200 Years of Fortitude.

Two centuries after Independence, struggles to decolonise the Peruvian state persist.

24 min read

It was a scene that, on first glance, appeared to be from another era. With riot police gathering behind, the video shows a small tank smashing through the gates of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, the oldest university in the Americas. In the hours that followed, the Peruvian National Police evicted and detained over 200 students who had occupied their university buildings in protest at the indiscriminate violence waged against the Peruvian population by the recently installed administration of President Dina Boluarte. Yes, it might feel like the militarisation of civic space, disappearances, and arbitrary detention of hundreds are things that happened only in an era gone by, during Latin America’s ‘lost decades’ of dictatorships and authoritarian rule in the 1970s and 80s. But then, just as now, this counterrevolutionary violence has the same intent: to discipline and suffocate the movements and communities mobilising for radical change.

There are stark continuities between the suppression of social movements in recent decades and previous episodes of conservative forces putting down rebellion in colonised lands. In Peru, the pacification of the Andes has its own bloody lineage, from Pizarro’s execution of Atahualpa to the extermination of the Túpac Amaru rebellion.1 Rather than ending this lineage on gaining independence from the Spanish Empire, the reality is that, over 200 years, the Peruvian Republic has made a habit of trying to violently eliminate resistance, suppress radical movements, and murder its own citizens.

In this endeavour, the Boluarte regime has got off to a cracking start, contributing to the deaths of at least 70 protestors, and detaining thousands who have taken to the streets in recent months. This has included the massacre of 10 people in Ayacucho last December, and of 18 people in Juliaca, Puno region, in January. Characterising the protests as acts of “terrorism” in order to delegitimise and dehumanise demonstrators, state forces have, according to human rights organisations, engaged in extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detention, and torture. Videos posted to social media have shown police regularly charging and firing rubber bullets (or so-called “bean bag rounds”, often lethal, and so effective at blinding peaceful protestors in Chile that the subject has its own Wikipedia entry), at civilians during protests, as well as allegedly planting evidence on some to justify the violent suppression.

Ostensibly, the protests are connected to the arrest and removal from office of former President Pedro Castillo, who was elected with a strong first round mandate from Peru’s rural provinces in 2021. Many social movements and Indigenous groups from outside of Lima have mobilised in defence of Castillo, angered by what they view as their disenfranchisement and the refusal of elites to allow a President elected by Peru profundo (approximately meaning “deepest Peru” – referring broadly to rural, Quechua-speaking, Indigenous communities and peoples in Andean and Amazonian regions) to persist in power, and have called for immediate elections to choose his successor.2 Yet, as with Chile’s Estallido social, and the previous mobilisations in Peru in 2021 (in response to a near identical political crisis involving the removal of President Martin Vizcarra), the manoeuvrings of high politics have merely reignited long-term frustrations (with neoliberalism, with structural racism, with corruption) and catalysed demands for constitutional change.3

From the perspective of how best to offer international solidarity to these movements, calling for the reinstallation of Castillo, or asking politely for governments to #Stopthecoup, falls short and wide of the mark. While there is no centralised consensus on what the demands of social movements are, broadly the protests have called for: an end to state violence, Boluarte’s resignation, immediate elections, and a new constitution.

From the perspective of international solidarity, calling for the reinstallation of Castillo falls short and wide of the mark.

The tank is mightier than the pencil

The downfall of Pedro Castillo was months in the making, and over in a matter of hours.

Having tried to face down several impeachment attempts by a hostile Congress since his election, like several of his predecessors, Castillo tried to take matters into his own hands in December 2022 by announcing that he was dissolving Congress and would govern by edict until fresh elections. However, Castillo’s Presidency had been characterised by indecision and U-turns on ministerial appointments, isolating him from political allies. Even some who are sympathetic with the demands of the recent mobilisations have condemned this move.4 After his announcement, any remaining allies evaporated into thin air, and after seeing the writing on the wall and attempting to flee to the Mexican embassy for asylum, within hours Castillo was in prison. His only Vice President, Dina Boluarte, was later sworn in as his successor.

