What is happening in Peru and why are people protesting?

At least 17 people died and another 68 were injured in the Peruvian region of Puno Peru, on the border with Bolivia, the Ombudsman and the Government reported on Monday, in the worst day of protests demanding early elections and the release of imprisoned former leftist president Pedro Castillo.

With this, the number of fatalities in clashes with the security forces increased to 39 since December, after the expulsion and arrest of Castillo, who tried to illegally dissolve Congress and reorganize the Judiciary.

“We have confirmed 17 deaths today in Puno, during clashes with law enforcement in the vicinity of Juliaca Airport, ” a source from the Ombudsman’s Office in Lima told AFP. The victims had projectile impacts on their bodies, explained a health official from the Carlos Monge Hospital, in statements to the local press.

“What is happening is a massacre among Peruvians, I ask you to calm down, do not expose yourselves,” said the mayor of Juliaca, Oscar Cáceres, in a call to the population while being interviewed by the radio of that town. The violent protests took place during an attempt to occupy the Juliaca Airport, which is under police and military guard. A similar attempt occurred on January 7.

The protests against the Boluarte government resumed on January 4, after a brief truce for the end-of-year holidays. Groups of protesters maintained roadblocks on Monday in six of the country’s 24 departments, including tourist areas such as Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca; Cusco, Arequipa, Madre de Dios, Tacna and Apurimac.

What is happening in Peru?

Since former President Pedro Castillo was ousted last week, protests have erupted across the country, with protesters blocking roads and paralyzing the airport in Peru’s second-largest city, Arequipa. Airlines have cancelled flights there and to Cusco, Peru’s tourist capital.

Demonstrations erupted over the weekend in impoverished parts of southern Peru and have now spread to the north and east of the country amid widespread vandalism and looting, in which police stations, regional prosecutors’ offices and tax offices have been set on fire.

The reasons why Peruvians are protesting against Congress these days are not new. They come from the year 2017, but they have woken up again with the latest events.

The conservative parliamentary majority – which tried to remove Castillo from the first day of his term – has 86% disapproval, according to a poll at the end of November. He also chose a Constitutional Court tailored to him and wanted to do the same with the new Ombudsman, but a judicial appeal presented by the union of that entity prevented him.

Congress has lost legitimacy because since 2017 it has denatured the constitutional figures that allow the balance and separation of powers: the presidential vacancy due to permanent moral incapacity, the question of trust and the constitutional denunciation.

The abuse of these mechanisms in battles for small power explains, in large part, why Peru has had six presidents since 2016. The attorney general who took office in July and who has denounced Castillo first for corruption in office – and now for rebellion and conspiracy ― is also close to the opposition majority.

Accused by human rights

Police and security forces have been accused by human rights groups of using firearms and dropping smoke bombs from helicopters. The Army says, for its part, that the demonstrators use homemade weapons and explosives.

“I want to make a call to the government. How can we have so many deaths?” said Jorge Sotomayor, head of the intensive care unit at the Carlos Monge Medrano hospital in Puno.

In Juliaca, Puno, a Reuters witness recorded images of gunshots and smoke in the streets as protesters took cover behind large metal plates and traffic signs and hurled rocks at police with makeshift slingshots.

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