Peru’s accidental president fails to quell violent protests

Dec 16, 2022, 12:30 AM | Updated: 7:27 pm
Peru's new President Dina Boluarte attends a ceremony marking Army Day in Lima, Peru, Friday, Dec. ...

Peru's new President Dina Boluarte attends a ceremony marking Army Day in Lima, Peru, Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. Peru's Congress voted to remove President Pedro Castillo from office Wednesday and replace him with the vice president, Boluarte, shortly after Castillo tried to dissolve the legislature ahead of a scheduled vote to remove him. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

(AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

              Soldiers and police stand guard in San Martin Plaza in Lima, Peru, Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. A Peruvian judge on Thursday ordered ousted President Pedro Castillo to remain in custody for 18 months, approving a request from authorities for time to build their rebellion case against him. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
            
              Police walk by a charred moto-taxi frame left by people protesting the detention of President Pedro Castillo, on the Pan-American North highway in Viru, Peru, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. Peru's new government declared a 30-day national emergency on Wednesday amid violent protests following Castillo's ouster, suspending the rights of "personal security and freedom" across the Andean nation. (AP Photo/Hugo Curotto)
            
              Supporters of ousted Peruvian President Pedro Castillo work together to roll a boulder onto the Pan-American North Highway during a protest against his detention, in Chao, Peru, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. Peru's new government declared a 30-day national emergency on Wednesday amid violent protests following Castillo's ouster, suspending the rights of "personal security and freedom" across the Andean nation. (AP Photo/Hugo Curotto)
            
              Supporters of ousted President Pedro Castillo point to a poster with a an image of newly-named President Dina Boluarte during a protest march near Congress, in Lima, Peru, Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. Peru's Congress voted to remove President Pedro Castillo from office Wednesday and replace him with the Vice President Boluarte, shortly after Castillo tried to dissolve the legislature ahead of a scheduled vote to remove him. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
            
              Supporters of ousted Peruvian President Pedro Castillo hold puppets depicting President of Congress Jose Williams, from left, Attorney General Patricia Benavides and Peru's new President Dina Boluarte, during a protest in Lima, Peru, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. A Peruvian judge on Thursday ordered Castillo to remain in custody for 18 months, approving a request from authorities for time to build their rebellion case against him. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
            
              Peru's new President Dina Boluarte attends a ceremony marking Army Day in Lima, Peru, Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. Peru's Congress voted to remove President Pedro Castillo from office Wednesday and replace him with the vice president, Boluarte, shortly after Castillo tried to dissolve the legislature ahead of a scheduled vote to remove him. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
            
              Security forces detain a supporter of ousted Peruvian President Pedro Castillo, on the Pan-American North Highway in Chao, Peru, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. Peru's new government declared a 30-day national emergency on Wednesday amid violent protests following Castillo's ouster, suspending the rights of "personal security and freedom" across the Andean nation. (AP Photo/Hugo Curotto)
            A supporter of ousted Peruvian President Pedro Castillo holds a poster with a message that reads in Spanish: "Freedom to the president" outside the police base where Castillo is being held following his arrest, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. A Peruvian judge on Thursday ordered Castillo to remain in custody for 18 months, approving a request from authorities for time to build their rebellion case against him. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia) Peruvian President Dina Boluarte, center front, and newly named cabinet members gather for a group photo after their swearing-in ceremony, at the government palace in Lima, Peru, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. Peru's newest president swore in her Cabinet on Saturday just three days after becoming the country's first female head of state and asked each minister to pledge not to be corrupt while in office. (AP Photo/Guadalupe Pardo) 
              A supporter of ousted President Pedro Castillo holds a Peruvian flag near Congress in Lima, Peru, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022. Peru's Congress voted to remove Castillo from office Wednesday and replace him with the vice president, shortly after Castillo tried to dissolve the legislature ahead of a scheduled vote to remove him. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
            
              A person hangs a sign that reads in Spanish "He is Congress!" referring to ousted President Pedro Castillo the day after protests forced shops to shutter in Andahuaylas, Peru, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022. Castillo was detained on Dec. 7 after he was ousted by lawmakers when he sought to dissolve Congress ahead of an impeachment vote. (AP Photo/Franklin Briceno)
            
              Peru's President Dina Boluarte and newly named Chief of Staff Pedro Angulo hold up their right hands during a swearing-in ceremony for her cabinet members, at the government palace in Lima, Peru, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Guadalupe Pardo)
            
              FILE - Free Peru party presidential candidate Pedro Castillo poses for a photo on his land in Chugur, Peru, April 16, 2021. Castillo, a rural schoolteacher, had never held office before winning a runoff election in June 2021 after campaigning on promises to nationalize Peru’s key mining industry and rewrite the constitution, winning wide support in the impoverished countryside. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia, File)
            