International media (the Guardian, BBC, Deutsche Welle, CNN, etc.) led with similar narratives: Peru had narrowly avoided a coup attempt by an aspiring dictator, but instead could now celebrate girlboss Boluarte becoming Peru’s first female President. In short, Boluarte’s ascension to the Presidency was a win for democracy.

Boluarte’s actions since becoming President appear to be in contradiction with her membership of Castillo’s Peru Libre party and her previous appointment, by Castillo, as Vice President. Not only has she worked closely with the armed forces to target supporters of Castillo, Boluarte has also failed to live up to any latent feminist principles. Feminist groups in Peru have been highly critical of Boluarte’s regime, particularly her failure to stand against regressive moves to prevent teaching with a “gender focus” (e.g. sex education, gender and sexual identity, sexual consent) in Peru’s education system. Tarcila Rivera Zea, an Indigenous feminist activist, has said of Boluarte that, to be a feminist President, “it is not enough to be a woman or speak Quechua if you don’t have that sensibility or identification with the historically excluded”. Any such identification with Peru’s Indigenous communities, the socially excluded, and Castillo supporters on Boluarte’s part now seems to have been dispensed with, in return for state forces and the Peruvian Right maintaining her in power.

And the role of the Peruvian Right in bringing about Castillo’s downfall should not be underestimated. The relationship between Congress and President in Peru has been complicated in recent years, to put it mildly; particularly because of an electoral system which has returned Presidents with only 20-35% of the first round popular vote. These Presidents have often come to power as representatives of a very loose and amorphous anti-fujimorista coalition which has prevented Keiko Fujimori (daughter of jailed former dictator Alberto) from winning the Presidency on several occasions, but which has not stopped the fujimorista Fuerza Popular party from maintaining a sizeable – often the largest – share of Congress (a feat that was possible mainly because Fuerza Popular had been able to dominate elections in many provincial regions that would later back Castillo in 2021). An alliance of fujimoristas, the neoliberal centre-Right, an ultraconservative Evangelical Right, and the etnocacerista Unión por el Perú (UPP) has managed to consistently block reform and undermine opponents, resulting in a rolling political crisis in which Boluarte became the sixth President in just five years.

So, while commentators within and without Peru have been keen to represent Castillo as a hapless, incompetent, idiotic political operator (a characterisation involving a notinsignificant amount of racialised condescension towards an Indigenous teacher from Peru’s highland provinces), the truth is that a manufactured inertia has characterised parliamentary politics in Peru since 2017. As Paulo Drinot has said, in New Left Review, “most of the blame lies with the Congress and the media”, particularly the fujimorista bloc and its allies who “refused to recognize the election result and vowed to prevent Castillo from governing”.

The farce before the tragedy

So the Peruvian Right is certainly to blame. Yet to suggest that this is a straightforward case of reactionary forces organising to depose a potentially radical President would be reductive. The more convincing narrative is that allies of Keiko Fujimori have basically been trying to coup every President they can since losing (again) in the 2016 Presidential election. This is less about fears that Castillo himself would upturn the social order (many radical campaign promises swiftly disappeared or were watered down on taking office), and more an attempt to maintain Peru in a condition of static crisis. In this scenario, almost literally nothing (as far as Congress is concerned) changes, preserving not only a dysfunctional and highly stratified social order, but also the ill-gotten gains (usually via corruption) of Peru’s Congresspeople themselves.

This coup is less about fears that Castillo himself would upturn the social order, and more an attempt to maintain Peru in a condition of static crisis.

