As the latest political crisis in Peru enters its second week, protests have spread throughout the country and the death toll continues to rise following a harsh police/ military crackdown against the social mobilization and mass protests denouncing the imprisonment of ousted President Pedro Castillo and demanding his immediate release. Emerging information suggests that the US had prior knowledge of and green lighted the coup attempt. Also supporting this contention is the fact that the US immediately expressed its unconditional support for the newly installed coup regime and the deployment of the military to quash the ensuing political protests. Meanwhile, the responses of other governments in Latin America to the latest developments in Peru provide important clues as to the current status of geopolitical alignments and allegiances throughout the region. Most recently, over the last couple of days there are reports of a dramatic development that – if true – could derail the plans of the coup plotters to install a new regime by force. The reports claim that some military units have declared they will not follow orders emanating from the new regime, stating that they will stand with and defend their people rather than serving the vested interests and protecting the vast corporate estates of the corrupt ruling elites.      

The National Congress, dominated by the right-wing political factions of the country’s traditional ruling elites, had dedicated almost all its time and resources over the last year to ousting President Pedro Castillo. Castillo was a former teacher and rose to political prominence following a period as a leading figure in the teachers’ trade union during a series of nation-wide strikes demanding better working conditions and progressive reforms in the education sector.

While Castillo is invariably described as leftist, the results and achievements during his first year in office were ambiguous, mostly due to the confrontational and obstructionist attitude of an extremely hostile Congress but also in large part due to a lack of strategic vision, decisive action, cooperation and alliance-building with compatible political factions, and consolidation of and articulation with his support base (particularly the marginalized and impoverished sectors of society, as well as other traditionally left-wing sectors and groups).

Peru had also been subjected to a prolonged period of political instability prior to Castillo’s presidency, marked by endemic corruption and constant political standoffs between the different factions within the ruling elites, as a result of which the country had five presidents from 2016 to 2022, and the Congress was summarily dissolved once.

The National Constitution of Peru contains two not particularly well thought-out provisions which enable the President to dissolve the Congress and also enable the Congress to dismiss the President, the latter provision in particular expressed in terms which are ambiguous and invite just such a political crisis (Articles 113 and 134 respectively). Specifically, the President can dissolve the Congress and convene immediate elections if the Congress fails to ratify or passes a no-confidence motion against the Council of Ministers (the Cabinet) on two occasions. Technically this has happened, albeit on separate occasions. Since the current term commenced in July 2021, the Congress has done almost nothing else apart from block and censure the government and instigate ‘vacancy’ resolutions seeking to oust the president.

Peru: As Protests Continue Death Toll Mounts

The immediate trigger for the current crisis was an attempt by President Castillo to dissolve the Congress and convene new elections, a belated effort to pre-empt a pending ‘vacancy’ resolution by the Congress (the third since he took office) calling for his dismissal due to ‘moral incapacity’. As noted previously, the Congress has spent almost all its time preparing and debating similar measures, indiscriminately blocking and censuring the decisions and actions of the Castillo government, and searching for incriminating evidence that would provide some substance to their constant allegations against the president and justify his dismissal (assisted by numerous collaborators within key State agencies – in particular the Office of the Prosecutor-General – as well as the mass media).

Consequently, the crisis is perhaps best described as a crude power struggle in which each side has made questionable use of constitutional powers which are ambiguous and susceptible to abuse. While Castillo generally failed to impress many of his supporters during his first year as president and as a result his approval rating fell considerably, there is a widely held feeling of contempt for the politicians that control the Congress (which has a disapproval rating of around 90%). It is noteworthy that despite all the time and resources devoted to trying to uncover evidence of illegal conduct against President Castillo (presumably with substantial assistance from collaborators within the military, police and intelligence establishments), ultimately the Congress could only continue to insist on the dubious allegation of ‘moral incapacity’.

When Castillo finally made the decision on the 7th of December to dissolve the Congress and convene general elections the political factions controlling the Congress, supported by the police and military leadership, immediately ordered the ‘pre-emptive’ detention of President Pedro Castillo and appointed the vice-president, Dina Boluarte, as his successor. Boluarte had previously had a falling out with Castillo and was no longer an active member of the government, though she retained her official status as vice-president.

Although the legality of the decision to dissolve the Congress should logically have been determined by the full bench of the Constitutional Court in public hearings after detailed legal argument as to the political and constitutional context, the order promulgated by the Congress to arrest President Castillo was subsequently rubber-stamped by a single magistrate, presumably selected by the same political factions that arranged for Castillo’s imprisonment in the first place.

Peru: As Protests Continue Death Toll Mounts

Mass protests and social mobilizations commenced several days later, on the 10th of December. As the protests spread throughout the country, the core demands of the mobilized social sectors include the liberation of President Castillo and the dismissal of the de facto president, Dina Boluarte, as well as the closing of the Congress, forwarding the date of national elections, and the convening of a constituent assembly.

Protestors occupied several airports (from which they were hastily and brutally dispersed by the military, causing many of the fatalities that have occurred over the last     two weeks) and blockaded many key transport routes throughout the country, including the Pan American highway. Most of the focal points of the social mobilization and mass protests have been at the regional level, where the logistical and organizational challenges are usually much less daunting.

