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‘The forgotten’: Rural fans support Peru’s Castillo

Lima Peru – Nieves Huamani was visiting her family in their Peruvian mountain village of Cusco when news of the impeachment and arrest of former Peruvian president Pedro Castle He caught up with her and her heart “pained”.

Enrique Salazar, a radio host and native of Arequipa, in the southern Andes, said that political events pushed him to make a 16-hour trip to the capital, Lima, to defend “an ordinary man from the countryside,” as the.

And Teresa Ore, who is originally from the rugged Ayacucho highlands and sells Christmas items on the streets of Lima, took to the streets to demand the overthrow of “the mafia” she says currently controls Peru’s Congress.

The three are among thousands of Peruvian peasants from the country’s rural heartland who have gathered in cities across the country to protest a political system that they say has historically excluded them.

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Peru has seen a wave of anger and indignation over the decision by Congress to remove Castle – a former rural teacher and union leader – from the presidency last week, with many protesters defending a man whom they have come to see as something of a proxy.

“[Castillo] he represented the forgotten like us, from the provinces,” said Huamani, 58, who lives in Lima, where he pushes a food cart through the sprawling outskirts of the city. “But Congress never let him govern.”

Peruvian protester Nieves Huamani
Huamani, 58, says Castle represented Peruvians from provinces like her [Neil Giardino/Al Jazeera]

‘Message that resounded’

As CastleThe attempt to suspend Congress and rule by decree on December 7 ahead of an impeachment vote in the opposition-controlled legislature, anger over his removal and jailing on charges of “rebellion” and “conspiracy” have led to protests. increasingly violent throughout the country.

The rallies have been most virulent in the country’s impoverished Andes, where Castle attracts strong support.

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Experts say several factors beyond the latest political crisis are fueling the unrest, including a deep cultural divide between the business and political classes in Lima and residents of Peru’s Andean and Amazonian interior who feel betrayed by a widely hated Congress. .

These regions have also experienced years of bubbling anger and frustration over the failure of anemic state institutions to deliver basic services, such as security, health care and education, beyond the capital.

“There is a very old marginalization and centralization in Lima and, as a result, a government with very little concern for providing basic public services,” Jorge Aragon, a professor of political science at Peru’s Pontifical Catholic University, told Al Jazeera.

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A little over a year ago CastleThe son of illiterate peasants from the rural province of Cajamarca, he vowed to finally give a voice to the country’s most neglected sectors after winning a narrow victory over his far-right rival, Keiko Fujimori, in a runoff election.

His promise to redistribute mineral wealth and rewrite the dictatorship-era constitution alarmed the bourgeoisie on both the left and the extreme right, but he won the support of Peruvian peasants and indigenous people, who leaned CastleThe mantra of “No more poor in a rich country”.

“He was a rural school teacher, a union leader and a man from the provinces,” Aragón said. “When he lashed out at inequality, poverty and the indifference of the state’s political elites, it was a message that resonated with him.”

criticism of Castle government

Though Castle‘s fight for Peru’s rural underclass, remained deeply unpopular nationally after whirlwind cabinet reshuffles and a series of corruption investigations that resulted in multiple impeachment attempts.

From the beginning, Castillo’s time in office was plagued by allegations of corruption, including that he took bribes for himself and his family in exchange for public works projects. His belated response to rising food and fuel costs also angered ordinary Peruvians who were already experiencing increasing poverty exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, sparking huge protests this year.

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And Castillo’s loyalty to far-left elements within his party, including the head of the Marxist Peru Libre party, Vladimir Cerron, raised alarm and raised fears that he would embrace regional autocrats and enact a radical agenda that would scare off foreign investment. .

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It was the third attempt by Congress to remove him from office since he took office in July last year that sparked CastleThe preemptive attempt to dissolve the legislature and form an emergency government on December 7.

The decision, which was widely condemned as unconstitutional, led to his impeachment, arrest and continued detention, as well as the swift swearing in of his vice president, Dina Boluarte, as president.

Boluarte has called for calm and time to unify a deeply polarized country. But his efforts to quell the unrest have so far failed, and this week his government imposed a state of emergency across the country for 30 days, as well as a curfew in 15 of the country’s 24 departments.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, a judge ordered Castle to remain in preventive detention for 18 months while the Peruvian authorities prepare the charges against him and his former prime minister, Aníbal Torres.

The move further ignited the protests and violent clashes broke out between protesters and the armed forces in the Andean department of Ayacucho. The national death toll has reached at least 18 as of Friday, officials said.

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Peru protester Enrique Salazar in Lima
Salazar is one of thousands of Castle supporters who protest since the removal of the former president on December 7, in Lima [Neil Giardino/Al Jazeera]

protests grow

Yet despite the crackdown, protesters like Salazar, 50, a radio host from Arequipa, say they will remain in the streets until their demands are met.

Like many protesters, he demands Castle being reinstated as president, as well as reforms to the country’s constitution and the closure of Congress, which has a disapproval rate of 86 percent, according to a November poll conducted by the think tank Instituto de Estudios Peruanos.

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Indigenous leaders in the Amazon also told Al Jazeera this week that mass mobilizations were underway from their territories to Lima, but the central issues of their protest go deeper than that. Castle only.

“Our mobilization has no interest in freeing CastleJorge Chaoca, an Ashaninka leader from Peru’s central Amazon region, said in a telephone interview. Chaoca and other indigenous leaders have said the state’s inability to protect tribes from drug traffickers in the region has led to death threats, land invasions and rapid deforestation.

“Two thousand brothers and sisters are marching to Lima to get rid of the useless, corrupt, coup-mongering, criminal, murderous, looting rats of Congress,” he said.

And in the Plaza San Martín de Lima, a focal point of the protests in the capital, the influx of protesters from the heart of Peru, backed by rural unions and peasant and indigenous organizations, continues to expand.

“He is a man of the people and comes from the countryside. And the powerful don’t like that. They don’t accept it,” said Huamani, the protester from the Cusco region. “He came here to help fight.”

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