The clearest evidence for this is that, a little over two years before Castillo’s downfall, an almost identical situation was manufactured by Congress with President Martín Vizcarra.5 Vizcarra had, ironically, come to power in a similar manner to Boluarte, having been First Vice President of Peru when the sitting President (on this occasion the former World Bank and IMF neoliberal Pedro Pablo Kuczynski) was impeached by Congress. The political economy of vizcarrismo appeared notable only insofar as it was (almost) completely inoffensive to Peru’s neoliberal status quo. Having negotiated on behalf of communities to extract concessions from mining projects when governor of Moquegua, Vizcarra negotiated with communities on behalf of mining corporations to bring blockades to an end when President (albeit while extracting further promises of social funding from the companies). Vizcarra was an acceptable face to capital – a kind and moral face, even – but it didn’t stop the Right from getting rid of him anyway.

The main reason for that was Vizcarra’s determination to pass anti-corruption reforms that would aim to prevent future graft scandals, reduce the influence of dirty money in Peruvian politics, and create a second legislative chamber that would check the power of Congress. Vizcarra also moved to better regulate Peru’s education system, which in some cases operates as a get-rich-quick scheme for Peruvian elites (including Congresspeople), and to remove licences from poor quality private universities (many of which had been created as a result of the IMF-backed structural adjustment enacted by Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s). These changes threatened both the material and political interests of Peru’s Congress, and almost all of the political parties represented in Congress united to depose him.

Notably, as part of Vizcarra’s efforts to fight back, he dissolved Congress and called for a fresh election in 2019 (it will surprise no-one that Ctrl+F ‘coup’ in the Guardian/Reuters articles on Vizcarra’s dissolution of Congress yields no results). The resulting elections severely weakened the fujimoristas in Congress, but they were mainly replaced by an assortment of deeply conservative reactionaries and neoliberals.

What ensued was a very complex year of struggles between Congress and Vizcarra. To compress it somewhat: throughout the first six months of the Covid pandemic, in which Peru, by some measures was arguably the most impacted country globally, Vizcarra survived one impeachment attempt by Congress leader Manuel Merino in September 2020. The second, two months later, he could not survive. He was impeached in November 2020, on the questionable grounds of “moral incapacity”, in what many observers described as a parliamentary coup.

One could point to the various charges brought against Vizcarra, tarnishing his previously clean reputation, to explain his downfall. This would be more convincing if a) those in Congress baying for his impeachment had clean hands themselves, or b) if the exact same tactic had not already been used against Vizcarra’s predecessor, Kuczynski. While Kuczynski deserves none of the Left’s sympathy, it is still possible to view him as the first Presidential victim of the fujimoristas’ new obstructionist lawfare strategy, aimed at paralysing Congress, using legal means to eject the President and force fresh elections in which, maybe, just maybe, this time Keiko would not lose. You could argue fairly convincingly that this lawfare strategy was copied straight out of the Right’s playbook in Brazil, Ecuador and elsewhere, where centre Left candidates (Lula, Dilma Rousseff, Rafael Correa) were deposed and/or blocked from standing at elections through corruption trials that had little to do with cleaning up politics.

What concerns us here, however, is what happened after Vizcarra was deposed, and its remarkable similarities to what we have seen since Castillo’s downfall. After Merino imposed himself as Interim President, a week of intense protests paralysed Lima and Peru. Trade unions and Indigenous, feminist and student movements took to the streets to make Peru ungovernable until Merino left office – which, after seven days, he did. But crucially, protesters did not limit themselves to demanding the return of Vizcarra, or fresh elections. Furious at the barefaced corruption and obstructionism of Congress, at the tragic incapacity of Peru’s health system to deal with Covid-19, and with a persistently racist, hierarchical, chauvinistic, ultraconservative and violent social order, these demonstrations quickly morphed into demands for a new constitution, and a new Peru.

Before we discuss these calls for a new plurinational constitution in detail, however, let us return to Boluarte’s Peru of recent months.

Peru en dictadura

Less than four months into her presidency, Dina Boluarte has made a mockery of any hopes that her administration would represent a break with the status quo of Peruvian politics over previous decades. The Peruvian state’s response to mass mobilisations across the country has been brutal. It has also markedly replicated the racist attitudes, and the demonisation of Indigenous communities, which shape Peruvian society.

