Interview. We interviewed Carmen Ilizarbe, a professor of political science and anthropology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. ‘The situation is entirely precarious: it remains to be seen who will endure for longer, the government or the protesters.’

Carmen Ilizarbe: ‘The Boluarte government can never have social legitimacy’

After more than three months of protests and 61 deaths at the hands of military and police forces, President Dina Boluarte is still in charge and Congress is more entrenched (and more discredited) than ever.

Que se queden todos” (“Everyone must stay”) was the institutions’ mocking response to the slogan “Que se vayan todos” (“Everyone must go”) shouted by the Peruvian people. And as early elections become more and more of a mirage, the government seems to have decidedly embarked on an authoritarian path, as political scientist, anthropologist and professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru Carmen Ilizarbe explains.

The Peruvian press has stopped talking about the protests. Has the mobilization ended?

The protests have weakened because it takes a lot of effort to carry them on for such a prolonged period of time, and all the more so when the repression is brutal, as it has been here. In the first three months of the Boluarte government, there were 1,327 protests. I believe they will continue, but with varying intensity, depending on the measures the government takes and their ability to engage sectors of the middle class that have so far remained on the sidelines. One thing, however, is crystal clear: the Boluarte government can never have social legitimacy, nor can Congress. The situation is entirely precarious: it remains to be seen who will endure for longer, the government or the protesters.

None of the demands of the protesters have been met: no early elections, no referendum for the Constituent Assembly, no resignation from Boluarte and dissolution of Congress. Looking at the bottom line, can it all be considered a failure?

The protests have achieved one important result: that of delegitimizing the government of Dina Boluarte and the Congress behind her. The only reason they haven’t fallen is because of the power of arms. The government led by Boluarte is one that continues to cause more and more deaths, killed by gunfire coming from the police forces. And it has a very bad image in the international arena as well. So I would not say that the protests have achieved nothing: they have expressed the very strong displeasure and deep indignation felt by the people.

What have these protests shown that was new compared to the past?

The first novelty is that mainly Quechua and Aymara peasant organizations are leading them, rather than those urban sectors of Lima’s middle class that have mobilized in the past in defense of democracy. In this case, not only is the leadership from the rural sectors, but the high visibility of women, mainly indigenous, should also be highlighted.
The other big novelty is that the demand for a Constituent Assembly has grown significantly, which had never been strong in Peru before. And this is because people have become more aware of the vicious institutional cycle that has been established in the country, in which presidents stay in power only as long as Congress allows them, and have opened their eyes to the need for a complete refounding of the political system. All this while Congress is changing the existing Constitution, altering the balance of power to its own advantage, effectively nullifying the right to that indispensable instrument of direct democracy that is the referendum and threatening the electoral institutions. It’s an extremely dangerous Congress, because it is taking over the other powers, trampling on two hundred years of presidentialist tradition.

So it’s Congress that is really in charge.

This is how the citizens perceive it, who demand that Boluarte step down partly because doing so would dissolve this Congress, whose disapproval rate is 91 percent. After all, the slogan “que se vayan todos” drew together the vast majority of Peruvians even before the fall of Pedro Castillo. However, this Congress is still in office and intends to remain until 2026.

Can early elections offer a solution, even without a referendum for the Constituent Assembly?

No, because it would be the same players and the same rules of the game. It would change absolutely nothing. Because it is clear that whoever happens to be governing the country will always be at the mercy of the decisions of a Congress that is exclusively the domain of mafia-like organizations. There is no way to produce change through the electoral route. This is the drama of the country: there is no real solution within the current institutional framework.

The protesting forces are talking about a civic-military-business dictatorship. Is this so?

What is clear is that the government has murdered citizens and imposed a state of exception, suspending fundamental rights and freedoms practically from the third day after its inauguration. It is no longer the civil authorities, but the military and police forces that directly exercise control over the social order in some regions, based on the same logic as in the times of internal armed conflict. It is a government that kills – which can be clearly seen, for instance, in the case of Rosalino Flores, victim number 61 of the forces of law and order, who was hit by 36 pellets from less than three meters away – this can be seen crystal clear on video footage – and died after two months in agony. At one time, the state of emergency was extended to the whole country. And it is an unconstitutional measure, because it can only be enacted in situations that feature a risk to the whole nation, to society, not to the government that happens to be in charge.

Will there be justice for the victims?

After more than three months of repression, no perpetrators are known, no investigations have been launched and no minister has been called to report to Congress. The Attorney General, Patricia Benavides, has weakened the Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office and strengthened the office investigating terrorism. And countless citizens involved in the protests are being charged with terrorism. Moreover, her record leaves much to be desired, taking into account that she fired the prosecutor who was investigating her sister for alleged links to a criminal organization.

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