press is maintained and that authorities must abide by their human rights obligations and allow people to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of opinion and expression. Additionally, both countries have signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child whose principles have been thrown into disarray in the South American country. Children are just some of the victims in the protests, with many living in unsafe shelters and out of school. The UK should remind Peru of its commitments to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and call upon Peru to conduct a thorough, prompt and independent investigation into the child deaths children and injuries.

The UK and Peru have a broad trading relationship; UK products and services are recognised for quality and innovation. The UK-Andean trade agreement has governed UK trade with Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador since January 2021. UK NGOs including CAFOD, Christian Aid and Oxfam International are working with Peru to prepare for and solve the numerous problems created by climate change and promoting human rights and the rule of law.

More recently, against the backdrop of Castillo’s removal as president, hundreds of British tourists were left stranded in the ancient city of Machu Picchu as protesters blocked trainlines and roads. The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) was quick to issue guidance to stranded British nationals urging them to remain vigilant and avoid any protests and demonstrations. Many were later evacuated by helicopter and buses coordinated primarily by the British and American embassies. The FCDO issued a statement in December 2022 upon the swearing in of new President Dina Boluarte: “The UK stands together with the people of Peru in support of their democracy. We welcome Dina Boluarte being sworn in as President of Peru, and her commitment to unity, inclusion, and dialogue. We look forward to working with the President and her administration to help Peru advance sustainable and inclusive development in ways that respect human rights.”

 The FCDO Should Do More
However, despite the appointment of Boluarte, there are few signs that tensions are easing in Peru, and we should put pressure on the FCDO to work more closely with its ally to restore peace and justice as soon as it is feasibly possible.

You can act today by writing to your MP suggesting the FCDO take the actions below to alleviate the crisis in this state which is a close UK ally:

  1. The Peruvian government should ensure the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly of those, including children, who participate in the demonstrations either alone or accompanied.
  2. The authorities should also safeguard the life and integrity of all injured persons, guaranteeing them immediate, timely and adequate medical attention. Likewise, they should provide the necessary support to the families of the deceased. The human rights of all people must come above any political interest. The solution to this crisis cannot involve more violence. The authorities must put the protection of the population before any political interest. To avoid more deaths and human rights violations, they should focus on resolving this conflict through dialogue, listening to all voices and stopping the repression.
  3. The authorities should ensure that educational services are not interrupted, except in areas of high conflict where there is a real risk to the safety of students. Where necessary, they should seek ways to ensure continuity of education, for example through remote education.
  4. A protest does not lose its peaceful character because of sporadic acts or unlawful behaviour by individuals. Therefore, the respect, guarantee and protection of the human rights of those who demonstrate peacefully must not be diminished. State security forces should also prioritise the peaceful resolution of the situation and avoid using force in ways that contravene international standards. The Peruvian authorities must promptly, thoroughly, independently and impartially investigate all allegations of human rights violations in the context of the current crisis.
  5. The authorities should promptly provide humanitarian assistance, collaborating with close regional and international allies, prioritising those who are stranded on the roads as a result of the blockades.

2023 could be an uncertain year for Peru but one thing for certain is that new president, Dina Boluarte, has an endless ‘to do’ list in front of her as she seeks to reassure the people of Peru and end the years of turmoil. The UK should stand committed to support its ally during this difficult period of political transition.

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