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Peru: masses deepen resistance to usurpers

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PERU HAS been plunged into a deep crisis after leftist president Pedro Castillo was deposed in a parliamentary coup on 7 December.
For weeks, workers and peasants have mounted protests and blockades across the country, demanding the usurper ‘president’ Dina Boluarte—Castillo’s former deputy—call new elections and the convening of a constituent assembly.

The government’s response has been to try to drown the movement in blood. More than 50 people have been killed, mainly members of the peasant self-defence groups, known as the rondas campesinas, but also bystanders shot by a lawless police force intent on terrorising the population into submission. Boluarte has drafted 10,000 police officers into the centre of the capital. As a result Amnesty International has said, “serious human rights violations and possible crimes under international law” have been committed by the Peruvian security forces.

On January 18, 35 year-old Sonia Aguilar and 60 year old Salomon Valenzuela were shot to death by police snipers following a peaceful protest in the southern provincial capital Macusani. These cold blooded assassinations enraged the local population who burned down the judicial headquarters and police station, driving the police from the town.

This is only one incident among many similar redoubling support for the protests, which until now have been strongest among the indigenous Aymara and Quechua in the rural south and Andean plateaus, who voted in large numbers for Castillo in 2021.

But, on 19 January, the campesinos brought the struggle to the streets of the capital, Lima, as part of a nationwide general strike supported by the principal peasants’ organisations and trade union federation, the CGTP.

The demonstration, called the ‘Rally of the 4 Suyos’, named after protests which brought down the neoliberal Fujimori government in 2000, saw tens of thousands of workers and peasants assembling in Lima from Monday evening where they were welcomed by residents and sheltered in a university building.

Boluarte’s government, which is backed by the country’s political, judicial and military elite, had imposed a state of emergency, erected blockades on the main approaches to the capital and marshalled a force of 12,000 militarised police, equipped with guns, tear gas and armoured vehicles.

All this failed to deter the delegations from the provinces who were joined by substantial numbers of workers and youth from the capital as the demonstration assembled. An attempt to march on Congress was stopped by police barricades and tear gas. The demonstration was attacked by police and descended into running battles as protesters defended themselves with homemade shields.

The day of action was observed across the country, with mass protests in many of the regional capitals. In the south, attempts to take over the local airports were met with gunfire: Jhancarlo Condori Arcana, 30, was killed with a bullet to the abdomen in the second city of Arequipa.

Late in the evening, Boluarte made a televised address in which she denounced the protests as an attempt by lawbreakers to create unrest and seize power. She claimed her government ‘remains firm and more united than ever’. But in a sign of the continued growth of the opposition, she extended the state of emergency to cover three more regions, bringing almost a quarter of the country under martial law.
The situation is explosive.

A ruling class coup
Peru has been experiencing a profound social and political crisis since the end of the commodity boom in 2014. The country is the world’s second-largest producer of copper, and an important supplier of key minerals including gold, tin and zinc, as well as gas. However, its agriculture is heavily dependent on grain and fertiliser supplies interrupted by the Russia-Ukraine war and US-imposed international sanctions.

An acute economic crisis was made worse by the coronavirus pandemic. The proportion of the population employed in the informal sector rose from 75 per cent to 90 per cent almost overnight. The overwhelmed health system effectively collapsed, leaving Peru with the highest per capita covid death rate in the world. Shortages of essential goods, already severe in the rural areas inhabited by the indigenous population, spread to the poor districts of the big cities.
The major parties were discredited, mired in corruption allegations, dissolving and reforming themselves with every round of impeachment and dissolution of parliament.

This was the context in which Pedro Castillo, a teacher and union leader, was elected in July 2021, narrowly defeating Keiko Fujimori, the candidate of the oligarchs and multinational mining interests. His election represented a revolt of the indigenous and urban poor against the neoliberal settlement which has impoverished the rural areas and enriched the middle and ruling classes.