An Amnesty International investigation conducted in February stated that, at the time of publication, at least 48 people had died due to state repression. The investigation also found 46 possible cases of human rights violations, including protestors being shot with firearms, the assault and detention of nearly 200 people at San Marcos university, planting of evidence on protestors, and arbitrary detention of passers by. Over 1200 people have been injured during the repression; many by “pellet rounds” (capable of causing severe injury or death) fired directly at protestors. The use of tear gas has also been indiscriminate, although thankfully demonstrators have become well used to this tactic and now deploy “deactivators” – armed with gas masks and a bottle of bicarb and vinegar – to neutralise the cannisters. The Peruvian human rights agency, CNDDHH, has condemned the use of the armed forces to put down protests as a key factor in the “militarisation” of the crisis.

Among the most shocking lines from the Amnesty report is the conclusion that:

“despite the fact that international human rights standards prohibit the use of firearms with lethal ammunition to control demonstrations…the available evidence indicates that the police and army fired bullets indiscriminately and in some cases at specific targets, killing or injuring bystanders, protesters and those providing first aid to injured people…all the victims appeared to have been shot in the chest, torso or head, which could indicate, in some cases, the intentional use of lethal force”.

Many of these findings were confirmed in another investigation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, released in May, which presents evidence of serious rights violations during the suppression, including instances that could be classified as extrajudicial executions.

In the same investigation, Amnesty International also noted the distinctly racist nature of state violence. While they found that police repression of protests had occurred fairly evenly across the country, Amnesty found that “the number of possible arbitrary deaths due to state repression is disproportionately concentrated in regions with largely Indigenous populations”, with 80% of deaths concentrated in rural regions that represent only 13% of the population. The parallels with Peru’s internal armed conflict, which saw nearly 70,000 Peruvian killed between 1980 and 2000, are clear. In 2003, Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that there was a “significant relationship between poverty and social exclusion and the probability of becoming a victim of violence,” during the conflict, and that “79% [of victims] lived in rural areas”. Indeed, the “militarisation” described by CNDDHH was also a key feature of the internal conflict, with whole regions placed under states of emergency, known as “zonas rojas” (“red zones”), where state agents were effectively allowed to commit indiscriminate violence that primarily victimised the Indigenous population. Today, state forces are back to terrorise the same regions once more.

Peruvian state forces have historically tried to justify the violent suppression and collective punishment of rural Indigenous communities through appeals to state order, an argument that has re-emerged in recent months. Amnesty identifies “a discourse of stigmatization against those who demonstrate, claiming without evidence that they have links to “terrorism” and criminal groups, in order to delegitimize their demands and justify violations of their human rights”. Political scientist Jo-Marie Burt considers this a form of “red-baiting”, in which demonstrators are accused, “without any evidence, of sympathising with or belonging to a terrorist group with the intention of stigmatising and discrediting them”. This is a process with which the Peruvian Left and civil society are very familiar. Stemming from the internal conflict of 1980-2000, which was initiated by the Sendero Luminoso insurgency in the rural Ayacucho region, conservative and state forces have long denounced human rights defenders, trade unionists, Indigenous communities and Leftist politicians as “terrucos” – terrorists – as a means of collectively delegitimising and punishing resistance. While it refers directly to insurgents, the term “terruco” also has distinctly racial connotations, rooted in state assumptions during the conflict that any Indigenous community was full of subversives: a logic that allowed state forces to massacre whole villages with impunity. In response, the term “terruqueo” has evolved, which describes this racist, Rightist, Red Scare ideology that is deployed to undermine political opponents and castigate peaceful demonstrators as criminals and terrorists, with distinct, and violent, consequences.

Peruvian state forces have historically tried to justify the violent suppression and collective punishment of rural Indigenous communities through appeals to order.

