This article is adapted and updated from a statement on the current popular uprising in Peru, issued by Corriente Socialista de las y los Trabajadores (CST, the Socialist Workers Current) in Peru, part of the the Trotskyist Fraction – Fourth International (FT-CI).
Since the massacre of activists in the Peruvian city of Puno on January 9, which left 18 dead, and the violent repression in Cusco, which left one dead and dozens injured, thousands of protesters — young people, indigenous activists and organizations, and workers from across the country — have continued to march on Lima, Peru’s capital, to demand the immediate resignation of President Dina Boluarte. At least 60 people have died in the protests that exploded across the country on December 7 in response to Congress’s maneuvers to depose former president Pedro Castillo from the presidency. Since then, the protests have continued with marches, work stoppages, and blockades of roads and bridges. Hundreds have been wounded and many more have been arrested because of the violent police and military repression ordered by the government to try to stop the uprising.
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In Lima, solidarity with the demonstrators — many of whom have traveled from communities in the interior of the country — has also begun to grow and to manifest in daily marches, which have reached important middle-class districts of Lima, where the country’s main economic and financial institutions are located. These actions in the capital are being led by the youth, who have formed their own coalitions and organizations to participate in and support the protests. They even took over the historic National University of San Marcos in order to house demonstrators arriving from other provinces across Peru.
Though its participation is still nascent, the working class is playing a role in the unfolding of these events. Agro-industrial workers from the Ica region and mining workers have been part of the protests from the beginning, blocking highways and resisting brutal police-military repression. Other unionized sectors have since joined in, especially in regions such as Arequipa and Puno. These workers forced the leadership of the CGTP (the Workers’ General Confederation of Peru) — the largest trade union federation in Peru — to join the protests.
The National Strike of January 19
Just weeks ago, the bureaucratic leadership of the CGTP shamelessly participated in conciliatory discussions between the government and the other organizations that make up the Acuerdo Nacional (National Agreement). Now this same leadership, pressured by their base and by the force of the protests, took part in a national strike on January 19 to demand Boluarte’s immediate resignation and the shutting down of Congress.
Thousands of indigenous activists and organizations from the country’s different regions marched on Lima to participate in the first day of a national strike. They were joined in the streets by thousands of Lima residents taking part in actions across the city. Demonstrations also took place across the country, paralyzing entire regions.
The mobilizations were strongest in Puno and Arequipa. In Puno, protests were already in full swing a day before the national day of action on January 19. In the town of Macusani, the police killed a woman taking part in the demonstrations. In response, the protesters burned the offices of the National Police. In the city of Arequipa, on the same day as the national strike, thousands of people marched on the airport and attempted to occupy it; they were brutally repressed by the National Police, resulting in the death of one protester and dozens of injuries.
In the Moquegua region, massive protests shut down a major bridge that connects the city to the rest of southern Peru. In the commercial city of Tacna, markets, fairs, and other services were shut down, and workers came out to demonstrate throughout the day, joined by residents of districts such as Ciudad Nueva and Gregorio Albarracín, where the bulk of the population is of indigenous Puna and Aymara origin.
Since the national day of action on January 19, the protests have continued. Road blocks, pickets, and marches have paralyzed large swaths of the region. A national day of action was called once again for January 24. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to participate, fueled by outrage over the government’s dismissal of protesters’ demands and the immense repression perpetrated by the military and police.
An Uprising against Years of Crisis and Repression
The scenario opened by the uprising is characterized by massive regional protests, particularly in the south of Peru, as well as thousands of demonstrators marching on the capital city of Lima. The scope of these massive mobilizations and the rapid development of demonstrators’ demands have opened a prerevolutionary situation in Peru, one that could drastically change the country’s social and political structure. As Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky wrote of such situations, “The economic and social premises of a revolution produce a break in the mentality of society and its different classes.”
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The government’s response to the mobilizations has contributed considerably to the deepening of the crisis. The violence ordered by the president and Congress and meted out by the police and military has only led to the expansion of the protests. Boluarte and Prime Minister Alberto Otárola have tried to discredit and downplay the protests, particularly those in the interior of the country. In several press conferences, they have called the demonstrations “minuscule” and “orchestrated by external forces” and “sectors linked to terrorism.” For this reason, calls for Boluarte’s immediate resignation, the shutting down of Congress, and increasing support for a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution have become the most important demands, showing a lack of trust in the highest institutions of the state, which have been in place since the 1993 Constitution imposed by the dictatorial government of Alberto Fujimori.
This regime has served only to increase the exploitation and oppression of a majority of the population and to promote the plundering of Peru’s natural resources, acting in the interests of the large national and foreign companies and the caste of politicians at their service. In the last 30 years of neoliberal hegemony, these politicians have enriched themselves at the expense of increasing poverty rates among the working class and poor who today live in overcrowded conditions and without basic services in the peripheries of the big coastal cities.
This is why the demand to establish a Constituent Assembly and end the regime of 1993 has become central for the protesters and for the great majority of the Peruvian population. In a survey by the Institute of Peruvian Studies (IEP), more than 60 percent of respondents said they consider it necessary to convene a Constituent Assembly in order to make significant changes in the country’s political and economic structure.
