Peru’s Congress targets Indigenous

January 25, 2023

From the January-February 2023 issue of News & Letters

by Eugene Walker

Peruvian President Pedro Castillo bungled an attempt to free himself from the reactionary Peruvian Congress, which had twice subjected him to an impeachment vote in his first year in office, and was about to launch a third. He declared a state of emergency, attempting to dismiss Congress and calling for the convening of a Constitutional Assembly.

That opened the door for a counter-coup that deposed Castillo by impeaching and then imprisoning him. When thousands of Indigenous and peasants began to protest, the new President, Dina Boluarte, backed by the reactionary Congress and the army, declared her own state of emergency. She suspended civil rights, sending not only the police but the military onto the streets to beat and murder protesters. They killed more than 20.


Once again, as so often has happened in Peru’s history, the Indigenous poor, primarily the peasantry, its rural masses, are being repressed.

To debate whether Castillo’s declaration was “legal” is to argue on the wrong ground—it diverts from the bitter truth of murdered peasants and wholesale repression. The goal of the rulers in Congress and others is to prevent the Indigenous peasant masses—who had defeated the former authoritarian president, the now jailed Alberto Fujimori and his reactionary daughter Keiko—from achieving any measure of representation when, for the first time, a peasant teacher trade unionist was elected President.


The imprisonment of Castillo triggered a popular rebellion in several areas of the country. Protesters took over the streets of Lima, Apurímac, Arequipa, Cusco, Puno, and Ayacucho, demanding new elections and the closure of Congress.

Peasant supporters of Castillo carried out a blockade on a highway at the entrance to the southern city of Abancay. Social and union organizations of the department of Puno held a strike, blocking roads; the international airport in the city of Arequipa was a site of protest.

It was against these demonstrations, particularly in the Andean Aymara and Quechua communities, that the military launched its murderous violence. They called the demonstrators “terrorists.” While the protests stopped between Christmas and New Year, there are indications of their resumption.


The demands of the protests have not been centered on Castillo’s return to office. Rather, the call is: “They must all go!” That includes the resignation of President Boluarte, the dismissal of the corrupt Peruvian Congress, new elections in 2023, and the convening of a constitutional assembly to replace the 1993 Fujimori-written Constitution.

Rally in Lima, Peru, in December 2022, protesting the arrest of Pedro Castillo and
the violent repression of demonstrations

One protester summed up their demands and their rage: “It is the collapse of the political system as a whole, from the miserable Congress populated by corruption and torturers, to the complicit justice apparatus of all imaginable outrages. That is why you hear everywhere ‘They must all go!’ even without knowing what comes after. If we abide by the ‘legal’ successions that the Organization of American States and the U.S. Southern Command bless, it cannot but be more of the same.”

Castillo “in power” had been quite powerless, blocked by Congress and impeachments. Instead of calling upon the Indigenous, upon the peasant masses, to empower his presidency, he sought to play the political game in Lima in the short months of his presidency, and then, clumsily, to outmaneuver his opposition.

The current situation is part of a process of the collapse of Peru’s political society. In the last half dozen years, one president after another has been ousted by political maneuvering. What was distinctive in the ousting of Castillo was that it was against a massive Indigenous-peasant electoral campaign that, for the first time, had elected a peasant president.

The plutocracy that governs Peru—landowners, oligarchs, military brass, caciques and drug politicians—despises the exercise of democracy. Caudillos, autocrats, dictators and tyrants have risen to the presidency of Peru, but no representative of the Peruvian masses would be allowed to govern.

In reality, Peru is in a much deeper crisis than the immediate one, and deeper than the recent decades of corruption and violence. It is a crisis rooted in pervasive exploitative class relations, accompanied by vicious racism, which has characterized the ruling sectors of Peru since colonial times.

Long ago, the Spanish colonizers faced resistance—Andean revolts, from Taki Onqoy in the 16th Century, decades after the conquest, to the revolution of Tupac Amaru II in 1780—as they enslaved the Indigenous population in mines and haciendas.


Independence in the early 19th Century did not mean genuine liberation for the Indigenous masses, only the beginning of an internal colonization, a colonialism of power. In the 1920s, the great Peruvian Marxist social thinker-activist Jose Carlos Mariategui recognized, wrote about and organized around the Indigenous Question, insisting that you could not construct a socialist society in Peru without the Indigenous at the heart of any social transformation. (See his Seven Interpretative Essays on Peruvian Reality.)

Today, 100 years later, in this age of neoliberalism and state-capitalism, Mariategui’s social truth stands before us. Even rising to the presidency of Peru—but with a dependent capitalist economic and social system remaining intact—cannot resolve the question of authentic human liberation for Peru’s masses.

Seeking to take state power without destroying the economic-social system of capitalism in both its private and state forms, with its inherent racism and sexism, is not a viable pathway forward for human liberation. Let’s see where the Peruvian social protest can take us in the future.

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