At the heart of terruqueo, and the violence that follows it, is a thoroughly revanchist attitude towards communities and groups determined to resist Peru’s social order. This social order, which has characterised the 200 years of the Peruvian Republic since Independence, is colonial to its core. Colonial not in the sense that Peru is ruled by a foreign power (although doubtlessly the influence of the US and transnational mining and fossil fuel corporations weighs heavily on the country) but colonial in the sense that the attitudes of Peru’s whiter, more affluent, conservative communities in suburban Lima, in relation to Indigenous communities – both in the Andean interior and those who have migrated to Lima’s informal barriadas – is entirely premised on dominating and shutting out an inferior Other. Peru’s Indigenous communities are viewed as obstacles to progress, as barriers to true modernity, particularly when they act as literal blockers of big mining projects that are always sold as the gateways to jobs and prosperity. Peru’s elite , as they see it, sit entrenched in Lima, beset on all sides by dark-skinned “terrucos”, who want to take away their domestic servants and private beach clubs. Despite 200 years of being compatriots in the Peruvian “nation”, Indigenous communities are still viewed as outsiders, and as a threat.

The relevance of this to the present moment has been most clearly demonstrated by Boluarte herself. Shortly after the massacre of 17 people in Juliaca, in the department of Puno, the President put out a call for a national truce, in which she announced that she ruled for all of Peru, and that “Puno is not Peru”. This statement was taken to mean that the murderous suppression of this heavily Indigenous department on the Bolivian border was justified, because, again, these communities were Indigenous, and therefore not ‘really’ Peruvian. The statement rightly incensed demonstrators, and was seen as an example of the condescending racist attitude of the Lima elite towards the interior (a position bolstered by the support of dozens of Peruvian Twitter racists who promptly agreed with Boluarte that Puno is not Peru).

These racist attitudes are also visible in the state’s attempts to delegitimise the protests by associating them with the Bolivian government. Government officials have “declared former Bolivian President Evo Morales persona non grata, accusing him of sending munitions and directing the protests”. The implication here is that Bolivia, as a plurinational state that officially recognises its Indigenous communities, and that has a Leftist government in power, is undermining Peru’s sovereignty by instigating a rebellion. There is clearly an attempt here to invoke some feelings of patriotic, nationalistic rage against both Bolivians and the demonstrators, but also to externalise Indigenous groups as entities that are ‘foreign’ and a threat to the nation. Perhaps inevitably, some groups have responded in kind, marching with signs imploring the Bolivian government to annex Puno.

Bearing all of this in mind, we can see that the real goal of the suppression is not to restore order, much less to prevent further violence from criminal groups, or prevent Castillo’s return. The goal of Boluarte’s suppression is to discipline and punish, to subjugate the Andes once again, as state forces did during the internal conflict, as they did against Cuban-inspired insurgents in the 60s, as they did during the War of Independence, and as happened during Pizarro’s conquest of Cusco and Tawantinsuyu.6 Peru profundo dared to elect a rural, Indigenous trade unionist as President, and this is the Peruvian state’s violent revenge.

The real goal of Boluarte’s suppression is to discipline and punish, to subjugate the Andes once again.


Yet, against this conservative rage, Peru has fought back. Tens of thousands have descended on Lima to participate in huge Gran Marchas and have been met with tear gas and batons. In response to Castillo’s arrest, and again in March for the Toma de Lima (roughly, “the taking of Lima”), tens of thousands have travelled from the highlands and the provinces to resist the Boluarte regime, on occasions breaking out into renditions of Flor de Retama.7 Peru’s history of suppression and resistance is not ‘past’: it is at the heart of the recent protests and blockades, and it is why they have persisted in the face of extreme violence and suppression.

Javier Puente argues that the mobilisations are only the “latest expression of a deep anti-system impulse that has been latent in Peru since, at least, the second half of the twentieth century”. As Puente highlights, when there appears no avenue to challenge this impulse into votes, the movements expressing this impulse begin to seek “anti-system solutions”. As such, the emergence of armed revolutionary movements in the 1960s and during the armed conflict, the huge trade union mobilisations in the late 1970s, and the election of Castillo, could all be seen as different expressions of this impulse.