It is not, as Boluarte and Otárola say, “external agitators” from Bolivia or “terrorist groups” that are leading these calls. Rather, the discontent expressed in these powerful protests is related to poverty, lack of work, and income, as well as to the precarity in which most Peruvians live.
Peru’s highland regions have been hit the hardest by these conditions. There, the large mining industry has produced immense profits for capitalists, while the “benefits” of capitalist economic growth have never arrived for the communities themselves. There is also a deep agrarian crisis in the region, caused by a dependence on external markets for fertilizers, which are now difficult to obtain. The region also suffers droughts brought on in part because the mining companies, with government collusion, overexploit its water resources.
In addition to these structural factors, Peru’s indigenous Aymara and Quechua populations — who primarily live in rural and mountainous areas in the interior of the country — are subject to systematic and widespread racism perpetuated by the institutions of the state and embodied by the wealthy elite of the cities. This is, in part, why Lima has become an epicenter of the protests. The mobilizations that broke out after Congress removed Castillo from the presidency are being led by indigenous communities and organizations who see Castillo’s ouster as an attempt by the rich and powerful to rob poor and indigenous communities of their electoral victory in 2021. This is contradictory, however, since Castillo’s time as president proved that his administration, far from representing an alternative for the working class and oppressed of Peru, upheld the same institutions of the dictatorial regime, collaborating and capitulating to the interests of the capitalist class.
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As the crisis has deepened and the masses have entered the scene as protagonists, with their own methods of struggle to demand change, sectors of the Right in the government and business, as well as former high-ranking military commanders, are calling for the state to escalate its repressive measures to quell the unrest. If this comes to pass, the government will become openly counterrevolutionary, sustained fundamentally by the repressive forces.
On the other hand, other sectors of the right wing, of the business community, and even the reformist Left in the government are already beginning to evaluate the possibility of Boluarte’s stepping down and a transition that would allow them to divert the discontent and social mobilization in order to preserve and reinvigorate faith in the regime of 1993. One proposal is to hold general elections this year. Another is to have Boluarte resign now and establish a new Congress, replacing the ultra-conservative José Williams Zapata (who now serves as president of the Congress) and hold general elections within six months; in the interim, the country would be led by a transitional government presided over by Congress, which currently has a disapproval rating of 95 percent.
Neither outcome is a viable guarantee of real change, change that would make real the aspirations of the hundreds of thousands of workers, poor people, indigenous communities, young people, and oppressed who are mobilizing and putting their lives on the line in defiance of police and military repression. In reality, the “solutions” being considered by the political caste are aimed at creating false expectations among the population in order to make protesters stop the mobilizations and channel their discontent through the institutional-electoral path of the highly anti-democratic regime of 1993.
For the Fall of the Regime and for a Free and Sovereign Constituent Assembly
The masses must continue fighting for the fall of the Boluarte government, for the punishment of those responsible for the repression, and for the freedom of Pedro Castillo and all political prisoners. For the current struggle to advance and for this uprising to become capable of overthrowing the regime, it is essential that the working class and the oppressed organize independently of the institutions of the government and against the conciliatory efforts of the bureaucracies of the unions and community organizations.
One of the main limitations of the national strike on January 19 was that it was not coordinated by a central body that could centralize the many different actions across the country. The CGTP and the other trade union federations, as well as the National Assembly of the People (an organization controlled by the trade union bureaucracy), which called the national strike, have shown themselves neither willing nor capable of centralizing the strength and initiatives of the protesters across the country. For this reason, it is vital to constitute — from below and with the full participation of the direct actors in the struggle — strike and coordination committees to organize common actions across the country until the fall of the Boluarte government.
Further, to fully realize a national general strike and paralyze the country’s operations, larger sectors of the working class must urgently enter the struggle, many more than participated in the day of action on January 19. Small sections of precarious workers in the mining and docking industries have participated in the protests, especially those in the interior of the region, but it is essential that other sectors show their strength and shut down the country’s daily operations.
Only the strength of mobilization and struggle — and in particular the self-organization of workers and the oppressed — are guarantees of victory. With this, as well as an indefinite general strike, organized from below and coordinated by a central body, Boluarte’s murderous government can be taken down and replaced with a provisional government of the workers, poor, and all oppressed who are leading the uprising.
This is the surest path forward to ensure the realization of a free and sovereign Constituent Assembly that would have executive and legislative powers and would be composed of representatives elected in a single electoral district, allowing the participation of workers, poor, and indigenous representatives. These representatives would be revocable if they fail to comply with the mandate of their bases.
This Constituent Assembly would also provide a forum through which to discuss all the issues facing the workers and oppressed in Peru and put the needs of the workers and oppressed — those who have been hit the hardest by economic crisis — at the center of the government’s agenda. Only in this way will we be able to put a definitive end to the disastrous regime of 1993 and its Constitution, and advance toward the construction of a government of the workers and oppressed with a socialist perspective.
A version of this article was originally published on January 19 in Spanish on La Izquierda Diario.