In December 2022, a wave of popular protests led by campesino and Indigenous movements swept Peru after former President Pedro Castillo was impeached following a failed attempt to dissolve the legislature and his vice president, the more conservative Dina Boluarte, took over the government. On December 14, the Minister of Defense, Alberto Otárola, decreed a state of emergency, suspending freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, the inviolability of the home, and other rights. However, the protests only increased in intensity. On January 18, popular movements from the south of Peru marched on the capital in a mobilization known as the “Taking of Lima.” Students and unions received them, joining protests to demand new elections for the presidency and legislature. In response, the police have killed more than 60 people and injured thousands. For a direct view of these events, we spoke with Peruvian anarchists, hoping to get perspective on the aspects of this movement that exceed state politics.
Peru has a long history of coups d’état in the halls of power and both state and paramilitary violence in the countryside. After a crisis involving the missing final page of a contract between the Peruvian government and the International Petroleum Company, General Juan Velasco Alvarado overthrew elected President Fernando Belaúnde Terry in 1968. Starting in the 1980s, the armed Maoist group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) conducted a guerrilla war in the countryside that claimed tens of thousands of lives. President Alberto Fujimori dissolved the legislature in 1992 in order to seize absolute power, which he maintained via a vast web of covert activities coordinated by the head of Peru’s intelligence service, Vladimiro Montesinos—until he was toppled in 2000 after a fraudulent election. In November 2020, widespread protests forced interim president Manuel Merino to resign after only five days in office.
More recently, neighboring Ecuador has seen uprisings in 2019 and 2022, in which grassroots groups connected with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) played a central role in pushing back against state-imposed austerity measures. Something similar is playing out in Peru today, in which a movement comprised chiefly of campesinos and Indigenous people has interrupted the functioning of extractivist capitalism, asserting their own interests and organizational structures outside the framework of state power.
As a new series of attempted coups play out across the Americas, from January 6, 2021 in the United States to January 8, 2023 in Brazil, it is important to learn how popular movements can sustain resistance in the face of police repression—especially movements involving the exploited and excluded.
We spoke with participants in Periodico Libertária, an anarchist publication that has emerged as part of the resistance to the Peruvian regime. Their goal, as they put it, is “the total liberation of the Andes and of all the territory dominated by the murderous state called ‘Peru.’”
Around the world, it has been hard to come by information about the uprising that has been unfolding in the streets of Peru for months now. The televisions only offer superficial reports to the effect that there are demonstrations and strikes, counting the number of people killed and injured. There is little discussion about the context, which is only expressed in terms of a binary between support for former president Pedro Castillo or current president Dina Boluarte. But we know that revolts are always more complex, that it is necessary to understand the context and the recent struggles in the territories where an insurrection takes place. From an anarchist perspective, what is happening there at the moment, and how is it related to other uprisings that have taken place in so-called Latin America?
Usually, the mass media covers protests abroad as something isolated and localized, even if what is happening is only a few kilometers away. In the “communication” media, there is a fear of exposing structural problems and analyzing them in depth. It is known that in Peru we are experiencing an anti-authoritarian process that could take place in any Latin American country, especially considering the coinciding and origin of the problems—structural racism, extreme poverty, institutionalized corruption, and a violent neoliberal democracy.
In this case, the repression of the current government has been characterized by unbridled racism. There have been massacres in cities of the Andes and Altiplano [the mountains and highlands of Peru]. Obviously, the contemptible yellow press has not presented a faithful representation of reality. While militarization continues in several cities—such as Ica, on the coast, and Puno, in the highlands—the last person murdered in Lima (01/28/23) was described as a mere delinquent by the media when his death was broadcast on a cable channel in the country. There is a constant asymmetrical confrontation between the weapons of the state and the struggles of the peoples seeking freedom.
Regarding connections with other events, without forgetting the specific problems of this territory and the campesino character of the Peruvian revolt, the closest reference points are the anti-authoritarian experiences of October 2019 of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). The difference lies in the absence of large Indigenous organizations, since the Confederación Campesina del Perú (the Campesino Confederation of Peru founded in 1947) suffered the violent harassment of Sendero Luminoso (the Marxist group Shining Path) as well as persecution from the dictator Alberto Fujimori, resulting in its current disintegration. Making up for this absence are grassroots campesino organizations, both provincial and district.
This also explains the failure of the political left to direct the protests towards their interests. We have seen open confrontations with parliamentary representatives on the street and even direct actions against their property.
