Enver León: “The majority of Peruvians want a change in the Constitution”

The Peruvian people have remained in the streets three months since Pedro Castillo was overthrown in a coup d’état

March 16, 2023 by Zoe Alexandra
Banner from December 23, 2022 in Lima, Peru reads "No more deaths, Dina resign, the people demand it!". Photo: Zoe Alexandra

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The coup d’état against Peruvian President Pedro Castillo on December 7, sparked a wave of mass protests across the Andean country that continues to this day. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets throughout the country to demonstrate their rejection of the de facto government of Dina Boluarte and the National Congress, as well as to demand new elections and a Constituent Assembly.

The response of Dina Boluarte’s government has been to try to delegitimize the demands and strongly repress the mobilizations. To date, the repression has claimed more than 60 lives, and most of the demands of the people in the streets have been ignored.

To understand the context in Peru today after three months of mobilization, Peoples Dispatch spoke with the secretary general of the left political party Nuevo Peru, Enver Leon.

Peoples Dispatch: March 7 marked three months since the coup against Pedro Castillo. What has happened in Peru in those three months?

Enver León: It has been a very hard three months. After the removal of Pedro Castillo, what has happened is an uprising above all of the population of the south, of the comrades, brothers and sisters of the rural areas, of the countryside. This population that in the beginning, we could say spontaneously, went out en masse from the rural areas to the cities, marching peacefully, but also with a lot of indignation.

The indignation is above all because their voice and the vote that they gave to a president very identical to them, was trampled on, vilified and they felt that this cannot happen and that there has to be a fundamental change. This is something that they always said, and then, the right-wing did not allow Pedro Castillo to govern for the great majorities. During his time in office, seven vacancy or impeachment motions were lodged against [Castillo], the last one being when he was dismissed on December 7.

PD: What are the main demands of the people in the streets?

EL: The first demands were that the popular vote be respected and that Pedro Castillo be respected, and generally rejecting the discrimination and racism that exists in Peru which is very strong. The request that the people have made from the beginning is also that there should be fundamental changes made with a new constitution through a Constituent Assembly, requesting that this be done through a referendum.

And then came the massacres and the murders. We had 60 brothers murdered in the south and also two in Lima. Also after these assassinations by the Armed and Police Forces, what the Peruvian people have asked for in general is that Dina Boluarte resign from the presidency of the Republic, that the Congress of the Republic be closed, and that there be new elections, immediate elections, for the year 2023. These requests have been widespread and strong.

But just as the protests have been strong, the repression has been as well. Unfortunately, after many years we can see that the Armed Forces and the police shoot to kill and it is a government in which there is no rule of law. It’s at the point where if you go out to mobilize peacefully, they gas you or shoot pellets at you.

Meanwhile, the press and the institutions within the Peruvian state have a very specific narrative that unfortunately has taken hold in a certain sector of the population, which is that those who are protesting are terrorists or communists and that they are coming to set Peru on fire and to attack the rule of law, basically completely subverting what is really happening.

And if it were not for the international press, the alternative media, and the international human rights missions that have covered Peru, the situation would not have had the relevance it is having now at the international level. It also must be said that the working class no longer believe in the press and there is complete distrust.

Alternative press is trying to bring people the news directly, and that is what many people are receiving. However, it is still insufficient because the government has hardened, and the repression continues. We can see that this is in order to have a favorable outcome for the right, to work towards having a fascist government in the future that can guarantee them continued domination, where they can continue to be emboldened, and they can continue to repress the Peruvian people.

PD: During this period of mobilizations, people have been speaking a lot about structural racism and discrimination of Indigenous people and peasant communities in Peru. Can you talk about how that is linked the recent political developments?

EL: Some say for 500 years, others say that since the Republic was founded 200 years ago, the Indigenous people, the peasants, have always been disregarded. And there are many expressions of this.

We can look to the struggle of the 50’s, where the peasants asked for land, which ended the guerrillas of the 60’s, where the request of the guerrillas was agrarian reform. This advanced with General Velasco Alvarado in the 70’s, when he gave agrarian reform for all the peasants. In some way he vindicated the whole sector that had been discriminated against for a long time, but as it happens in Peru there was a coup d’état.

The agrarian reform was practically boycotted and the situation of the peasants, of the comrades of the highlands and the jungle was also forgotten. The State has never arrived there. There are no schools with even minimum structures so that the students of these regions can study in peace. There are no safe health centers, much less hospitals. People have to rely completely on their own efforts to fulfill their basic necessities.

In all those years, they have been completely ignored, and now they have had an episode of collapse. And since the fall of Fujimori’s government at the beginning of the 2000’s, these people who are rising up now, have always voted for a change. They have always acted in a democratic manner with regards to the rules of the game provided by the rule of law.

They voted for Toledo in 2005, because he similar to the Andean person, but he was an imperialist figure, for example. Then they voted for Ollanta Humala in 2006, and he lost. In 2011 he won and he also betrayed the great transformation he promised.

In 2016, people voted for Verónika Mendoza, coming in third place, and then voted for Pedro Castillo in 2021. In other words, after the dictatorship and in these 20 years of democracy, the people have tried in a democratic way to demand changes with their vote and this was finally achieved in this election of 2021 with Pedro Castillo, but the right wing did not allow it.

This long history, plus this latest development, evidently makes them say enough is enough! And this is expressed clearly in the fact that now our sisters and brothers from the south, from the rural areas, are politicized. Their struggle is political. Many politicians from the right who have led us for many years, question why the struggle is political and we say: why can’t it be political if we are all politicized?

And I think it is rather laudable that these people who have risen up already have a political position with respect to what is happening. But their voice is not respected, neither before nor now, because now the repression has gotten much worse with assassinations that we are suffering continuously.

PD: What are the biggest challenges for the left in this scenario?

EL: It is difficult because although it is true that the popular movement has risen up and is very strong, there have not been leading political organizations that have really initiated these protests or have directed these protests.

However, there has been is a force from within the people who have strong motivations and clarity. The people have come out with great strength. We see this with the arrival of the regions to Lima, there is so much indignation that all these struggles from the regions have been centralized in Lima and they are trying more and more to improve the organization.

I believe that this is the solution that we are looking for, that since it is largely a political struggle, the way out must also be political. And the political solution is to centralize this struggle through a building a strong organization and unity with not only the social movements, but also the progressive political organizations, of the left, and the citizens in general who are moved and are showing solidarity with this struggle.

This is the only way out in which we can defeat this very strong enemy. And we are not only talking about the ultra-right, but also about the liberal right, who are now acting together, especially in the Congress of the Republic. And let us hope that this will not be the case in the next elections and that the unity will be of the left and the popular sectors.

As New Peru, we also believe that another key element of the democratic solution is to hold a referendum for a new Constitution. I believe that this would help a lot for all sectors to express their position. We believe that the majority of Peruvians want a change in the Constitution, which is very important.