Protests surge into the capital of Peru amid tear gas and smoke

An anti-government protesters being detained by the police during clashes in Lima, Peru, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023.(AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

Thursday, thousands of demonstrators descended upon the capital of Peru, battling with police amid tear gas and smoke and calling for the resignation of President Dina Boluarte. Many came from distant Andean regions, where 55 people have died in unrest since the ouster of Peru's first president with rural Andean roots last month.

The protests have resulted in the worst political violence Peru has had in more than two decades and have revealed significant gaps between the country's urban elite, primarily based in Lima, and its impoverished rural districts. Since he was impeached after an unsuccessful attempt to dissolve Congress, former President Pedro Castillo has been detained and is expected to be tried for rebellion.

Intermittent skirmishes and tear gas marked the day. The government encouraged everybody who could work remotely. After the sun went down, skirmishes intensified, and late Thursday night, a big fire broke out in a structure near the historic Plaza San Martin, but there was no immediate connection to the protests.

Thursday, protestors screamed calls for Boluarte's resignation, and street vendors sold T-shirts with phrases such as "Out, Dina Boluarte," "Dina murderer, Peru repudiates you," and "New elections, let them all leave."

Thursday's Lima protests left at least 13 people and four police officers hurt, according to the Peruvian Ombudsman. According to Interior Minister Vicente Romero Fernández, 22 police personnel and 16 civilians were injured Thursday nationwide.

Protesters attributed the violence to Boluarte. "Our God instructs us not to murder our neighbours. Paulina Consac remarked as she held a huge Bible while marching in downtown Lima with more than 2,000 demonstrators from Cusco, "Dina Boluarte kills; she makes brothers fight."

Numerous Lima residents joined today's protests, with prominent student and union participation.

"We are at a tipping point between dictatorship and democracy," said Pedro Mamani, a student at the National University of San Marcos, where the protestors were staying.

According to Victor Zanabria, the chief of Lima's police department, 11,800 officers were strategically positioned around the university and in the city's historic downtown sector.

Boluarte remained adamant in a televised speech on Thursday evening, in which she congratulated the police for managing "violent protests" and threatened to pursue those guilty of violence. Boluarte has expressed her support for holding presidential and congressional elections in 2024, two years earlier than initially anticipated.

The president also criticized the demonstrators for lacking a "necessary social agenda" for the nation, accusing them of "desiring to violate the rule of law," and questioned their funding.

Throughout the majority of the day, the protests resembled a game of cat-and-mouse, with demonstrators, some of whom threw rocks at law enforcement, attempting to breach police lines and officers responding with volleys of tear gas that sent protesters fleeing while using rags soaked in vinegar to alleviate the sting to their eyes and skin.

"We're surrounded," said 42-year-old Sofia López as she sat on a bench in front of the Supreme Court. We have attempted to traverse several locations but ended up travelling in circles. Lopez originated from Carabayllo, located approximately 35 kilometres (22 miles) north of the city.

By early afternoon, protests in downtown Lima had transformed major thoroughfares into expansive pedestrian areas.

The protesters, who had wanted to march eight kilometres from the city centre to the Miraflores district, an emblematic neighbourhood of the economic elite, were visibly frustrated.

"We're surrounded," said 42-year-old Sofia López as she sat on a bench in front of the Supreme Court. We have attempted to traverse several locations but ended up travelling in circles. Lopez originated from Carabayllo, located approximately 35 kilometres (22 miles) north of the city.

In a park in Miraflores, a significant police presence separated antigovernment protesters from a few pro-law enforcement marchers. Also, there, police used tear gas to disperse protests.

By moving the protest to Lima, activists sought to lend new momentum to the movement that began on December 7 when Boluarte replaced Castillo as president.

Alonso Cárdenas, a professor of public policy at the Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University in Lima, stated, "When tragedies and bloodbaths occur outside the capital, they do not have the same political weight on the public agenda as if they occurred in the capital."

Protests were also staged elsewhere, and a video released on social media showed Arequipa, Peru's second-largest city, activists attempting to attack the airport. According to Peru's Ombudsman, they were blocked by police and one person was killed in the ensuing violence.

This was one of three airports that demonstrators attacked on Thursday, according to Boluarte, who added that it was not "a mere coincidence" that they were all attacked on the same day.

As the sun fell, demonstrators threw rocks at police officers while they shot so much tear gas that it was difficult to see.

56-year-old Verónica Paucar, coughing from tear gas, proclaimed, "I'm furious." "Our return will be peaceful." Paucar is a Lima inhabitant with Cusco-born parents.

Late Thursday night, a roaring fire broke out in an ancient structure near the Plaza San Martin protests in downtown Lima, but its connection to the demonstrations was initially unclear. Images depicted people frantically removing their things from a building near many government buildings.

Thursday's march in Lima has been called the Cuatro Suyos March by activists, a reference to the four cardinal points of the Inca empire. In 2000, tens of thousands of Peruvians took to the streets to protest the dictatorial government of Alberto Fujimori, who resigned a few months later. The same name also refers to this event.

However, there are significant distinctions between previous protests and this week's events.

Cárdenas stated, "In 2000, the people demonstrated against a regime already entrenched in power." In this instance, they are challenging an administration that has been in power for less than a month and is quite unstable.

Political parties led the protests of 2000, which also had a structured leadership.

The newest protests have been primarily grass-roots operations without clear leadership, a characteristic evident Thursday as protestors frequently appeared disoriented and unsure of where to go next as police enforcement repeatedly blocked their route.

As a result of the escalation of the protests, Boluarte's departure is unlikely to satisfy the demonstrators, who are now demanding a more fundamental structural transformation.

Thursday, protesters declared that they would not be intimidated.

"This won't end today, it won't end tomorrow, and it won't end until we achieve our goals," said David Lozada, 61, as he observed a line of helmeted and shield-carrying police officers preventing protestors from leaving downtown Lima. "I have no idea what they're thinking; do they want a civil war?"

Publish : 2023-01-20 14:20:00

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