Can you speak about the participation of the campesinos and Native peoples in the demonstrations?
It must be openly stated that the campesinos are at the front of the uprisings in this territory. There are different ethnic groups in Peru that have resisted the colonial machinery (in all its different forms) and maintain a long anti-authoritarian tradition. In these circumstances, different ethnic groups or nations have come together to directly confront the butcher Dina Boluarte.
Although some of the political parties have contributed to organizing the protests through their bases of supporters, they are trying to position themselves as the vanguard; this is no longer sustainable, as people no longer accept the calls for non-violence coming from these parties. That’s why people have burned state buildings, including police stations.
On the other hand, these actions also arise from a just thirst for revenge towards the capital city of Lima, because it directs all the colonialist legal machinery that, through extractivism and other economic activities, crushes the populations of the provinces, using state violence and private force to evict them, imprison them, and even murder them every time they oppose a project—or simply when they demand the fulfillment of the terms that they agreed to as the conditions to accept a state or private project.
To this, we can add the memories of the behavior of many people from Lima who rented rooms, apartments, or houses to people from the provinces, and who did not want to forgive them the rent (or lower the cost or postpone it) during the first phase of the pandemic, and began to evict them from their homes, causing an exodus of people from the Andes and the jungle back to their places of origin because of the quarantine. Likewise, some people were expelled from their homes “for fear of infection,” because the press (irresponsibly as usual) spread fear about COVID-19. On top of that, as they traveled in large groups on foot because transportation was prohibited for fear of contagion—and they were not even permitted to use their own transportation—police began to repress them at every checkpoint on the road. In addition, the inhabitants of some places, fearing exposure to the virus, also participated in this repression and in closing the roads through their territories.
It is dangerous to generalize this hatred to everyone who lives in Lima, something that has been said only a little bit on social networks, perhaps because many people already have family, friends, or housing in the provinces that they can go to if this situation becomes more acute and the provinces make the decision to block all food shipments to Lima. Lima produces almost no natural food, only processed food—but without raw material imported from outside, it could not even do that.
That is why, a couple of days ago, a video circulated of the walk from Ancon to downtown Lima (which they say is 20 kilometers) in which a lady from the South thanked lxs desactivadorxs [the “deactivators,” the groups who organize to neutralize the chemical weapons of the police] for their effort and said (although I believe jokingly) that they will have a space in the Great Republic of the South. It seems that this idea of dividing Peru into two republics, which appeared during the presidential elections (first among the right wing, when they saw that a large part of the South would vote for Pedro Castillo, and then among the left wing, which believes this is in the best interest of their government), has gained momentum as a result of the murders of locals. This can be taken advantage of by leftists who—with Evo Morales at the forefront and the support of China through its CELAC Summit [Community of Latin American and Caribbean States]—aspire to be the ones who govern the new extractivist trade pacts with China, especially for the lithium present in the city of Puno, in the south of Peru, and across the border in Bolivia. Even the United States aims to gain control of that area, which is why it is pursuing the mineral exportation model for that region—not only with the presence of its ambassador, but also by supporting the state called Peru and its armed and police forces, militarily and tactically. That is why they have sent militarized forces to Puno.
Confronting various proposals for “independence” or a way out of this crisis, it is necessary to analyze each of them, because there are aspiring oppressors behind each aiming to pull the strings for their own benefit. The sisters and brothers in Chile are already warning us about the dangers or the illusion of a Constituent Assembly, even of the process itself. [For more context, see our coverage of how the movement in Chile lost its way in an effort to introduce a new constitution via institutional means.] The left, with their political parties and congressmen, are trying to pass themselves off as allies of these protests in an effort that can only be described as political opportunism; in some places, demonstrators have thrown them out or booed them. The left tries to look like they care about their brothers and sisters in the provinces, but they only see and treat them as votes.
In conclusion, it has been the people of the countryside who have put their bodies on the line in these protests—who, with their handmade huaracas, have traded fire with the tombería, pushing back the cowardly repressive forces of Dina Boluarte’s bloody regime. They know that it is a matter of victory or death; democracy has never solved anything for them, unlike those who sold out to a party. These marches have brought to light the hidden racism in Peru.
We are also concerned about the resources for their self-care and the possibilities of returning to their homes when everything is over. There is already an unfortunate precedent from 2000, when the Indigenous Shipibo-Konibo people were abandoned and marginalized after the massive “Marcha de los 4 suyos” protests against the dictator Fujimori. [The “Four Quarters March” in July 2000 was a mass mobilization organized by leftists, social-democrat parties, and social movements against Fujimori’s fraudulent elections and inauguration]. Once the dictator fell and parliament filled up with politicians opposed to the former regime, all the left, center, and liberals forgot about these people, who still suffer from extreme poverty.