Castillo’s appeal rested largely on his reputation as an incorruptible outsider and fighter for the interests of the poor acquired during his leadership of the 2017 teachers’ strike. His political programme was vague. It amounted to little more than proposing a new constitution, nationalising the mining sector, married to a thoroughly conservative social programme opposed to liberalising abortion rights, gay marriage, abolishing the privileges of the Catholic church and so on.

The 1993 constitution enshrines the neoliberal model by which Peru’s vast natural resources are looted by foreign capital and their Peruvian agents. Reforms had been proposed before but never got anywhere. But, despite this timid programme and weak party dependent on coalition, the Peruvian elites, the oligarchs, landowners, bosses’ federation and their foreign masters, were determined not to take the risk that Castillo’s supporters might take his election as a signal to take what is rightfully theirs. He had to go by any means possible.

After the oligarchs’ hysterical anti-communist campaign failed to prevent Castillo’s election, they turned to the playbook of right-wing would-be dictators like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro: denounce the election as a fake, irrespective of the evidence.

The supporters of right-wing parties, overwhelmingly made up of Spanish-speaking middle classes from Lima and the coastal cities, descendants of the old settler elite, staged a series of violent rallies in which the conquistador cross and Hitler salute expressed their racist fear of ‘European’ Peru being taken over by communist ‘Indians’.

Failure of the ‘Pink Tide’
From the outset, Castillo was a prisoner of the Peruvian capitalists and their judiciary, police and military. In 16 months, he named five different cabinets, appointed 80 ministers, survived two impeachments attempts and left his party, Free Peru.

Moving ever further to the right, his appointments, including IMF-nominated ‘experts’, opened up ever more charges of nepotism and corruption. His attempt to secure the patronage of Washington, by joining fellow ‘Pink Tide’ presidents Gabriel Boric in Chile and Gustavo Petro in Colombia, in denouncing the Venezuelan government as ‘undemocratic’, only underlined his weakness and dependence on imperialism.

This was reinforced by his approval of a new US military mission in the country to train the country’s army and police: a decades-long policy of ensuring US tutelage of a repressive security apparatus that can be depended on the defend the interests of US imperialism and its allies in the region.

Instead of mobilising his supporters to defeat the obstruction of the oligarchs by occupying and expropriating their property, Castillo attempted to conciliate the forces dedicated to his overthrow. In November he begged the Organisation of American States (OAS), a branch of the US State Department notorious for its complicity in CIA-orchestrated coups, to defend him against “a new type of coup d’état”.

Its 1 December reply, which called for a “political truce”, warning that the actions of both factions “risk the democratic institutionalism” of Peru, was recognised on all sides as a refusal to endorse Castillo, and a signal that his ouster would not be opposed.

On 7 December, facing paralysis and a third impeachment vote, Castillo acted with improbable decisiveness but characteristic naivety: he declared a state of emergency and rule by decree until new elections. But without the support of the army or police, Castillo’s 18th Brumaire was a fiasco which ended in a jail cell after the presidential guard escorting him to asylum at the Mexican embassy delivered him instead to the police headquarters.

Castillo’s ignominious end proves three things:
Firstly, that the new so-called Pink Tide of left-populists are no more willing or able to take the measures necessary to free their countries from imperialist depredation than their predecessors.

Secondly, that in the period of sharp economic downturn and inter-imperialist rivalry, US imperialism and its local agents are preparing ever more brutal means of suppressing the rising tide of struggle which has thrown these pink leftists, for now, into the driving seat.

Thirdly, if workers, the urban and rural poor, do not break with populism, and prepare their own conscious political and fighting organisations, they will be led to annihilation as democratic methods are dispensed with by the continent’s rulers.

Peru is now governed by a coalition of usurpers, fronted by Castillo’s former deputy Dina Boluarte, but in reality dictated to by the far-right Fujimoristas, corporate media, and the National Association of Mining, Oil, and Energy (SNMPE) on whose support she depends.