The social movements, student groups, Indigenous communities, trade unions and other activists now engaged in resistance against Boluarte’s regime are mobilising not only for fresh elections, or for a new constitution (although this is certainly one of the demands) – but for a new Peru. The question of bringing back Castillo, or of who might follow Boluarte in the Presidency, now seems less important than the question of what possibilities this moment might open up for deep, systemic change.

Frustrations have developed over the course of decades about the endemic corruption in Peruvian politics, the persistence of socioeconomic inequalities, and what remains a heavily racialised social hierarchy. Repeated polls have shown that public perception of corruption is incredibly high in Peru.8 But the demonstrations are also connected to the stalling of Peru’s commodity-driven ‘economic miracle’, and the failure of its neoliberal economic model to deliver sustainable and equitable development, or functioning public services.

The frustrations of Castillo’s rule, and his eventual imprisonment, have inculcated anger at the inequality, racism, and violence that have marked the interaction between state and society for the past two centuries.

Peru’s mining industry is one example. While mining was at the heart of the commodity boom of the early 2010s, communities have become deeply frustrated with the failure of transnational mining corporations to ensure human rights protections and deliver on social spending promises. Even before recent events, rolling protests and blockades had closed operations at various mines on several occasions – in recent months, Glencore has been forced to suspend operations at its Antapaccay mine, while the Chinese-owned Las Bambas mine has also been blockaded. The districts in Peru’s mining cordillera voted overwhelmingly for Pedro Castillo in 2021, but began fresh mobilisations during his Presidency after his election rhetoric about nationalisation faded into thin air. Anger at the impunity with which mining and other extractive companies operate within Peru – Spanish oil giant Repsol has begrudgingly paid only a minority of the compensation it owes for a huge oil spill off the Pacific coast in 2022 – and the failure of political figures to rein them in, is therefore undoubtedly one element of this anti-system impulse.

Another is the dire state of Peru’s health and education services. The country was devastated by Covid-19, with a death rate per 100,000 people more than double that of England or the US (at end of 2022), and excess deaths at 54% more than the average rate, the highest rate in the world (as of Jan 2022).9 Hospitals and morgues were full to bursting, while a dire shortage of oxygen (tragically leaving numerous hospitals without any at all for Covid patients) exposed not only the lack of public investment in healthcare, but the stark social inequalities which meant that some could afford to privately secure oxygen supplies, while the rest were left to die.

Peru’s private university system is also something of a farce. In the 1990s, at the behest of the IMF, Alberto Fujimori enacted a number of pro-market reforms, opening Peru’s education sector for privatisation. Since then, the number of private universities in Peru has quadrupled (although few offer degrees that are internationally recognised) converting education into less of a public service and more of a profiteering racket. These private universities are poorly regulated, and are plagued by accusations of corruption and poor quality. Several political figures and Congresspeople, such as Presidential candidate Cesar Acuña, have made a lot of money from this “low cost” private university model, and have used their political power to prevent any reforms that might threaten these gains.

Resistance to the poor state of Peru’s public services was apparent even before the pandemic, and has grown since, with national strikes by teachers and healthcare workers, as well as a large strike by agricultural workers in southern Peru, condemning the government’s mishandling of the pandemic, low pay, and dreadful working conditions. While each of these individual situations and disputes merits its own analysis, Peru’s social movements have increasingly identified a single cause – the slow but terminal collapse of the country’s Republican social order. In Congress, an alliance of the neoliberal and far Right (which, as allowed by the design of Peru’s electoral system, maintains a significant majority in Congress despite Castillo’s election) continues to work hand in hand with transnational corporations to loot the country. Meanwhile, the crumbling state seems incapable of providing basic services or taking action to shield the population from the increasing impacts of climate crisis. This situation appears increasingly untenable. While the frustrations of Castillo’s rule, and his eventual imprisonment, have highlighted the permanent crisis in Peru’s parliamentary system, they have also inculcated a much deeper anger at the systemic inequality, structural racism, and persistent violence that have marked the interaction between state and society for the past two centuries.

