Peru at the Crossroads: Political Crisis, Human Rights Abuses, and What’s Next?

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picture of panelists Featured Photo: Martin Mejia / AP / RFI

Building on our December event “Peru’s Precarious Politics – The Crisis Deepens,” the Inter-American Dialogue hosted a follow-up panel discussion on Peru’s ongoing social and political crisis. Democratic backsliding, corruption, political instability, inequality, and discrimination have plagued Peruvian affairs for years. After welcoming remarks from the Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program Director Tamara Taraciuk Broner, in a conversation moderated by Gustau Alegret, panelists shared an update of country conditions, addressed the underlying causes of today’s crisis, and put forward concrete recommendations to key actors, in Peru and abroad, to overcome Peru’s prolonged crisis.  

Alberto Vergara, associate professor of the Universidad del Pacífico, stated that democratic consensus in Peru is broken and, for years, leaders from across the ideological spectrum have undermined democracy in the country – the right when it challenged electoral results in 2021, and the left when Pedro Castillo carried out a coup in December 2022. The authoritarian path does not begin with President Boluarte. Her government is a continuation of authoritarian tendency, but it has seriously undermined the rule of law, democracy, and its relationship with society based on respect and dignity. Vergara highlighted that some protests against the government were violent but the response by security forces was unacceptable, with disproportionate use of force. The government’s response attacked representatives of society and it was tainted by racism. 

Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, first vice-president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), described findings of the IACHR’s recent report on Peru. She stated that the report found that 477 protests took place in the country during the period under investigation; 56 people had died, including eight adolescents and one police officer; and at least 912 people were injured. The protests were based on structural requests including the closure of Congress, calling for early elections, and inequality, among others. Response by security forces was not uniform nationwide. There were serious episodes of excessive use of force: she mentioned that serious human rights violations committed in Ayacucho could be considered massacres, and state agents used indiscriminate use of force in Juliaca.  

Regarding Peru’s democracy, César Muñoz, Americas associate director at Human Rights Watch, highlighted that corruption has contributed to instability and Congress is focused on eliminating all control on its power. He pointed to the selection of Constitutional Court members and the Ombudsperson through questionable processes, and ongoing efforts to control electoral authorities. The crisis that began in December started with Pedro Castillo’s actions and his removal was constitutional. People took to the street initially because over 80 percent of Peruvians wanted early elections; other political and social demands, and impunity of abuses, also contributed to the protests. Although most protests were peaceful, he said there were some incidents of very serious violence. The response by security forces was brutal, indiscriminate, and disproportionate, and there were very serious flaws in judicial investigations of these abuses. Human Rights Watch’s recommendations include the creation of an independent group of experts who can contribute to the investigations and look into the structural causes that led to the protests. 

Luis Miguel Castilla, former minister of economics and finance in Peru and director of Instituto Videnza, stated that Peru is not a country falling off the edge of a cliff. He said it is critical to respect due process and prosecutors’ autonomy, and talking about extrajudicial executions or massacres in a country with Peru’s history is jumping to conclusions that weaken, instead of strengthening, Peruvian institutions. He stated that poverty levels are worrying (last year 620,000 more Peruvians were poor), but poverty is in Lima, where there are 3 million urban poor people – and mobilizations were not in urban areas. The main concerns that Peruvians have are corruption, crime, and cost of living – which actually increased with road blockades during the protests. To address this situation, Peru requires solid institutions. 

Ambassador Gustavo Adrianzén, Peru’s permanent representative to the Organization of American States, said Peru had six presidents in the last seven years, but in every case, constitutional mechanisms were put in place. Pedro Castillo carried out a coup d’etat and democratic institutions responded to his actions. He thanked the IACHR and Human Rights Watch for including information about the coup and saying that President Boluarte’s government is legitimate. He highlighted they don’t agree with some of their conclusions, but they have opened doors to international scrutiny, and allow for a democratic debate of their findings. This government has been in power for five months; they can’t solve underlying structural problems in this short period. If security forces have committed excesses, they were specific cases and they are being investigated by independent authorities. Complex cases take time if authorities carry out investigations with due process.  

During the Q&A section, the panelists discussed how to label the abuses committed during the protests and whether actions by security forces and/or individuals should be considered “barbarism” or not, the role of Peruvian elites, and why Peru’s economy remained stable despite political turbulence and how long this will continue to happen. They also shared their views regarding the similarities and differences between abuses committed in Peru and in other countries, available evidence of abuses and whether the killings can be considered extrajudicial killings or massacres, and recommendations to strengthen judicial investigations, including the possibility of creating an international commission to support the role of prosecutors. Other recommendations include addressing underlying causes of discontent and carrying out a political reform that is urgent. 

Watch the event recording here:

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