Disapproval of Pedro Castillo’s administration in Peru has increased so significantly — reaching 79 percent in Lima and 65 percent nationwide — that the president and his closest advisors have opted for reactionary populist positions that coincide with the most conservative sectors of the country as a way to stem the tide.
It is in this context, coupled with a growing perception on the part of residents that Lima in particular has become unsafe, that Castillo announced that he would be pushing for the military to get out of its barracks so it could take to patrolling the streets along with the National Police. He made the statement at a public event held in Lima’s populous El Agustino neighborhood.
Holding a whip to emphasize his iron fist proposal, Castillo declared:
I ask the Minister of the Interior to coordinate with the Ministry of Defense not only to use the police, because not everything is the responsibility of the police. We are going to bring out the Armed Forces to fight, once and for all, the petty criminals and the big criminals. We cannot stop this any other way; we must work together.
The cities of Lima and Callao have already been under states of emergency for 45 days. The supreme decree that authorized those measures empowered the army to take to the streets together with the National Police and local government troops to arrest and repress those they consider to be disturbing the public order.
Castillo appeared in El Agustino not only with his chicote de rondero [patrolman’s whip], but also wearing a bulletproof vest. He was surrounded by dozens of security personnel. He told the media that he would personally like to join the operation to agarrar a choros [grab the thieves] — a reminder of the disastrous campaign of Keiko Fujimori in 2015 and the call to chapa tu choro y dejalo paralitico [catch your thief and leave him paralyzed] or the repression unleashed by retired army general and form Minister of the Interior Daniel Urresti, who — with gun in hand — tried to make himself out to be some sort of urban superhero.
These declarations, and Castillo’s latest posturing, is all gimmickry aimed at recovering the popular support that today eludes the president and Peru’s executive branch as a whole.
The evidence from several studies shows that militarizing public safety does not solve the problems of petty crime and people feeling unsafe. Rather, harsher measures create a breeding ground for human rights violations and other abuses of authority that end up harming people’s rights to free movement and the exercise of their democratic rights, which in turn contributes to governments in power drifting toward greater authoritarianism.
The increase in petty crime cannot be properly understood without a comprehensive assessment of what is happening in our society and in the world. There is a close relationship between unemployment and underemployment, migration, poverty, and educational precariousness and the increase in crime and insecurity. Furthermore, we cannot lose sight of the fact that a large component of crime is associated with drug trafficking and human trafficking — crimes in which high-ranking police officers and even some high-ranking judges are complicit, as several investigations have revealed.
To pull out the roots of crime, we must first put an end to social inequality, which is a direct result of the capitalist system and its institutions of law and repression.
Moving forward on that path will not happen by further empowering the Armed Forces, the National Police, or similar institutions, but by confronting Big Business (national and foreign) and the austerity plans imposed by the state. These plans are aimed at cutting workers’ wages, reducing the budget, diminishing the quality of education, making work precarious, promoting unemployment and massive layoffs, and eliminating public housing, health, and other services — in other words, demolishing the things that could help many of the young people who today commit crimes to enjoy decent lives.
First published in Spanish on February 18 in La Izquierda Diario Peru.
Translation by Scott Cooper