Clashes between protestors and security forces have been reported in at least 13 of the country’s 24 provinces. As of Monday, the 19th of December, the official death toll was 26, with many hundreds of protestors seriously injured.

In this context, the least worst option for governments and international actors would  arguably be to refrain from taking sides unequivocally (recognizing that errors have been made by all the respective factions that have precipitated the crisis, and all of the main protagonists must accept some of the blame for the current situation), calling for the release of the imprisoned president, that all sides refrain from inflammatory or provocative statements and actions – particularly unilateral efforts to usurp power, whether from within the Presidency or the Congress – and urging the formation of an interim caretaker government as well as a process of comprehensive national social and political dialogue to prepare the way for national elections for both the presidency and the Congress (the President of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, has suggested something along these lines), whilst emphasizing that any faction that attempts to impose a post-coup regime by force will not be recognized by the international community.

Peru: As Protests Continue Death Toll Mounts

The actions and statements of the United States in particular have almost certainly encouraged the coup plotters in the Congress and the ‘security forces’ (senior military, police and intelligence officials) to refuse any form of compromise or transitional power-sharing arrangement, and reinforced the determination of the instigators behind the parliamentary//military/ corporate usurpation of power to impose a post-coup regime by force and delay new elections long enough to consolidate their rule and neutralize or crush their political opponents and restive social movements. LINK

The basic methodology appears to be a carbon copy of the parliamentary/ military-police-intelligence/ corporate ‘regime change’ operation used to oust troublesome or simply inconvenient leaders in the region on numerous occasions, starting with Manuel Zelaya in Honduras in 2009 and replicated with slight modifications to the script in Paraguay and Brazil. There are also many parallels with the attempted coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002, in particular the encouragement provided to the coup plotters and the elaborate pre-planned campaign to provide ‘diplomatic’ cover and support to the post-coup regime (a documentary reviewing related events at the time clearly exposed key components of the US role in the attempted coup in Venezuela).

In a detailed reconstruction of relevant developments in Peru over the last days prior to and during the coup, a report by Ben Norton makes it clear that the United States almost certainly had prior knowledge of and approved the coup, in effect holding President Castillo as exclusively responsible for the political crisis, providing encouragement and political support to the coup plotters within the national Congress and the military, and purporting to justify and legitimize their actions in the aftermath of the usurpation of power and ‘pre-emptive’ imprisonment of the president. According to the report:

The US ambassador in Peru, a veteran CIA agent named Lisa Kenna (who served for nine years as a Central Intelligence Agency officer prior to her current posting), met with the country’s defense minister just one day before democratically elected left-wing President Pedro Castillo was overthrown in a coup d’etat and imprisoned without trial…

On December 6, 2022, Kenna met with Gustavo Bobbio Rosas, a retired brigadier general from the Peruvian military who had officially been appointed as defense minister the day before…

At the time of this meeting, it was known in Peru that the notoriously corrupt, oligarch-controlled congress was preparing for a new vote to overthrow democratically elected left-wing President Pedro Castillo…

(In a video released shortly after Castillo announced his decision to dissolve the Congress) Bobbio told Peru’s armed forces not to support President Castillo, claiming Castillo was launching a ‘coup attempt’, instructing the Peruvian military to support the counter-coup of the congress.

While Bobbio ordered the military to rebel against the president, the US government promptly attacked Castillo.

Former CIA agent and current Ambassador Kenna tweeted, “The United States categorically rejects any extra-constitutional act by President Castillo to prevent the congress from fulfilling its mandate.”

(Hours after Castillo was imprisoned, the congress appointed his vice president, Dina Boluarte, as president. Boluarte immediately announced “a political truce to install a government of national unity” – that is, a pact with the right-wing factions that ousted President Castillo, an offer that was immediately endorsed by the aforementioned factions and the senior military officers that had arrested President Castillo.)

The day after the coup, on December 8, the State Department gave its rubber stamp to Boluarte’s unelected regime.

“The United States welcomes President Boluarte and hopes to work with her administration to achieve a more democratic, prosperous, and secure region,” stated Brian A. Nichols, the US assistant secretary for western hemisphere affairs. “We support her call for a government of national unity and we applaud Peruvians while they unite in their support of democracy …”

(When mass protests erupted demanding Castillo’s reinstatement,) Peru’s police responded with violence, harshly cracking down, killing several protesters. On December 14, the coup regime imposed a national ‘state of emergency’ for 30 days…

At the same time, the coup regime also said it plans to sentence Castillo to 18 months in “preventative prison”.

Just one day before the coup regime made these authoritarian announcements, former CIA agent and current US Ambassador met with Peru’s unelected leader, Dina Boluarte, and reiterated Washington’s wholehearted support…

In a press briefing on December 13, the State department was asked about the protests in Peru. Instead of condemning the rampant police brutality, the US State Department blamed the protesters themselves. Price stated, “we are troubled by scattered reports of violent demonstrations and by reports of attacks on the press and private property, including businesses.”

