‘In this prophetic task, the church cannot be absent’
by Rolando Pérez | Special to Presbyterian News Service
Once again we witness another uprising in Peru, one of many in recent years. The protest these days has been going on for more than a month, with 50 people killed and more than 1,200 injured.
The main protagonists are once again our siblings from the southern highlands of Peru, the most historically excluded and most discriminated against, who once again demand recognition, inclusion, dignified treatment and reconciliation. But unfortunately we are facing political leaders in the State who side with those who have always stigmatized the poor, describing them as violent and even terrorists, trying to resolve the conflict less through dialogue and more so by repression.
I would dare to say that this new irruption of the poor, who have returned to the streets to protest, is a crisis of historical gaps and inequalities, which stirs up recent memories in Peru.
The way in which the protest has been repressed and how the protesters have been described by the government reproduces the same strategy and the same discourse used by those political leaders who violated human rights during the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s, in the context of an internal armed conflict. Both the murders perpetrated by government forces in the south of the country over the past month and the police intervention on the campus of the National University of San Marcos in Lima on Jan. 21, where students and other citizens who arrived to the capital city from the south and were indiscriminately arrested and detained, reopens the wounds that we have not yet been able to completely close in the two decades since the end of this hard and bloody stage in our history.
These days, government agents and corporate media have once again used the stigmatizing term “terruco” [a person who is an agent of terrorism] directed at any citizen who protests for fair treatment but who destabilizes the political strategy of the government. During the years of the internal armed conflict, this qualification had been the detonator of a spiral of violence perpetrated by the forces of the State, particularly in the provinces and in the rural regions of the Andes and the Amazon, during the war. For this reason, qualifying the protests of citizens, who do so for just demands, as terrorist acts, once again turns them into discriminated citizens, as if they were a threat to democracy, development and “peaceful coexistence” in society. The Report of the Truth Commission, created in 2003, precisely pointed out the enormous social fractures that existed and still exist in our society, as well as the relationship that occurred between the situation of poverty and social exclusion and that of being a victim of violence.
“We have in our memory how many young people disappeared, how they entered our schools and accused us of being terrorists just for protesting against the violence. The same thing is happening again now, and this scares us, because we still have a lot of pain because it left us destroyed,” says Lidia Flores, president of the National Association of Relatives of the Kidnappted, Detained and Disappeared of Peru.
In the same sense, German Vargas, a director of Paz y Esperanza, which is a member organization of PC(USA) global partner Red Uniendo Manos Peru, has been accompanying the victims of violence and points out that “we are repeating history in Peru, the same blunders, the same abdication of responsibilities, the same contempt for people’s lives and dignity.”
Pastor Efraín Barrera, director of the Ecumenical Association of Theological Education in Lima, a PC(USA) global partner, has pointed out that this new crisis has highlighted the other kind of violence that is rarely talked about, and which reminds us of the denunciation of the prophet Habakkuk: “Woe to him who multiplied what was not his, woe to him who covets unjust profit, woe to him who builds the city with blood.”
Precisely, the citizens of the regions that maintain their protest in the streets are the most impoverished and demand greater equity and justice. The prophetic movements that the Bible narrates were very clear in identifying where violence against the poor took place, when those who exercised power did not attend to the needs of orphans, foreigners and widows.
These days, it has become common in power circles to talk about restoring peace in the country. But all the events perpetrated by the government show that the peace advocated from there is not that of shalom; it is not the peace that the prophet Isaiah longed for when he spoke that the fruit of justice will be peace (Is. 32:17). And this is precisely the cry of the excluded peoples. His protest is a cry for justice, for inclusion.
This context poses a great challenge for believers and communities of faith, in the sense of reaffirming our prophetic commitment, welcoming the cry of the poor, opening spaces for their demands to be heard, accompanying the victims in the midst of their pain and building bridges between decision-makers to help heal the historical wounds left by violent conflicts of the past, to build the foundations for truly humane and inclusive development, to rebuild our democracy and restore peace on the basis of closing the inequality gaps and eliminating all kinds of exclusion and discrimination. In this prophetic task, the church cannot be absent, especially if we assume that its place is there where the cry of the poorest and most excluded in society demands an urgent and sustained solidarity.
Dr. Rolando Pérez is an associate professor at Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP) and the University of Lima. His research focuses on media, religion, and social change. Born and raised in Peru, Pérez earned his bachelor’s degree in communications at the University of Lima. He has a Ph.D. in sociology from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. He got his master’s degree in mass communication research focused on Media, Religion and Culture at the University of Colorado at Boulder in the United States.
He is a member of the Interdisciplinary Seminary of religious studies (SIER) of Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. He is also a member of the research group on “Religion, Spiritualties and Power” at the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO). In addition, he belongs to the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) and the World of Association for Christian Communication (WACC).
