President Pedro Castillo faces the first popular protests against his government. Rising prices for fuel, tolls, food and agricultural supplies have sparked protests in several regions of the country. Associations of transporters and farmers have launched mobilizations against the price increase, which has spread to other sectors of the population. Roadblocks, looting of shops and clashes between demonstrators and police have put the government in check. The violence erupted over the weekend and got worse this Monday. Four deaths were reported, but the government came out to clarify that they were not the result of police action. A child drowned when he fell into a river as he ran to escape a clash between protesters and police, two people were run over amidst the chaos and another for not being able to get emergency medical care due to a picket line blocking a street.
The government is facing this social crisis just over eight months after Castillo took office in the midst of popular hope for change, which is fading, and when he is weakened by the war the right has declared since day one and internal problems. , such as interrogated appointments, corruption allegations, and a departure from its original program of changes.
The Andean region of Junín, where the violence began, was the cradle of the ruling Peru Libre (PL) party. A statement by President Castillo on Friday accusing protest leaders of being paid to attack the government ignited popular anger. “Stops and roadblocks are announced, some leaders and some group leaders are malicious and paid, it is necessary to tell them that we will put order in the next few hours”, were the words of Castillo that have set fire to an already heavily loaded social scene with shortcomings aggravated by the pandemic. and from the latest ups, frustration and anger.
On Saturday, the government sent seven ministers to the city of Huancayo, capital of the Junín region, to speak with the strikers. Violence had spread to that city, with looting and attacks on public places. The house in Huancayo of the general secretary of PL, Vladimir Cerrón, was stoned. Ministers and demonstrators met in a Colosseum, amidst a great disorder. Outside the clashes continued and the smell of tear gas penetrated the Colosseum. In the tumultuous meeting, government representatives, to try to reduce the discomfort, began to put Castillo’s apologies for his questions to the protest leaders on the loudspeakers. “If there was a misunderstanding in some of those statements and I have to clear it up by apologizing or forgiving people, I have to do it a thousand times over,” was the president’s apology.
To meet demands for recent price hikes, the government announced a reduction in fuel taxes to lower their price, which took effect this Monday, and the elimination of the general sales tax (equivalent to Argentine VAT). for basic products from the family basket, such as chicken, eggs, flour, sugar, noodles. The latter must be approved by Congress. The increase in the minimum wage from 930 to 1,025 soles (from 248 to 273 dollars) has also been announced starting in May. It was decided to review the toll granting contracts to cope with the recent increases and to take measures to reduce the cost of fertilizers for farmers. At the end of Saturday afternoon an act was signed and the lifting of the blockades and mobilizations was announced. But not all leaders accepted what was agreed and in other cases most of the bases did not know what their leaders signed. In that scenario there was no respite, no lifting of the lockdowns. On the contrary, on Monday the social upheaval worsened, blockades, violence and looting spread to various regions of the country.
On Monday, the Panamericana Norte e Sur, and the central highway connecting Lima with the Andean area, the country’s three main communication routes, were blocked by protesters’ pickets. The looting of shops was repeated in several cities. Markets and shops in Lima have closed for fear of looting. Throughout the day there were clashes between demonstrators and police. With the violence and chaos on the streets and highways, government representatives met again with the leaders of the strikers. This time in Lima. Foreign Trade Minister Roberto Sánchez, one of the negotiators, said that the government recognized and respected social demands, that it is open to continuous dialogue, but warned that “blockades will not be tolerated”. The minister announced that other measures will be added to what was agreed over the weekend to meet the demands of the protesting unions, but did not announce which ones they would be. The negotiations continued. At the end, one of the transport unions announced the lifting of the protest.
The increases in fuel and food prices, driven by the crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, have aggravated the precarious situation of an important sector of the population already severely hit by the pandemic to the limit of resistance. That despair exploded into anger at the government. The right, which blames the government for rising prices, ignoring the international scene, tries to join the social protests of the popular sectors, which it has always criminalized before, to take advantage of it in its desire to destabilize the government. It does so after failing to appeal from the very beginning of the government to anti-government mobilizations with a coup d’état speech, limited to Lima and with little demand. These popular protests in the sectors that have been the electoral base of Castillo change the scene in the streets, putting the government in check as the coup right has not been able to do.