Despite the widespread dissatisfaction with Castillo at the time of his arrest—demands for his release are not attached to demands for his return to power—the rural and urban poor, particularly in the indigenous areas, recognise the essential character of events: a popularly elected president, sabotaged and transformed into an impotent puppet of the oligarchs and corporations, has been ousted to make way for the return of the hated Fujimoristas and fascists committed to defending the profits of monopoly capital by deepening the impoverishment of the indigenous, workers and poor.

In all respects, the ruling class and its CIA advisors are following the script finessed during the 2019 coup against Bolivian president Evo Morales—himself accused of fomenting ‘separatism’ in Peru, a clear attack on the despised indigenous population.

At the instigation of the mining interests, which on 20 January demanded the return of the “rule of law, the principle of authority and rules, in an environment of social peace”, the government has extended martial law across swathes of the countryside, and sent in police forces to massacre dozens of unarmed protesters. Hundreds of people have been arrested. In the latest raid, more than 205 people were arrested at the San Marcos university in Lima where students and protesters from the interior had been gathering.

But the murderous repression has failed to quell opposition, and the discredited establishment parties cannot command any kind of popular support for a new government. The ‘democratic’ bait-and-switch of replacing Castillo with a more pliable deputy, has failed to deceive the masses. Boluarte has already been forced to announce an early election—but not until 2024.

New elections at this stage would concede an impermissible moral and political victory to the rebellion. Equally, the movement’s demands for a constituent assembly are anathema to a large part of the ruling elite who depend on the constitution’s ‘economic clauses’ to legalise their robbery.

At the same time, the resistance, although growing in size with every massacre, is heterogenous and uncoordinated. The leaders of the main trade union federation, the CGTP, have been forced by the pressure of the movement to take up its calls for an election, and to call strikes on the days of action, but their perspective is for early elections to defuse the situation.

From resistance to revolution
The demands of the movement are clear: the expulsion of the usurper government, the dissolution of Congress, and elections to a constituent assembly.

But the institutions of Peruvian ‘democracy’ are the institutions of the oligarchs’ economic dictatorship. Allowing this Congress, or a newly elected one, to channel the resistance into a bourgeois constituent assembly, organised by the official institutions would be a fatal error, allowing the enemy to regroup and rearm for a new offensive.

Such a ‘legal’ constituent assembly, staged under the army’s bayonets and propaganda of the corporate media will never be permitted to encroach on the property rights and military force of the 1993 regime. What is needed now is a plan of struggle to break the resistance of the government, employers, and security forces.

At last, after weeks of hesitation, the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP), the largest trade union centre with more than 800,000 members, has called an indefinite nationwide general strike to begin on February. 9. Their demands include the resignation of Dina Boluarte as president, a transitional government, early general elections, a referendum on the constitution and an end to the killing of protesting citizens. Dozens were wounded during the police violence against the demonstration of February 4 in Lima.

However, no reliance can be placed on the leadership of the CGTP. Moreover, since it represents mainly public sector workers, the strike must extend to the workers in the mining, petroleum, gas, and steel industries, if it is to bring the wheels of profit to a standstill. It needs to come under the direction of a national coordination elected from representatives of the fighting organisations of the worker, peasant, and indigenous masses. In short, the urgent task of the hour is to build a leadership armed with the perspective and strategy of revolution against the exploiters—and their system.

Without such a development it is, of course, possible that the movement will finally exhaust itself. Thus far, no serious divisions in the political class and the ranks of the police army have appeared.
Nevertheless, the entire logic of the struggle to overthrow the Boluarte regime points now to the preparation of the insurrectionary movement to install a workers’, peasants’ and indigenous people’s government, answerable to the popular masses, and defended against counter-revolution by a workers’ militia. Finding the road to breaking the discipline of the forces of repression would be a vital step.

Only under the control and guardianship of the organs of popular movement would it be possible to convene a constituent assembly with the authority and ability to sweep away the entire reactionary edifice of the oligarchs’ constitution, by vesting political and social power in the hands of councils of workers, peasants and indigenous communities and a popular militia. This would in turn open the road to socialist revolution not just in Peru but across the continent.