() — When Dina Boluarte was named as Peru’s sixth president in five years, she faced battles on two fronts: first, she had to appease lawmakers who had ousted her boss and predecessor Pedro Castillo, and secondly, she had to calm protesters. enraged by the overthrow of another president in a few years.
Boluarte called for a “political truce” with Congress on his first day on the job: a peace offer to the legislature that had disagreed with Castillo and ousted him in December after he undemocratically tried to dissolve Congress.
But nearly two months later, his presidency is under even more strain than Castillo’s aborted term. Several ministers in his government have resigned as the country has been rocked by the most violent protests in decades. The president was forced to once again call for a truce on Tuesday, this time appealing to the protesters, many of whom hail from Peru’s indigenous-majority rural areas. Boluarte said in Quechua that she is one of them.
Boluarte, who was born in a largely indigenous region in south-central Peru where Quechua is the most widely spoken language, could have been the leader to channel the protesters’ frustrations and work with them. She has attached great importance to her rural origins and she initially came to power as Castillo’s vice president on the candidacy of the left-wing Peru Libre party, fueled by the rural and indigenous vote.
But his call for mutual understanding with the protesters has probably come too late, in what analysts have called the deadliest popular uprising in South America in recent years. Authorities say 56 civilians and a police officer were killed in the violence, and hundreds more injured, as protesters call for new elections, a new constitution and Boluarte’s resignation.
The president has tried to placate the protesters, asking Congress for an earlier election date. But Peru watchers say she and she made the fatal mistake of distancing herself from rural voters after assuming the top job as Peru’s first female president.
“One has to understand Boluarte’s own ambitions, she was clearly willing to sacrifice her left-wing ideas and principles to build a coalition with the right to stay in power,” Jo-Marie Burt, a senior fellow at the Bureau, told . of Washington in Latin America and an expert in Peru. “And she used force against the same people who voted for the Castillo-Boluarte ticket.”
Castillo’s brief tenure saw him face a hostile Congress in the hands of the opposition, which limited his political capital and ability to operate.
“(Boluarte) had to make a decision: either she went the way of Castillo and spent the next four years fighting against a Congress that wants to remove her, or she sided with the right and came to power,” Alonso told . Gurmendi, Professor of International Relations at Oxford University, who is a Peruvian legal expert.
The president chose the latter, experts say, distancing herself from Castillo and relying instead on the support of a broad coalition of right-wing politicians to remain in office. has contacted Boluarte’s office for comment and has repeatedly requested an interview.
During his inauguration, his former political rival Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, who used security forces to repress opponents during his decade-long rule in Peru, said that Boluarte could “count on the support and endorsement” of his party.
Two politically inexperienced
Boluarte’s troubles are a long way from her early days in the Peruvian civil service, when she worked at the National Registry of Identification and Civil Status in Surco, as an adviser to senior management and, later, as head of the local office.
She ran as a candidate for mayor of Surquillo with the Marxist-Leninist Peru Libre Party in 2018. She failed to win a seat in the 2020 parliamentary elections, but had better luck the following year, as Castillo’s running mate.
In an interview with en Español that year, Boluarte clarified a statement he made about dissolving Congress: “We need a Congress that works for the needs of Peruvian society and that positively coordinates with the Executive so that both branches of the State can work in a coordinated manner to meet the multiple needs of Peruvian society. We do not want an obstructionist Congress… At no time have I said that we are going to close Congress.”
Castillo, a former teacher and union leader, was also from rural Peru and positioned himself as a man of the people. Despite his political inexperience and mounting corruption scandals, Castillo’s presidency was a symbolic victory for many of his rural supporters. They hoped he would bring better prospects to the country’s rural and indigenous population who have long felt left out of Peru’s economic boom of the past decade.
His removal from power last year was seen by some of his supporters as another attempt by Peru’s coastal elites to dismiss them.
The public has long been disillusioned with the legislature, which has been criticized for being selfish and out of touch. In a January poll conducted by the Institute of Peruvian Studies (IEP) more than 80% of Peruvians say they disapprove of Congress.
The public also views Boluarte poorly, according to an IPSOS survey, which in December 2022 found that 68% disapproved of her. That number rose to 71% in January, according to the survey. She is most unpopular in rural areas, according to the same poll, which found she had an 85% disapproval rating in rural regions in January compared to urban areas (76%).
In January 2022, Peru Libre expelled her from the party. She told the Peruvian newspaper La República at the time that she “had never embraced the ideology of Peru Libre.”
State violence in protests in Peru
As protests spread across many of Peru’s 25 regions following Castillo’s arrest, the Boluarte government declared a state of emergency and stepped up public order policies.
Since then, the country has seen its highest number of civilian deaths since dictator Alberto Fujimori was in power, human rights advocates say, when 17 civilians were killed during a protest in the southeastern region of Puno on January 9. . A police officer was burned to death in Puno the following day. The autopsies of the 17 dead civilians found wounds caused by projectiles from firearms, the city’s head of legal medicine told en Español.
human rights groups they have accused Boluarte of using state violence to hinder protests and on January 11, Peru’s prosecutor launched an investigation against the president and other key ministers for the alleged crime of “genocide, qualified homicide and serious injuries” in connection with the bloodshed .
Boluarte has said he will cooperate with the investigation, but plans to remain in office and has shown little sympathy for the protesters. “I am not going to resign, my commitment is with Peru, not with that little group that is making the country bleed,” he said in a televised speech days after the investigation was announced.
Asked why he has not stopped security agents from using lethal weapons against protesters, Boluarte said Tuesday that investigations will determine where the bullets “come” from, speculating without evidence that Bolivian activists may have brought weapons into Peru, a claim that Burt, the Peru politics expert, describes as “a total conspiracy theory.”
Boluarte has done little to mitigate the angry rhetoric deployed by public officials, some of the press, and the public in criticizing the ongoing demonstrations. Boluarte herself described the protests as “terrorism,” a label that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) warned could instigate a “climate of more violence.”
In addition, he increased tensions again during the press conference on Tuesday when he was asked how he planned to implement a national truce and said that attempts at dialogue with representatives in the Puno region had not been successful. “We have to protect the life and tranquility of 33 million Peruvians. Puno is not Peru, ”he said. At least 20 civilians have been killed in clashes in the region, according to data from Peru’s Ombudsman’s Office, and the comment sparked immediate backlash online.
The Presidential Office later apologized on Twitter for the statement, saying Boluarte’s words were misinterpreted and that the president intended to emphasize that the safety of all Peruvians was important. “We apologize to the sisters and brothers in our beloved mountainous region,” she wrote.
While the protests show no end in sight, Boluarte on Wednesday toned down the inflammatory rhetoric when he spoke at a special meeting on the Peruvian crisis at the Organization of American States (OAS).
He announced plans to investigate alleged security force abuses against protesters, adding that while he respected the “legitimate right to peaceful protest, it is also true that the state has a duty to guarantee security and internal order.”
The violence had caused about $1 billion in damage to the country and affected 240,000 businesses, but she was “deeply hurt” by the “loss of life of many compatriots,” she said.
Boluarte, once again, appealed to his old voter base, the indigenous Peruvians. “You are the great force that we must include to achieve development with equity,” he said. “Their contributions to national development should be valued as much as their strength.”
— ‘s Claudia Rebaza, Abel Alvarado, Sahar Akbarzai and Stefano Pozzebon contributed to this report.