The question of bringing back Castillo now seems less important than the question of what possibilities this moment might open up.

In response, as Chilean movements did during the Estallido social, Peru’s social movements are demanding (alongside Boluarte’s resignation and immediate elections) a new constitution that would remake Peru. In part, such demands are aimed at tempering the power of the Right in Congress by adding a second chamber which would, in theory, prevent any future schemes to stymie reform. But they also seek to address racial inequalities by establishing a plurinational constitution – following precedents in Bolivia and Ecuador – that would improve the official position of Indigenous and Afro-Peruvian communities, and recognise the existence of multiple, potentially autonomous, nations, people and communities within the territorial boundaries of the Peruvian state. While there is no cure-all for the deep hostility and paternalistic attitudes held by Peru’s elites towards Indigenous and Afro-Peruvian communities, the establishment of a plurinational constitution is nevertheless seen as an important first step towards reversing the imposition of a singular national(ist) identity on Peru’s many peoples and undoing the colonial structures of Peruvian society.

This constitutional demand is deeply rooted in the process of Independence itself, and the failures of the Republic to recognise the autonomy of Indigenous communities. While Indigenous communities in many regions of Peru had been active participants in Independence struggles, the military and political leaders of the Independence movement and the early Republic were overwhelmingly Creole (meaning, in simplistic terms, the local elites of Spanish descent), and the Republic faced early resistance from some communities in the Andean interior. Historian Cecilia Méndez argues that this period saw the development of a Republican ideology which, while emphasising a mestizo (mixed Creole-Indigenous) character of Peruvian national identity, retained a highly racist and oppressive attitude towards Indigenous communities. This attitude has not only persisted, but has arguably become more prominent in state attitudes towards the interior since then.

Any movement towards plurinationalism and increasing the rights of Indigenous, campesino and Afro-Peruvian communities would, therefore, be heavily resisted by Congress and elites in Lima, and may even be interpreted as a re-enactment of the attempts, shortly after Independence, to recreate a Peruvian-Bolivian nation.10 Indeed, Government ministers have already tried to delegitimise calls for a new constitution by claiming that the Bolivian government is funding the protests. Ultimately, this speaks to deep-seated, highly racialised and colonial fears of losing territory to, and being encircled by, Peru’s Andean and Amazonian communities – a fear of the Other.

A Left Plurinationalism could also be threatened by the growth of the etnocacerista movement (represented in Congress by UPP) and the impending release of its leader, Antauro Humala, who was imprisoned in 2005 for orchestrating a failed military uprising, and who is likely to run for President in 2026. Etnocacerismo is a political doctrine which mobilises much of the anti-colonial, pro-Indigenous rhetoric that progressive movements and parties might use to describe Peru, but uses it to promote a highly ordered, militarised and almost fascistic vision of Peru.

While UPP has made alliances with small Leftist parties in the past and promotes a dismantling of Peru’s racist structures, the nationalisation of resources and the celebration of Peru’s Indigenous, Quechua-speaking culture, readers should not mistake this for a progressive Leftist movement. Etnocacerismo is rooted in the idea of the racial superiority of Peru’s Indigenous peoples (to the exclusion of not only Creoles but also Afro-Peruvians), a chauvinistic social conservatism, support for the War on Drugs, and a highly pro-military position that promotes antagonism with Chile, military conscription, and the ‘reclaiming’ of Tawantinsuyu - the Incan Empire. Humala (a brother of former President Ollanta) has recently polled in third or fourth place in the polls for the next (as yet undetermined) Presidential election, and could theoretically pick up large numbers of votes from Peru Libre in highland areas. It seems entirely plausible that Humala and UPP could tap into the deep rage felt in Peru over the last few months, and the broader anti-system impulse it builds on, to make a good run at reaching at least a Presidential run-off. If that should happen, left internationalists should not be fooled by the anti-colonial rhetoric, and should be prepared to stand with those in Peru committed to genuine liberation.

