Violent protests in Peru evoke memories of darkest days of civil war | Peru

HUamanga, a quaint Andean town of cobbled streets and whitewashed squares, was eerily quiet. Shop doors were locked and the tiny taxis known as ticks were absent following the worst violence they had seen in decades.

The day before, soldiers had opened fire on rock-throwing protesters, who had tried to storm the runway of the local airport, killing at least eight people and wounding more than 70 in ongoing battles, while helicopters were raining tear gas canisters and bullets on the city.

For many, it was a throwback to a past they hoped they had left behind. Huamanga is the capital of Ayacucho, the Andean region that was brutalized by the state conflict with Mao-inspired Shining Path rebelssuffering half of the estimated 70,000 deaths between 1980 and 2000.

“It was like reliving everything that happened in the 80s and 90s, being under the helicopters flying over and the sound of gunfire,” said Sharmeli Bustíos, speaking by phone from the city.

“It shows that we have learned nothing, we always make the same mistakes,” she lamented. “In the 1980s and 1990s we lived in a constant state of emergency, which meant that there were systematic human rights violations.”

Violence spiraled out of control in Ayacucho this week after days of protests over the ousting of Pedro Castillo, who was expelled after trying to dissolve congress and rule by decree in an effort to avoid indictment for corruption allegations. Protesters across the country called for the replacement of all lawmakers, the reinstatement of Castillo and the resignation of his successor, Dina Boluarte.

On Wednesday, the new Boluarte government declared a 30-day national state of emergencydeploying the army in the streets and suspending the right to assemble and move freely.

“We weep the tears of mothers in Ayacucho and we bear the pain of families across the country,” Boluarte said on Twitter just after midnight Friday, offering condolences to those bereaved and calling for peace.

But the deaths sparked outrage and inflamed protests in Lima and regional cities. Two ministers resigned in protest, one of them – Education Minister Patricia Correa – wrote on Twitter that “State violence cannot be disproportionate and cause death”. Peru’s human rights ombudsman’s office said a criminal complaint had been filed to determine responsibility, without giving further details.

Soldiers stand guard on a highway in the Arequipa region of southern Peru. Photograph: Diego Ramos/AFP/Getty Images

of Amnesty International Americas the director, Erika Guevara Rosas, called for dialogue “to stop the escalation of violence and prevent the death of more people” and demanded the “withdrawal of military forces from control of the demonstrations”.

“Let there not be a single more death,” said Jennie Dador, secretary general of the human rights coordinator in Peru, on Friday. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights announcement he would send a mission to Peru this week to investigate the deaths.

On Friday afternoon, smoke from burning buildings and tear gas hung over Huamanga again, as protesters set fire to court buildings – for many symbols of an incurably corrupt state – and returned to storm the runway of the airport. This time they were pushed back by riot police; the soldiers had been recalled to their barracks.

Around the same time, the Peruvian congress – the target of collective anger across the country – voted to reject a bill advance the elections to 2023one of the main demands of the demonstrators.

On Saturday morning, Dina Boluarte, flanked by ministers and police and army chiefs, rejected calls for her resignation and called on Congress to “vote for the good of the country” to advance the elections, a decision supported by 83% of Peruvians, according to a survey of the Institute of Peruvian Studies.

More than 100 roadblocks continue to cripple the transport system in the south, east and north of the country and several airports remain closed, amid vandalism and arson.

Bustíos feared that peaceful protests demanding change amid a crisis of political legitimacy would be taken over by extremists and vandals. “We don’t want this to get out of hand. Ayacucho has been punished enough with violence,” she said.

His father, journalist Hugo Bustíos, was ambushed and killed by soldiers in 1988. Daniel Urresti, a former presidential candidate and mayor of Lima, was accused and then cleared of the murder of the journalist more than 30 years ago, when he was chief of army intelligence in the region.

“This political crisis affects everyone,” Bustíos said. “The majority of Peruvians live hand to mouth. For many, if they don’t work, they don’t eat that day.

A recent report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations warns that half of Peruvians face food insecurity after a “perfect storm” of post-pandemic poverty, global inflation and climate crisis.

“Congress must disappear,” Bustíos said. “He cannot continue with his back turned to the country.”

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