Peru’s foreign minister admits there is no evidence that criminals are behind the protests

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In a stark statement, the Peru’s foreign minister denied his president about the origin of the deadly protests that are rocking the countrystating in an interview this week that “we have no evidence” that the demonstrations are led by criminal groups.

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Protests sparked by the president’s ouster have rocked Peru for nearly two months, leaving nearly 60 dead, most of them civilians, and a country deeply divided over issues of excessive police force, inequality and corruption. A central strategy of Peru’s increasingly hardline new president, Dina Boluarte, has been to say that the most violent protesters are organized by drug trafficking, illegal mining and political activist groups from neighboring Bolivia.

The strategy, his critics say, is designed to undermine the protests while trying to present himself as the symbol of order.. But the foreign minister’s acknowledgment could further undermine the credibility of an already struggling government, even if the minister insisted the evidence would be found.

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Just over a week ago, a few hours before the marches on the capital Lima, Boluarte bluntly accused the criminals of fueling the protests into a national discourse. “This is not a peaceful protest. This is a violent action generated by a group of radical people who have a political and economic agenda,” he said. “And this economic agenda is based on drug trafficking, illegal mining and smuggling.”

Their accusations have been echoed by government representatives, have been repeated in the main media and have been published on all social networks, contributing to the creation of a growing social conflict.

But in an interview with the New York Times, Foreign Minister Ana Cecilia Gervasi said this week that the government had no evidence to support such allegations.. Detectives were looking for them, he said she.

“I’m sure we’ll have those tests very soon,” Gervasi said.

“They are funded, surely by someone”he said of the protesters, adding that the criminal groups “are the ones who would benefit from the chaos in the country”.

Peru erupted in protests in early December after its former president, Pedro Castillo, a leftist with no previous political experience who vowed to address long-standing poverty problems, tried to dissolve Congress and rule for decree, a move widely seen as a coup attempt.

At the time, Castillo was under investigation for corruption and even his supporters criticized him for government mismanagement.

Denounced by the senior prosecutor, abandoned by his officials and without the support of the armed forces, he was soon arrested and replaced by his vice president, Boluarte.

But in the weeks that followed, many of Castillo’s supporters took to the streets, with many claiming they had been robbed of the right to be governed by their chosen man. The marches escalated, with protesters calling for the authorities to address a much bigger problem: a democracy that they said only worked for the elite.

Some protesters were peaceful, while others burned government buildings and occupied airports; one policeman was burned alive and others were taken hostage. The response from the police and army, who human rights groups have accused of shooting indiscriminately at protesters, has only exacerbated the anger.

Fifty-seven of the 58 people who died in the riots were civiliansaccording to the ombudsman’s office.

Boluarte is a longtime Castillo ally, but her critics have accused her of being a weak president working under a selfish, unconventional legislature. 75% of the country believes Boluarte should step down, according to a recent poll by the IEP company.

In recent weeks, his government’s actions have come under increasing criticism. The military have been occupying the main square in the center of the capital for weeks, usually used to protest. On January 21, more than 500 officers stormed the University of San Marcos in Lima, using a tank-like vehicle to tear down a fence and arrest nearly 200 protesters and students, before releasing all but one per day later due to lack of evidence.

Videos soon circulated of a police officer recording himself declaring victory over the “terrorists” while the detainees lined their faces on the ground.

In the interview, Gervasi, Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that the president is working to find a peaceful solution to the unrest and who had lobbied Congress to bring forward new elections, a key demand from protesters. (The next election is currently scheduled for 2026.)

Congress on Wednesday rejected a second attempt by some lawmakers to set new elections for 2023.

Gervasi also said that, for the sake of responsibility, the country had received visits from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Amnesty International. Peru’s national prosecutor’s office will investigate the 58 deaths, he added.

But it was important to note, he said, that “the government didn’t order the police or the army to fire on the protesters. That didn’t happen.”

The protests, which began in rural areas largely with the support of indigenous people, Peru’s poorest, have paralyzed swathes of the country, shutting down roads, mining operations and tourism. The demonstrations focused not only on Castillo, but also on entrenched political dysfunction — there have been six presidents since 2016 — and the deep-seated problems of inequality among the country’s 33 million people.

The tension in Peru was exacerbated by the response from other Latin American left-wing leaders, many of whom gave their support to Castillo and called for his release.

Boluarte’s government Former Bolivian president Evo Morales banned from entering the countrysupporter of the left, stating that he had previously entered Peru “to carry out political proselytizing activities”.

On January 13, Boluarte said that the weapons used in the protests came from Bolivia.

“We know that one type of firearms and ammunition may have entered the country through southern Peru,” he said in a national address. “They are the ones who could have caused the deaths of our compatriots.”

c.2023 The New York Times Society

Source: Clarin

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