Peru, the language of the street

Protests in the southern city of Arequipa, Peru over rightwing coup that removed and imprisoned a campesino president.

By: Luis Hernández Navarro

The street is talking in Peru. And it does so loudly. From the farthest and deepest corners of its geography to the megacity of Lima, it cries out for the closure of Congress, for new general elections, a constituent assembly and for the release of Pedro Castillo.

Street struggle has a long tradition in the Andean country. It has defined crucial issues on multiple occasions. A large archipelago of popular movements has flourished demonstrating along avenues and sidewalks, blocking roads, taking charge of their self-defense in Campesino Rounds and facing the devastation perpetrated by open-pit mining.

The ongoing call for the popular insurgency is the daughter of the political crisis caused by Castillo’s announcement, less than 500 days after assuming the presidency, that his government was proceeding to “temporarily dissolve the Congress of the Republic and establish an exceptional emergency government,” which would govern by resorting to decree-laws until the installation of a new Congress.  and his almost immediate arrest and replacement by Vice President Dina Boluarte, with the approval of the United States and the Organization of American States (OAS).

Pedro Castillo.

It is also the product of an endemic political crisis. In four years, six presidents have governed Peru (Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Martín Vizcarra, Manuel Merino, Francisco Sagasti, Pedro Castillo and Dina Boluarte). The current social emergency originates, in part, in the exhaustion of the regime that emerged in 1993 and its outdated Constitution. There is not only a permanent struggle between Congress and the Executive, but also a lack of political representation of huge sectors of the population.

Historically, the Sindicato Unitario de Trabajadores de la Educación en Perú (SUTEP), the education workers union, has been key in forging the left-wing social force that has taken to the streets over five decades. Its members – some 800,000 teachers – are all over the territory. The invisible fabric of internationalism led SUTEP to establish a close relationship with Mexican teachers in the mid-1970s who, in 1979, founded the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE).

Emerged from SUTEP, Professor Pedro Castillo led a split from that union in 2017 to found the National Federation of Education Workers of Peru. He then formed the Magisterial and Popular Party of Peru, as one of the electoral tools that allowed him to win the presidency.

The rural teacher Castillo was born into a peasant family. His parents were illiterate. He was never a deputy or minister. Coming from progressive evangelism, as a leader of SUTEP he led one of the longest and most important strikes by Peruvian education workers in 2017. In 2021, the teachers became the backbone of his electoral campaign, in which he visited the communities where political parties do not reach, with a huge pencil as an emblem.

Pedro Castillo, a rural teacher, campaigned with a large pencil as a symbol.

In a markedly racist country, the teacher won the presidential elections in the second round, articulating the social left, indigenous peoples and social sectors not identified with the political system. He offered, for example, to convene a constituent assembly and push for land reform. He defeated the neoliberal kleptocracy headed by Keiko Fujimori, also endowed with an important social base, built during the dictatorial government of her father, around the fight against poverty.

However, beyond the victory at the polls, it soon became clear that Castillo won the presidency, but not the power. He remained in a minority in Congress, did not have the support of either the army or the judiciary, and faced the animosity of the press and the great potentates. Events followed one another quickly. On two occasions, Congress tried to remove him. They did not reach the 87 votes they required.

Faced with the attacks of the right, far from resorting to those who brought him to the presidency, Castillo isolated himself from them. He bowed to pressure from the right and got rid of the best men and women in his cabinet. He set aside the call for a constituent assembly, early elections, land reform and the fight against open-pit mining. As if that were not enough, he called on the OAS to mediate in the pulse he maintained with Congress.

Despite the corruption allegations against him, at the time of the coup he had an approval rating of 31 percent, while Congress had only 9 percent sympathy. On December 7, right-wing legislators had forged a new attempt at a legislative coup, for which they did not have enough votes. However, the president’s failed call to dissolve Parliament precipitated his downfall.

The response of the nobodies against the right-wing coup has been of impressive vigor. Deep Peru speaks with indefinite strikes, caravans, demonstrations, road blocks, burning police barracks, airport takeovers, clashes with public forces. The popular insurgency is underway.

What future will this explosion of the invisibles have? Can it precipitate an early call for elections (not the mockery announced by Boluarte) and a new constituent assembly? Will a state of emergency be declared? Will she be drowned in blood and fire? Regardless of the outcome it has, as happened 151 years ago, when the Parisian comuneros took to heaven by storm, the popular insurgency that today speaks the language of the street in the homeland of José Carlos Mariátegui deserves our solidarity and support.

Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Tuesday, December 13, 2022, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

2 Comments on “Peru, the language of the street

  1. Pingback: Peru, the language of the street – indigenista love diaries

  2. Pingback: Massacre in Peru: ‘Democracy’ at War against the Peoples – Raúl Zibechi – The Free

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