Nearly 60 people have been killed by the Peruvian police and armed forces and approximately a thousand injured, as the people have risen in protest at the coup against President Pedro Castillo. Castillo, a former school teacher and trade union leader, was elected in 2021, representing indigenous people on a socialist platform for Free Peru Party. Castillo faced entrenched opposition from Peru’s comprador elite, with Congress, dominated by right-wing political parties challenging him. Despite winning the election he was largely powerless because of the machinations of the right wing, who attempted to impeach him three times, before they removed him from office on 7th December. He is currently in prison, but the Peruvian population has risen calling for his release and an end of right wing domination of the country.
A range of social movement organisations drawing upon workers and indigenous people are challenging the right. Their key demand is that the right must stop blocking the aspirations of the majority of Peruvian people. The fact that a President from the working class and the indigenous population was elected appalled the right. The social movements are demanding Castillo be released, that free elections are held and a new plurinational constitutional is introduced. At least 14 trade unions have been imprisoned by the state in response. Polls suggest nearly 70% of Peruvians support the demands of the protesters.
Peru, to be blunt, is dominated by a racist minority hostile to indigenous people. The elite work to enrich themselves by selling Peru’s rich deposits of metals, minerals and natural gas to multinational corporations. The extractivist economy brings few benefits to most Peruvians and devastates the natural environment. The world’s largest mining companies including Rio Tinto and Glencore are heavily invested in Peru. A few weeks before winning the Presidential election, Castillo tweeted that the country had been ‘pillaged’ and that contracts would be renegotiated so that 70% of income from mining would go to the state to fund social programmes. He noted ‘“Let’s be clear: these decades of betrayal, corruption, and cynicism are the symptoms of this neoliberal system dedicated exclusively to the exploitation of our people and natural resources for the benefit of a few scoundrels”.’
The scoundrels have defeated Castillo, at least for the time being, but defeating the Peruvian masses will be much more difficult. The workers and the indigenous in the country have strong traditions of militancy and solidarity. Peruvian history is a continuous story of grassroots rebellion against the comprador elite, every since the Spanish invaded the people have fought back.
Typically, in 2008, the Amazon indigenous fought to prevent the rainforests being parcelled off for oil exploration. The elites have reacted to any challenge with racism and repression. In 2009 the rainforest people were massacred at the Devils Curve at Bagua ( BBC News – Deadly clashes in Peru’s Amazon ).
Castillo’s defeated opponent in the Presidential election Keiko Fujimori symbolise contempt and violence towards the indigenous. She is the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori. Amongst numerous crimes, he is currently in prison for human rights abuse, he sterilized over 200,000 indigenous women in a Malthusian assault on the indigenous population ( BBC NEWS | World | Americas | Mass sterilisation scandal shocks Peru ).
Keiko who is a right-wing populist with links to Donald Trump, argued that the 2021 second round for the Presidency was a contest between ‘markets and Marxism’. Echoing a phrase from Hegel, Castillo responded that it was a battle between masters and servants ( Peru’s Fujimori says election battle between ‘markets and Marxism’ | Reuters ).
Castillo’s voters have been appalled that their choice has been removed from power and have taken to the streets. From Lima where university students have marched with workers, to Machu Picchu where the tourist site has been blocked to the border with Bolivia, the country has been largely paralysed by well organised grassroots militancy, the right have responded with violence and terror.
In a letter reported on twitter, Castillo has recently written ‘“I denounce the human rights violations that are being committed against my indigenous brothers, the repression in the streets by the military dictatorship of Boluarte, claiming more than 60 lives of compatriots and leaving 1,200 wounded. I pray that you raise your voice in all international forums, and do not allow a genuine space for Latin American integration to coexist with the current anti-democratic political regime that is usurping power in Peru today,” ( Mass mobilizations continue in Peru against Dina Boluarte : Peoples Dispatch ).
The right are, of course, supported by the USA. The US Ambassador, a former member of the CIA, met coup leaders a day before Castillo was removed ( Peru coup: CIA agent turned US ambassador met with defense minister day before president overthrown – Geopolitical Economy Report ). Peru’s rich resources including copper and lithium are vital in any transition to a low carbon future, the US is keen to buy them cheap, promising the current right wing government military support if necessary.
In Europe the media are largely silent about Peru. It is vital that we make some noise, raising awareness, supporting protests by the Peruvian people and draw attention to mining companies here, who benefit from a state that protects their profits at the expense of the country’s population.
The militancy of Peru’s people is an inspiration, they continue to show leadership in pursuit of a future that respects all peoples, champions diversity, protects resources from exploitation by capitalist corporations and seeks true democracy. We must stand with them.
However Peru produces a lesson, relevant in all countries: vibrant militant protest provides the basis for revolutionary action, yet without sustained revolutionary leadership, revolutionary transformation is impossible. Lenin’s legacy, while it has to be shaped to a specific context and conjucture, is that without a disciplined well organised revolutionary organisation, protest can quickly evaporate. The most advanced elements of the indigenous and workers have the potential in Peru to create revolutionary leadership, looking to the role of organised political forces in Rojava, we see an example of where this has been achieved. Marxist-Leninism learns from the people but in doing so draws upon traditions that have transformed discontent into liberation.