Peru: As Protests Continue Death Toll Mounts

Many governments in Latin America have criticized the recently installed coup regime, including Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Honduras, Venezuela, Cuba, and several Caribbean nations. Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia formulated a joint statement expressing support for Castillo, and stating that he was the victim of an anti-democratic campaign of harassment and persecution from the first day of his presidency. Several of Castillo’s family members have successfully sought asylum in the Mexican Embassy, and the Ambassador has subsequently been declared persona non grata and given 72 hours to leave the country.

Others, however – the right-wing governments in the region that are firmly within the US ‘orbit’ – have not hesitated to recognize the coup regime headed by Dina Boluarte, among them the governments of Ecuador, Uruguay, Costa Rica and, most recently, Chile, all of which have parroted the line adopted by the United States.

Peru: As Protests Continue Death Toll Mounts

Over the last couple of days there appears to have been a dramatic development that could disrupt the plans of the coup plotters to install a new regime by force. A declaration claiming to be from several military units has been circulating stating that they will not follow orders emanating from the new regime, and that they will protect and defend the people rather than serving the vested interests and protecting the vast corporate estates of the corrupt ruling elites.

It has not been possible to verify or refute the veracity of the report. It may be that the document was written by someone purporting to be from the military, in an effort to instil reflection, courage and a sense of patriotism and allegiance to the people among the members of the armed forces. Or, perhaps, it was written and published by some members of the armed forces to ‘test the waters’, seeking to encourage like-minded colleagues to refuse to follow the orders directing them to confront with brute force, and in some cases kill, unarmed protestors (the military leadership has blithely referred to all of the protestors that have been killed as terrorists). Or, it might be authentic. Presumably, time will tell.

The statement, published by Resumen Latinoamericano among others, is accompanied by a short video showing a group of heavily armed soldiers mingling with protestors in a rural area and helping them block the road. The text states:

The junior officers, technicians, non-commissioned officers and troops in general stationed in the Valley of the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro rivers (VRAEM) and border regions will not abide by any act contrary to human life, we declare ourselves in rebellion against the usurper Dina Arcelia Baluarte Zegarra. Likewise, we are against this exploitative, corrupt system endorsed by the Political Constitution of Peru of 1993.

The glorious Peruvian army WILL NOT ACCEPT THE STATE OF EMERGENCY We consider it to be a violation of the fundamental rights of the Peruvian nation and war is declared on the Generals and colonels who kneel before politicians, prosecutors and drug traffickers due to their greed and personal ambitions. We call on our brothers in the National Police of Peru to LAY DOWN THEIR ARMS, otherwise, for the lives of our rural families, we will proceed to disarm them militarily.

Unfortunately war is sometimes inevitable. While no one likes the idea of having to leave their family, millions of our ancestors have taken up arms to defend their country. It is because of these brave soldiers that the threats our country has faced did not destroy our freedom. In this context, the Peruvian people, to whom we owe allegiance, call us to defend their fundamental rights, mainly Education, health and work for the Peruvian people who, since the 90s, a sector called politicians have bought and sold at the cost of blood and fire to protect their privileges…

If the unconfirmed reports that some military units have opted to join ‘the people’ and ignore all orders purportedly given by the coup regime turn out to be true, this would obviously put immense pressure on the de facto government and  Congress to seek a compromise solution to the crisis. If not, given Peru’s troubled past, a popular insurrection, or even civil war, could not be ruled out.

Peru: As Protests Continue Death Toll Mounts

Notwithstanding the determination of the thoroughly corrupt far-right factions in the Congress along with their collaborators and the US to impose a coup regime by brute force, much will depend on the corresponding determination and resilience of the mobilized social sectors and movements. If they can withstand the efforts of the military and police to quash the mass protests and neutralize all political opponents and social movements, and maintain pressure on the de facto government and Congress, they may be able to force them to convene elections in the immediate future, or after a mutually agreed neutral transition period in which Castillo would conceivably be partially or fully reinstated (with some type of power-sharing caretaker government). In this respect, the situation could be broadly compared to the National Strike that rocked Ecuador earlier this year, which ended up being a battle of attrition, organizational skills, resolve and staying power.

However, even if the political opposition and mobilized social sectors and movements can extract a compromise and early elections, who will they vote for? Moreover, if the situation in Peru is similar to Colombia, the provincial and municipal governments and institutions are usually no better, and on many occasions worse, in terms of corruption, patronage/ nepotism, lack of capacity, etc. At the same time, these levels of government probably constitute more viable objectives for more immediate reforms.

As yet there is little indication that the mobilized social sectors in Peru are receiving tangible support, provisions or advice from their counterparts in Ecuador, Colombia or Bolivia, all of whom have vast experience and formidable capacities and resolve in terms of organizing mass social mobilizations capable of withstanding brutal oppressive measures, whether deployed by regular ‘public security’ forces, heavily armed riot police, private militias formed or sponsored by landlords and resource companies, or insurgent, paramilitary or other illegal armed groups.

By Daniel Edgar Via