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Sarah Clune Hartman
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Demonstrators in the streets of Lima, Peru are vowing to keep demanding the president's resignation, despite a strong police response and mounting death toll. At least 55 people have died since protests began in rural regions of the country last month. Julie Turkewitz, Andes bureau chief for the New York Times, joins John Yang to discuss what she saw on a recent reporting trip to southern Peru.
Good evening. I'm John Yang. In the streets of Lima, Peru, demonstrators are vowing to keep demanding the president's resignation, despite a strong police response and a mounting death toll. At least 55 people are dead and 700 are injured. The worst political violence the country has seen in more than two decades began last month in rural regions and has now engulfed the capital city.
Overnight in Lima, more violent clashes between protesters and police. Demonstrators, some waving the Peruvian flag, others pushing and shoving with police, faced a wall of riot shields. Tear gas and smoke from fires clouded the streets. Dozens of people were injured. The protesters, many from Peru's farthest reaches, had arrived in Lima this week by bus and by foot, defying the government's declaration of a state of emergency to demand the resignation of President Dina Boluarte.
Jose De La Rosa (through translator):
We want the usurper Dina Boluarte to step down and call for new elections. Protests will continue. The south of the country is riotous at the moment.
The protests erupted across the country last month after former President Pedro Castillo was removed from office and arrested. Threatened with impeachment on corruption charges, Castillo had tried to dissolve Congress and install an emergency government. Boluarte, who was Vice President, became President.
No Name Given (through translator):
We are headed to Lima to fight. We are here for the wounded, for the many deaths caused by this de facto government.
Castillo was Peru's first leader from the rural Andes region. Campaigning on the slogan no more poor people in our rich country. He promised to address long standing issues of poverty and inequality. His ousters angered his rural and indigenous supporters, underscoring their alienation from leaders in Lima.
Yorbin Herrera (through translator):
We have come to defend our country, considering that we are under a dictatorship, a militarist government which has stained our country with blood.
Protesters want immediate new elections to pick a new Congress, and they want a new constitution.
Alvelio Sanchez (through translator):
What we demand is the resignation of President Dina Boluarte. Also, we want the closure of Congress and new elections for 2023.
So far, President Boluarte has been defiant.
Dina Boluarte, President of Peru (through translator): That was not a peaceful protest. The violent acts that occurred in December and January will not go unpunished. I will not get tired of inviting those who are protesting, those who have moved from the provinces toward the capital for dialogue. I will not get tired of telling them, let's work on the vision this country needs.
Yesterday, before the latest violence in Lima, I spoke with Julie Turkewitz, the Andes Bureau Chief for The New York Times. I asked her what she saw on a recent reporting trip to southern Peru.
Julie Turkewitz, Bogota Colombia:
In the last month, I've been to two different parts of rural Peru. The difference between the situation in Lima and the situation outside of Lima is pretty stark. The protests were happening outside of the capital. You saw a lot of roadblocks. You saw a lot of parts of the country that were really paralyzed and a lot of anger that is happening outside of the city. And that anger is extremely present, for example, in Juliaca, in Cusco, in Ayacucho, and you really didn't see it on the streets in Lima.
What does that tell us that this difference between the scene in Lima and the scene on the countryside, what does that tell us about what's going on?
These protests, I think, really demonstrate a rural-urban divide in Peru that has existed really for generations and generations, where a lot of people in rural parts of the country feel that the government, that the country's democracy, is really only functioning for a select group of people.
And so, what you see in a lot of rural parts of the country is that people feel that security hasn't come to them, that economic success hasn't come to them, that opportunities for good education hasn't come to them. That divide, in many ways, has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which hit the country very hard, by a drought that has also hit the country very hard, by inflation, which has caused prices to rise really fast in the country. And you know, people are frustrated by their current conditions, poverty, inequality. But more than that, people are frustrated by a democracy that they don't believe is working for them, that they don't believe serves them in the way that it should.
What is it that the protesters want?
You know, these protests began as this anger over the arrest and the removal of former President Castillo. And so, at first, people were asking for his restitution, and they were asking for, if that didn't happen, new elections as quickly as possible. The sort of demands have grown from there, and people are asking for a new constitution. You know, and when were in Juliaca, we saw in rural Peru, we saw signs that said calling for like (foreign language) like a new homeland. And the frustration has reached such a level that people are calling for a whole new system. What that new system is not clear.
Is this in any way say anything or tell us anything about democracies across South America, across Latin America?
What we have seen in Latin America in the last 15 to 20 years is definitely a decline in trust individual democracies and a decline in satisfaction with democracies. And the sort of level of dissatisfaction and the level of distrust is particularly acute in Peru.
Peru certainly is no stranger to political turmoil, is it?
It's a country that has seen six presidents in the last five years, and I think what that has really led to is — or contributed to is a real distrust in how the country's democracy functions. There is a, you know, a study that has been really critical for us in understanding what's happening in the country that shows that just 21% of Peruvians are satisfied with their democracy. 88% believe that at least 50% of their politicians are corrupt. Kind of gives you an idea of how people feel about the government.
There have been allegations of human rights abuses in these protests?
There are many human rights groups who have accused the police of acting disproportionately against protesters who, in some cases, have been violent. I mean, they've vandalized, they've burned buildings, but, you know, the police and the military, of course, have guns, and a lot of these people have died from bullet woods.
Is there any resolution in sight?
One of the main sort of asks and demands of the protesters is that the new president resigns. And she, you know, she was initially an ally of Pedro Castillo, but she has really dug in her heels and she is not giving any signs of — any signs that she will sort of acquiesce to protesters demands. And if that doesn't happen, I think this is going to keep going.
Julie Turkewitz of The New York Times, thank you very much.
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John Yang is the anchor of PBS News Weekend and a correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. He covered the first year of the Trump administration and is currently reporting on major national issues from Washington, DC, and across the country.
Azhar Merchant is a production assistant at PBS News Weekend.
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