Castillo before a scenario of social revolt | Hard protest in Peru for the rise in prices

From Lima

President Pedro Castillo faces the first popular protests against his government. The rise in the prices of fuel, tolls, food and supplies for agriculture, triggered protests in different regions of the country. Associations of carriers and farmers began mobilizations against the price increase, which spread to other sectors of the population. Roadblocks, looting of shops and clashes between protesters and police have put the government in check. The violence broke out over the weekend and this Monday it worsened. Four deaths have been reported, but the government has come out to clarify that they were not the result of police action. A child drowned when he fell into a river when he was running to get away from a clash between protesters and police, two people were run over in the midst of the chaos and another by not being able to get emergency medical attention due to one of the pickets that blocked a road .

The government is facing this social crisis a little more than eight months after Castillo assumed the presidency in the midst of popular hope for change, which has been fading, and when he is weakened by the war that the right has declared from the first day and by internal problems, such as questioned appointments, allegations of corruption and a departure from his original program of changes.

The Andean region of Junín, where the violence began, has been the cradle of the Free Peru (PL) ruling party. A statement by President Castillo on Friday accusing protest leaders of being paid to attack the government inflamed popular anger. “Stops and roadblocks are announced, some leaders and some ringleaders are malicious and paid, it is necessary to tell them that we will put order in the next few hours,” were Castillo’s words that set fire to a social scene that was already heavily laden with deficiencies aggravated by the pandemic and the latest hikes, frustration and anger.

On Saturday, the government sent seven ministers to the city of Huancayo, capital of the Junín region, to talk with the strikers. The violence had spread in that city, with looting and attacks on public places. The house in Huancayo of the general secretary of PL, Vladimir Cerrón, was stoned. Ministers and demonstrators met in a coliseum, in the midst of great disorder. Outside the clashes continued and the smell of tear gas penetrated to the coliseum. In the tumultuous meeting, the government representatives, in an effort to reduce the discomfort, began by putting Castillo’s apologies on the loudspeakers for his questioning of the protest leaders. “If there was a misunderstanding in some of those statements and I have to clarify it by apologizing or forgiving the people, I have to do it a thousand times,” was the president’s apology.

To address claims for recent price increases, the government announced a reduction in taxes on fuels to reduce their price, which came into effect this Monday, and the elimination of the General Sales Tax (equivalent to Argentine VAT) for staples of the family basket, such as chicken, eggs, flour, sugar, noodles. The latter must be approved by Congress. The increase in the minimum wage from 930 to 1,025 soles (from 248 to 273 dollars) starting in May was also announced. It was agreed to review the toll concession contracts to deal with the recent increases, and to adopt measures to reduce the cost of fertilizers for farmers. An act was signed at the end of Saturday afternoon and the lifting of the blockades and mobilizations was announced. But not all the leaders accepted what was agreed upon and in other cases a good part of the bases were unaware of what was signed by their leaders. In that scenario, there was no truce, nor lifting of blockades. On the contrary, on Monday the social upheaval worsened, the blockades, violence and looting spread to different regions of the country.

This Monday, the Panamericana Norte and Sur, and the Central Highway that connects Lima with the Andean zone, the three main communication routes in the country, were blocked by protesters’ pickets. The looting of shops was repeated in different cities. In Lima, markets and stores closed for fear of looting. Throughout the day there were clashes between protesters and police. With violence and chaos on the streets and highways, government representatives met again with leaders of the strikers. This time in Lima. Foreign Trade Minister Roberto Sánchez, one of the negotiators, said that the government recognized and respected social demands, that they were open to continuing dialogue, but warned that “blockades will not be tolerated.” The minister announced that other measures will be added to what was agreed over the weekend to meet the demands of the unions in protest, but he did not announce what they would be. The negotiations continued. At the close, one of the transport unions announced the lifting of the protest.

The rises in fuel and food prices, driven by the crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, have aggravated to the limit of resistance the precarious situation of an important sector of the population that was already badly hit by the pandemic. That despair erupted into rage against the government. The right, which blames the government for the rise in prices, ignoring the international scene, seeks to join the social protests of the popular sectors, which it has always criminalized before, to take advantage of them in its desire to destabilize the government. It does so after having failed in its call since the beginning of the government for anti-government mobilizations with a coup speech, which were limited to Lima and with little call. These popular protests from the sectors that have been Castillo’s electoral base change the scene in the streets, putting the government in check as the coup right-wing has not been able to do.

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