One month into Peru’s social and political crisis, which began when former President Pedro Castillo attempted to dissolve Congress in what has been called an auto-coup, there still seems to be no imminent solution. Statements from both Congress and the Dina Boluarte administration suggest that an early 2023 general election and constitutional overhaul aren't on the political agenda, two of the main demands from protesters. Meanwhile, a 2021 LAPOP AmericasBarometer survey reported that only 21% of Peruvians expressed faith in democracy, and recent local polls show high levels of disapproval of both branches of government.
Democracy in the Western Hemisphere has suffered in recent years, from the U.S. to Brazil, and now in Peru. The current crisis, which has embroiled the country of 33 million people and has led to over 50 deaths, is the latest chapter in Peru’s experiment with democracy only two decades after the Fujimori dictatorship. Brutal state massacres in the southern cities of Juliaca and Ayacucho, as well as the targeting of journalists and students, have defined the past month’s struggles.
The buildup to today’s violence has been a slow burn, with years of inadequate governance leading to high levels of mistrust and disappointment among the population. Subject of worry for international organizations, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Peru’s fragile democratic structure has produced six presidents over the past five years.
At the root of the crisis are decades of political instability, corruption, and fallout from systemic urban-rural inequality. Recent Pulitzer Center projects have shown what the fragility in democratic institutions and social inequality are causing in the region. Threats to the lives of Indigenous communities and forest defenders in the Amazon, the devastation of climate change in the highland region, record COVID-19 casualties, and the precarious situation of medical and social programs are at the fore of Peruvians’ loss of faith in their democracy.
In the background of a crisis, policy initiatives harmful to vulnerable populations and regions can get overlooked. In Peru, and across the world, mining interests disregard local communities’ rights to informed consent. A bill in the Peruvian Congress is proposing a reform that would strip protections from Indigenous groups with “uncontacted” status.
Part of our model is keeping systemic issues at the top of readers' minds and encouraging them to look deeper, beyond the headlines. Emblematic of how systemic issues are interconnected with political upheaval, Peru’s crisis deserves our attention. From accountability for state repression, to faith in the ballot box, international cooperation can help facilitate a better future for the country. Learning where distrust in democracy originates can make a better future for the world.
In 2021, Pulitzer Center RIN Fellow Hyury Potter began investigating the business of gold mining in the Brazilian Amazon. In December 2022, Brazil's Office of the Comptroller General published an audit report about the National Mining Agency (ANM) that referenced Potter’s work published in The Intercept Brasil multiple times.
The audit criticized the ANM’s gold mine inspections in Pará, the Amazonian state most affected by illegal mining in Brazil. Although the ANM inspected mining carried out by company Gana Gold, the audit cites The Intercept publication in criticizing the ANM’s inspection report because it ultimately didn’t inform of the illegal gold extraction in the Gana Gold mines.
This message first appeared in the January 27, 2023, edition of the Pulitzer Center's weekly newsletter. Subscribe today.
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