We have seen footage of state terrorism in Peru, including murders, torture, and mass imprisonment as well as other forms of aggression from the Peruvian police. We know that these are not isolated events—repression is a staple of all states, especially when a mobilization attacks the order and peace of the rich. How are the Peruvian police structured? What is the history of police repression against protests in Peru?
The modern Peruvian police were founded in 1988, from the unification of three earlier state agencies. We know that the training of police is a transnational phenomenon—that is to say, in the development of the institution of policing, there have been various models that served as an ideal to other countries (at one point, it was the French model, at another, the Spanish model, and currently it is a mix of various repressive institutions across the planet).
In the beginning, the Peruvian police only had batons, whistles, and the like with which to establish municipal order; then their armament increased: pistols, rifles, pinochios (known as guanacos in Chile, these are armored cars used to attack demonstrations), trucks, motorcycles, tear gas, pepper spray, drones, and computers.
They have always been on the side of power. They went on strike only once, during the dictatorship of Velasco Alvarado, who repressed them with military force, leaving an unknown number of dead.
In the 1980s and ’90s, the authorities gave the police legal and moral immunity to assassinate for the sake of eliminating the Sendero Luminoso (the Shining Path, a Maoist party). That was when they carried out the worst injustices: murdering, torturing, raping, disappearing, extorting in all the cities and towns of Peru (the terruqueando).
By 2000 [when President Alberto Fujimori fled to Japan, replaced by Alejandro Toledo], they had to adapt to the ideology of the incoming president; however, they carried authoritarianism and racism in their DNA, along with montesinism. [Vladimiro Lenin Ilich Montesinos Torres, a former army intelligence officer and US spy, was an advisor to the dictator Fujimori and served as head of Peru’s intelligence service under him.]
The recent history of the police is a clear example of the impunity of the Fujimontesinista political sector, who were never expelled from the institutional apparatus of the state, only accommodated within it. Today, the repressive practices come from the former cadres of Vladimiro Montesinos as well as their apprentices.
Like so-called Brazil and many other places, the Peruvian region experienced a civil-military dictatorship. It is a territory with a long history of coups, such as the one carried out by Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori in 1992. Please speak about resistance and combative memory against the legacies of the dictatorship and the continuity of repression and extermination under democracy.
It is true that in this region, there has been a continuous interruption of representative democracy (which, obviously, as anarchists, we do not want anyway) and consequently, there have been various periods of resistance to authoritarianism and dictatorships. However, and somewhat contradictorily, there have also been dictators who were appreciated by the popular sectors—for example, the nationalist military figure Juan Velasco Alvarado, who is celebrated by a sector of the conservative or kitsch left.
Another point to note is that the anti-fascism of the 1930s and ’40s and its experiences of resistance have been forgotten in Peru—like it or not, those who participated in the confrontation were anarchists, communists, apristas [members of the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance, a longstanding socialist party], and progressives. The anti-authoritarian memory of the left of the 1970s and ’80s was lost as a result of the persecution they suffered under the dictator Fujimori as well as the genocidal Shining Path—dogmatic communists who murdered campesinos, leftist leaders, and anyone else who opposed them. All of this contributed to a depoliticization in the 1990s and the acceptance of deleusional neoliberal narrative about “entrepreneurship” in 2000, which a large part of the population of this region still accepts today.
In spite of all this, on April 5, the anniversary of the coup that the genocidal Fujimori carried out, there are marches against everything that the current dictatorship represents: neo-Fujimorism, neoliberalism, corruption on a massive scale, drug trafficking, and genocide. It must be recognized that the leftist parties seek to monopolize “anti-Fujimorism” for political gain, and that following the vicissitudes of Peruvian politics, some “anti-Fujimorists” have revealed their true face to the point of joining the ranks of the post-fascists (for example, [conservative author Mario] Vargas Llosa, [former Minister of the Interior Fernando] Rospigliosi, and [reigning president] Dina Boluarte, among others).
In any case, it is anti-Fujimorism that has delivered the throne of the presidency to the current government. And although some are proud of this (for having prevented Keiko Fujimori, eldest daughter of former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, from coming to power), it must be said clearly that this has only contributed to patching up an abominable political system that has been brutally exploiting us—under which there are continuous massacres in the Andes, thanks to politicians, thugs, and businessmen.