Claims that the Bolivian government is funding the protests speaks to deep-seated, racialised and colonial fears of losing territory to Andean and Amazonian communities

Towards a new Peru

In some ways, the timing of these considerations is not accidental. In 2021, Peru celebrated the bicentenary of its Independence. In 2035, it will be 500 years since the founding of Lima, and a few years before that it will be half a millennium since Pizarro’s arrival in Lima and the execution of Atahualpa. While it may seem a stretch to say that these events are at the forefront of demonstrators’ minds each time they take to the streets, these anniversaries certainly provide opportunities to reflect on the successes and failures of the Peruvian Republic, and whether another Peru is possible.

In this context, the historic role of Boluarte and her footsoldiers is not simply to stop the protests or prevent the return of Castillo. They have become (bizarrely, for Boluarte at least, given her previous support for Peru Libre) guardians of an old and dying order. They do this with support from the Peruvian Right, elements of which will certainly try to use these emerging antagonisms to push forward a more extreme and radically conservative agenda, perhaps bringing the contradictions within the Peruvian nation into even sharper focus.

The fear that reactionary forces will feel about this present moment should not be underestimated. Chile’s Estallido social, although stalling at present, is a very recent example of how a seemingly fleeting resistance can snowball into electoral defeats for the Right and attempts to write a new constitution. Previous successes of the left, social movements, and Indigenous communities in advancing Indigenous and environmental rights in Ecuador, and the recent electoral wins in Brazil and Colombia, all provide reasons for Peru’s reactionaries to be fearful. And of course there is no greater fear than becoming another Bolivia, the neighbour whose 2009 constitution establishes, in theory, a plurinational and secular nation, displacing the power of white(r) elites and the church.

This is why the protestors in Peru are being collectively punished - for daring to dream of this better future. The task of internationalists is to embrace those calls, and to do what we can to support efforts to help a new Peru to be born.

  1. To see Túpac Shakur describe how he came to be named after the leader of this rebellion, Túpac Amaru II, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apj5WEfculw

  2. Not to be confused with, although not entirely distinct from, the ‘darkest Peru’ of the Paddington stories

  3. The Estallido social, roughly the ‘social explosion’, refers to the amorphous process of protests and mobilisations in support of constitutional reform that began with mass fare avoidance demonstrations on the Santiago metro, but which has stalled significantly with the voting down of a new constitution in a recent referendum. For more see: https://newsocialist.org.uk/its-not-30-pesos-its-30-years

  4. For example, this statement by the Leftist party Nuevo Peru, “We denounce the abandonment of promises by former President Castillo, but we won’t allow the golpistas [approximately meaning ‘coup-mongers’] in Congress to capture the state and govern without elections, alongside their allies in the media and judiciary.” 

  5. The impeachment motion that finally brought Vizcarra down was introduced by the etnocacerista party UPP and some have argued, perhaps a little sensationally, that the entire coup was orchestrated from prison by UPP’s leader Antauro Humala. 

  6. Tawantinsuyu - The Inca Empire. 

  7. A protest song connected to a 1969 police massacre of campesinos and students in Huanta, Ayacucho. 

  8. A 2021 AmericasBarometer survey conducted by Vanderbilt University found that 88% of Peruvians believed that more than half of politicians in the country were corrupt, the highest score of the 20 Latin American and Caribbean countries where the research was conducted. See p.63 of the report. 

  9. The latest comparable data from Our World in Data shows, in Jan 2022, Peru with the world’s highest excess mortality rate, at 54% more than the historical average, with Bolivia in second place at 53%. The Financial Times also tracked excess mortality data up until October 2021, showing similar results. 

  10. For more on this see Cecilia Méndez, ‘Incas Si, Indios No: Notes on Peruvian Creole Nationalism and Its Contemporary Crisis’


Daniel Willis (@not_djw)

Daniel Willis writes about Latin American history and politics, with a particular focus on Peru, global commodity chains and extractivism.