The Real Story Behind Peru’s Recent Unrest

Debunking the narrative

Peru does not find itself in the international news very often. Ever since President Pedro Castillo attempted a self-coup that would have given him dictatorial powers, a narrative pushed by the extreme left and its fellow travelers has found its way into major news outlets.

According to this alternative reality, President Castillo was deposed and kidnapped by the extreme right. A hurricane of repression and human rights abuses by the armed forces has met the peaceful protests marked these past few weeks. At the same time, the former vice president, Dina Boluarte, who succeeded Castillo, is a bloodthirsty traitor hellbent on establishing a dictatorial regime. The heroic, unarmed resistance movement is fighting for social and racial justice.

The truth is much less romantic. Castillo did what so many rulers have done in Latin America—he tried to destroy the democratic system from above by engineering a coup. When the military failed to back him, he ordered his driver to take him to the Mexican embassy, where that country’s populist demagogue had offered protection. The police refused to follow his orders and arrested him. He is now in pre-trial detention in a comfortable prison under the orders of the courts

The Congress impeached Castillo; under the constitution, the vice president, who had not backed the coup, replaced him as head of state. She did not try to establish a dictatorship; instead, she asked Congress to curtail her mandate by bringing forward the next general election two years. Accordingly, Peru will elect a new government in April of next year.

Mrs. Boluarte is no rich, white oligarch. She comes from one of the country’s poorest regions, Apurímac, speaks pre-Hispanic languages, and comes from the Marxist party that supported Castillo’s candidacy for the presidency. Before she was elected vice president, she was a civil servant.

After Castillo’s self-coup failed, a torrent of violence was unleashed that has lasted until this day. Organized by various radical groups seeking their known aims, the violence has wreaked havoc across Peru, caused many deaths, destroyed much property, and killed what little confidence the investor community had in the political and business climate. 

Under the circumstances, Boluarte’s government was forced to declare a state of emergency (allowed under the constitution) and ask the security forces to contain the violence. As a result, several protestors were tragically killed, which the attorney general and other prosecutors are currently investigating. All of this has been widely covered by a free press that has found no obstacles to its reporting (including foreign correspondents who peddle stereotype after stereotype to their editors back home). 

Some of Latin America’s left-wing populists, including the dictatorships of Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia, and the democratic but demagogic leaders of Mexico and Colombia, have encouraged the violence and given credence to the narrative according to which Castillo is not the culprit but the victim. Evo Morales, Bolivia’s former president, who holds considerable sway over his country’s institutions, has openly meddled in Peru’s affairs, organizing groups of armed militants who have crossed the border with Peru and joined the Peruvian radicals.

So far, a majority of Peruvians do not want Boluarte to resign, fearing that the collapse of the government would turn Peru into another Latin American pillar of the authoritarian populist left. But the foundations of her government are precarious. The call for a constituent assembly (the instrument used by the populist left to overturn liberal democracy in many parts of the region) has gained traction among many Peruvians who see it as a way to wipe out the political class; the radical groups have seized on this to try to erode the government’s legitimacy.

The forces of illiberalism that have turned the clock back across the region in recent years sense that a major country in South America could soon fall into their hands. Let us hope they are wrong.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute. His Independent books include Global Crossings, Liberty for Latin America, and The Che Guevara Myth.
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