Now, we are seeing a resurgence of this combative memory; many people have stopped censoring themselves and are talking about what they suffered for resisting the Fujimori dictatorship. At the same time, the attack of the extreme right has outraged people because of the way they use the accusation of “terrorism” against anyone who opposes them and their idols. The famous “terruqueo” is a concept that was born in the 1980s: it is the adjective used to define who can be killed with impunity. If you are a terruco/alleged terrorist, you can burn in the crematorium or be executed—as the military systematically did in Ayacucho in the 1980s and 1990s.
That is why today, the closest thing to combative memory is the effort to disarm the supporters of the genocidal dictator Fujimori of his semantic weapon: the “terruqueo.” And this is how people are proceeding in the regions of the south (the place where both the military and the Shining Path massacred campesinos). Not to mention relentlessly confronting them in the streets until fascism is destroyed!
Are there debates about self-defense in the streets? Is there any discussion on the part of the movements and collectives about the abolition of the police?
In this region, we’ve heard several different discourses about the police. The first is one of contempt towards police for the murders of demonstrators, which is compatible with the repugnant “principle of proportionality” (a garbage theory that originates from last century’s pacifism and justifies wars, massacres, etc., based on equal force of arms). Most of the people who promote this idea are citizens and moderate leftists (obviously they’re not going to attack the institution that they want disciplined for when they’re in power). The second is the extreme right-wing discourse which makes excuses for the trigger-happy (supporting the tomberìa and the military in killing without legal or moral repercussions) and even for fascist paramilitarism.
Within the radical left, there is almost nothing about abolishing the police, although people hate the institution for its corruption, its uselessness in responding to femicides, antisocial crime, and other issues, and finally, for the role police play protecting the extractivist business community.
As anarchists, we believe that it is urgent to call for the destruction of that murderous institution. A few days ago, on the blog, a comrade shared some non-anarchist articles discussing the origin of the police, in order to print them and share them on the front line.
He has invited us to share the following fragment:
“Since the formation of the first cities, those who governed them necessarily had to create repressive forces to guard their domains against external attacks from those who sought to reclaim what these rulers took from them in the countryside where they lived, and against internal attacks from those who were dissatisfied with those governments or kingdoms or empires. The entire history of civilization and its cities and other domains has always been divided between rulers and ruled. The issue is that the right wing loves the police because, for them, the police behave as servants who guarantee the security of their domains and privileges. While on the other hand, the problem is that their supposed adversary, the left, does not seek the abolition of the police because that would weaken their control when they come to power. The abolition of the police is a necessary step for a life in complete freedom, finding other ways of balanced coexistence and respect is another necessary step so as not to depend forever on the existence of the police. In fact, Native communities once lived without the institution of the police or its logic. Today, in several of these communities these logics and practices are being imposed as part of the civilizing process of the system, and they make our path more difficult.
Finally, we are interested in the different expressions of anarchism in the region known as South America. Please speak about those involved in anarchic struggles in the Peruvian region.
Anarchism is very humble in this region. There are different organizations and individuals with different approaches: anarcho-syndicalism, insurrectionists, platformists, and anarchists without adjectives. There is no “black bloc” as observed in other regions, or perhaps there is, but only very small. There are no “big organizations” either—let’s admit this as a form of self-criticism—but there are individuals who resist in the various provinces of Peru.
The repression in Lima that the butcher Manuel Merino oversaw in 2020, which represented for many young anarchists their first encounter with the true face of the murderous state, underscored the urgency of acute self-care and self-defense as well as a return to reality (the outcome of the situation was a transitional government, the withering of the protests, and permanent injustice for the fallen).
At present, with an uprising in process, the anarchists who do not live in the capital (especially in the south of Peru) have experienced their considerable limitations when it comes to confronting the repressive forces and lethal weapons of the civic-military dictatorship of Dina Boluarte.
Despite this, we are not discouraged. The task of the anarchists today, from our humble position, is to accompany the campesinos in all direct action. As our campesino families, we go together with them in any position possible—either resisting on the front line, deactivating tear gas, giving medical assistance, collecting donations for our sisters, spreading self-care measures, debating all the political and social issues of our region, and finally, learning about their experience of resistance. Without intermediaries, left-wing politicians, and legalistic influencers, we march together towards the destruction of the civic-military dictatorship and we will not rest until we see the justice that has been stolen from us centuries ago.