              FILE - Free Peru party presidential candidate Pedro Castillo, wearing a hat and poncho, talks to neighbors in Chugur, in the Andes of Peru, April 15, 2021. When Castillo won Peru’s presidency, it was celebrated as a victory by the country’s poor — the peasants and Indigenous people who live deep in the Andes and whose struggles had long been ignored. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia, File)
            FILE - Peru's ousted President Pedro Castillo is escorted by police at the police station where he is being held in Lima, Peru, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022. Castillo was ousted by Congress and arrested on a charge of rebellion Wednesday after he sought to dissolve the legislative body and take unilateral control of the government, triggering a grave constitutional crisis. (AP Photo/Renato Pajuelo, File)

LIMA, Peru (AP) — It might be the world’s shortest political honeymoon.

Almost since the moment last week when Dina Boluarte took over from the ousted leader Pedro Castillo to become Peru’s first female president, she has appealed for calm and a chance to govern, insisting that the caretaker job came to her out of circumstance, not personal ambition.

In impoverished rural areas, though, fierce protests are showing no signs of abating amid anger over the removal of Castillo, who was Peru’s first president with Indigenous heritage. Long overlooked peasant farmers and others remain unwilling to give up on their demand that he be released from prison, where he is being held while under investigation for rebellion.

Despite Boluarte’s own humble roots in the Andes, in her home region many are calling her a traitor.

“She is an opportunist. She has easily entered the government palace, but whose job was it,” Rolando Yupanqui said after the funeral of one of the at least 14 people who have died from injuries suffered in clashes with security forces. “People are upset here. Do you think that people go out on the streets for fun?”

Yupanqui said Castillo, who lived in a two-story, adobe home before moving to the neo-baroque presidential palace in the capital, Lima, had visited his community of Andahuaylas and “was just like us.” As for Boluarte, he said, “We’ve never met the lady.”

Boluarte took over for Castillo after the president sought to dissolve Congress ahead of lawmakers’ third attempt to impeach him. His vehicle was intercepted as he traveled through Lima’s streets on what prosecutors have said was an effort to reach the Mexican Embassy to request asylum.

Protesters are demanding Castillo’s freedom, Boluarte’s resignation, and the immediate scheduling of elections to pick a new president and Congress before the scheduled 2026 vote. They have burned police stations, obstructed Peru’s main highway and stranded hundreds of foreign tourists by blocking access to airports.

In Huamanga, a provincial capital, protesters set fire to a courthouse and a building belonging to a Spanish-owned telephone operator Friday night, a day after Boluarte declared a state of emergency trying to calm the unrest. The crowd of a few hundred was dispersed by dozens of security officers firing tear gas.

The death count climbed to double digits Thursday after a judge approved a request from prosecutors to keep Castillo in custody for 18 months while they build their case against the former rural schoolteacher who surprised everyone by winning last year’s presidential runoff despite having zero political experience.

Boluarte held an emergency meeting Friday night at the presidential palace with leaders of congress and the nation’s judiciary — all of whom condemned the violence and called for dialogue. She also spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who she said offered U.S. support for her fledgling government.

“There’s obviously a black hand operating here,” Jose Williams, a retired army general who as head of congress would be next in the line of succession should Boluarte resign, told journalists following the meeting. “The same behavior is appearing in one place, then another. Something is behind the scenes leading us to chaos.”

While Boluarte, under pressure, has endorsed the call for early elections, replacing her would require action by Peru’s political establishment, many of whom are in no rush to give up their own slice of power.

On Friday, Congress failed to muster enough votes to amend the constitution to pave the way for early elections, with leftist parties saying they would consent to such a plan only if a broader constitutional convention was also in the mix.

Meanwhile, at least two of Boluarte’s allies — the culture and education ministers — have resigned in protest over what they called an overly repressive police response to the protests.

The new president is having to negotiate the crisis with no base of support.

Like Castillo, Boluarte is not part of Peru’s political elite. She worked in the state agency that hands out identity documents before becoming vice president. She grew up in an impoverished town in the Andes, speaks one of the country’s Indigenous languages, Quechua, and as a leftist promised to “fight for the nobodies.”

But unlike Castillo, who wore ponchos, a traditional hat and rubber sandals that embody Peru’s countryside, Boluarte has for years lived in Lima — a symbol of rich and conservative politicians in the eyes of rural communities.

For analysts, it’s a Peruvian version of the sort of identity politics that has swept across so many other parts of the world in recent years.

“They see this as repudiation of who they are,” said Cynthia McClintock, a political science professor at George Washington University who has studied Peru extensively. “But if you asked them three months ago: ‘Is Castillo doing a good job?’, a lot of those folks would have said: ‘No, he isn’t doing a good job.'”

___

Briceño reported from Andahuaylas. Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman in Miami contributed to this report.

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Peru’s accidental president fails to quell violent protests