Thousands march against Peru's unelected interim president, Dina Boluarte, in Lima on January 12, 2023.

Thousands march against Peru's unelected interim president, Dina Boluarte, in Lima on January 12, 2023.

(Photo: Klebher Vasquez/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Peruvians Tell Unelected President to 'Stop This Massacre,' Resign Immediately

"You are a murderer, many people are dying because of you," said one protester, referring to interim President Dina Boluarte. "You must accept that the people don't want you."

Thousands of people hit the streets of Peru's capital Lima on Thursday in a peaceful protest against the national government, which has been led for over a month by unelected President Dina Boluarte.

"Dina Boluarte you are being used. Why are you turning your back on the people? There are so many deaths, for God's sake, stop this massacre," Olga Espejo, one of many Peruvians calling on the country's interim president to step down, toldAgence France-Presse.

An unnamed protester told Al Jazeera: "We call on Mrs. Dina to resign because... you are a murderer, many people are dying because of you. You must accept that the people don't want you."

The December 7 overthrow of leftist former President Pedro Castillo sparked ongoing nationwide demonstrations demanding Boluarte's resignation, the dissolution of Congress, fresh elections, the creation of a new constitution by a constituent assembly, and Castillo's release from prison. The state's violent repression of protests has left at least 48 people dead so far.

"It is a human rights crisis of an increasingly high degree," Jo-Marie Burt, associate professor of political science and Latin American studies at George Mason University, told Al Jazeera. "There's a clear excessive use of force by security forces."

"International organizations around the world have called upon the Boluarte government to cease the repression and to seek dialogue to Peru's current political crisis," she added.

Those who marched in Lima on Thursday carried cardboard coffins to represent the dozens of civilians killed by Peruvian police.

Roughly 900 miles southeast, thousands of people carried the real coffins of the 17 local residents slain earlier this week in the Juliaca massacre.

The city of Juliaca is part of the Puno region of southeastern Peru near the Bolivian border. This impoverished and largely Indigenous Andean zone—where support for Castillo, the son of illiterate peasant farmers, is strongest—has been the epicenter of protests and the government's deadly crackdown, which escalated after Boluarte declared a 30-day state of emergency on December 14.

Thursday's action in Lima and the funeral procession in Juliaca remained peaceful, but recent clashes in the southern city of Cusco, during which at least one protester was killed, led officials to preemptively close the international airport there—a busy gateway to Machu Picchu, one of the planet's most visited archaeological sites.

Also on Thursday, "Labor Minister Eduardo García announced his resignation, urging the government to recognize that mistakes have been made that must be corrected," AFP reported.

Castillo was removed by Peru's deeply unpopular right-wing majority Congress and ordered by a panel of the country's Supreme Court of Justice to complete an 18-month pre-trial prison sentence last month in what critics have described as a U.S.-backed legislative coup.

Lawmakers dismissed Castillo after he attempted to dissolve Congress and establish an emergency government in a desperate bid to preempt his imminent expulsion, which Peruvian oligarchs had sought from the moment the former rural educator and union organizer upset Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's former neoliberal dictator, in the 2021 presidential election.

Boluarte was Castillo's running mate and vice president, but "critics say she has now been 'captured' by the legislature's conservative majority," The Washington Postreported.

According to the newspaper:

She accused protesters last month of "terrorism," before backtracking and distinguishing the spectrum of views and tactics among them. She appointed as head of national intelligence Juan Carlos Liendo, a conservative retired army colonel who had argued that all the demonstrators were, by definition, terrorists. (She later forced him out.)

Boluarte, a lawyer and civil servant, has lamented the deaths and called for "dialogue." But she also said the demonstrators' demands "can't be understood," a claim with racist overtones. Her first prime minister, Pedro Angulo, who lasted just a week in the job, infamously blamed protester deaths on the supposed inability of Andeans to understand police orders in Spanish.

Among those who have condemned Castillo's ouster and the ensuing bloodshed are current and former Latin American leaders, including ex-Bolivian President Evo Morales and ex-Honduran President Manuel Zelaya—both democratically elected leftists who became victims of U.S.-backed right-wing coups.

In a joint statement published last month, the leftist presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, and Mexico expressed their "deep concern over the recent events that resulted in the removal and detention of Jose Pedro Castillo Terrones, president of the Republic of Peru."

"It is not news to the world that President Castillo Terrones, from the day of his election, was the victim of anti-democratic harassment," the presidents said. "Our governments call on all the actors involved... to prioritize the will of the citizens that was pronounced at the polls."

Meanwhile, "the U.S. Embassy in Peru was incredibly quick to recognize the coup government in Peru but has been completely silent about the multiple killings and heavy repression by police," Manolo De Los Santos, co-executive director of the People's Forum, tweeted last month. "The blood of those young Peruvians killed by the Boluarte regime is also on the hands of the U.S. government."

In the wake of the massacre in Juliaca on Monday, "the United Nations, the British ambassador in Peru, and other international players issued statements explicitly calling on Peruvian security forces to respect human rights," The New York Timesreported. "The United States, which has repeatedly expressed support for Ms. Boluarte's government and last week announced $8 million in new funding for Peru to support efforts to fight drug trafficking, was less direct."

Lisa Kenna, the U.S. ambassador to Peru, tweeted Tuesday: "It is urgent that measures are taken to stop this painful situation of violence and avoid the loss of more human lives."

According to AFP: "Peru's prosecutor's office is opening an investigation into President Boluate and other top officials as a result of the deaths. But so far Boluarte has resisted calls to resign. She supports the plan for presidential elections in 2024 at the earliest and still has the support of Congress."

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