Pérez works with Peace and Hope Fraternity, a Christian human rights organization. He also serves on the Directive Council of Red Uniendo Manos Peru, a global partner of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Notes on the political crisis in Peru and the role of churches
by Milushka Rojas, executive director of Red Uniendo Manos Peru | Special to Presbyterian News Service
After the resignation of former President Alberto Fujimori, who established a dictatorial-type regime during 1992-2000, Peru began installing a kind of democratic transition period. The Fujimori dictatorship, which operated in a political context complicated by armed terrorist groups and an economic crisis, left the country with a neo-liberal constitution that mainly sought to correct or prevent errors in the economic management of resources, and mechanisms that ensure balance between the powers of the state. During the period of his rule, the country also opted for the relaunch of extractive activities in the southern, northern, and Amazonian zones, which over time generated greater tax collection, development of local activity, but an increase in socio-environmental conflicts.
Twenty-two years after Fujimori’s departure (2000) and the constitution he implemented in 1993, socio-environmental and political conditions have not necessarily changed for the better. The areas of greatest development in mining and hydrocarbon exploitation are also the areas with the highest levels of poverty. Diversity and wealth have not been managed responsibly by authorities and political parties; at the same time, organized civil society is in a moment of deconstruction and revaluation of cultures and relationships of coexistence. Racial discrimination and ethnic self-determination, high levels of corruption and political parties that function as companies that are activated during electoral processes also persist in the country.
After the Covid pandemic, Peru experienced a strong critique of its health services, among other public services. The candidacy of former president Pedro Castillo, who appeared on the political scene as an outsider, aroused great expectations among the populations hardest hit by the pandemic. Castillo proposed a protest agenda that he summarized in the phrase “no more poor people in a rich country” (greater presence of the State, change of the Constitution, and fight against corruption). At the same time, his provincial origin, being a rural teacher and an almost new face in politics made it easier for many of his voters to feel emotionally connected to his candidacy.
Castillo was not a great candidate, but he was the new candidate of the people — the lesser evil compared to the option of voting for the daughter of former dictator Fujimori, Keiko Fujimori. Castillo won by a narrow margin, thanks to the vote of the rural south, the Amazon and the central Andes. His opponents took lack of experience and knowledge as the main criteria of disapproval and rejection to support the thesis that Castillo had won the elections by fraud. The dictator’s daughter did not accept his defeat until several months later. The Congress of the Republic, where Castillo did not enjoy a clear majority, declared itself an adversary to Castillo from before he was even sworn in to power. The leaders of Congress (far right) tried to influence public opinions by suggesting that the vote of the “farmers and voters of Castillo” were not valid. Added to the difficulty in accepting defeat was the discrimination against Castillo “Castiburro” and his voters who were mostly rural and indigenous. Castillo spent his time denouncing such discrimination while also covering up his own mistakes and limitations. The confrontation of the Congress of the Republic with Castillo and his lack of concern for legislating in favor of citizen demands promptly caused him to have approval ratings of less than 10%, and gave weight to Castillo’s threat to dissolve Congress.
Added to the argument of electoral fraud was a broad vigilant attitude on the part of the opposition and the media. Castillo was not good at choosing ministers or keeping them, and the people he trusted were officials and relatives who ended up involved in visible acts of corruption, for which they are being investigated along with Castillo. Yet, despite his low rating, in December 2022, more than 70% of the population agreed that Castillo should close Congress, and himself faced with a possible impeachment, 70% considered that the then vice president should resign and renew Congress by calling general elections.
On Dec. 7, before the imminent third attempt by Congress to impeach the president, Castillo decided on a coup, ordering the closure of Congress, the closure and reform of the Prosecutor’s Office and other State powers. The coup was declared on the State channel. It caused great commotion. His rapid action without respect for institutional procedures to close Congress led Congress led to impeach him within hours and subsequently have him arrested.
His impeachment and arrest incited Castillo voters who have since taken to the streets inprotest. They have since become outraged at his vice president (now president) Dina Boluarte, who they claim to be a traitor because she assumed the presidency instead of resigning (as she previously said she would have done). The situation worsened with the harsh repressive strategy that Boluarte has consented to against the protesters.
The crisis seems to have no end due to the determination not to dialogue and the absence of visible leaders with whom to dialogue. The deaths have led more than 50% of the country to identify with the social protest at the national level. The abuse of violent force used against demonstrators and the disrespect for the fundamental civic rights due to the state of emergency imposed by Boluarte over a large part of the national territory has further mobilized the most rural communities, who have taken their protest to Lima. These populations have been marching and protesting for more than 50 consecutive days calling for the cessation of violence.
The church communities that make up the human rights movement and the environmental movement are shocked by the mass of protestors and the human rights violations that have been occurring. From different spaces, assisted by the initial leaders of the protest, churches are providing humanitarian aid (management of accommodations, food, legal advice, health care and medicines, security devices), monitoring and dissemination of the events in communication networks (social networks, whatsapp, blogs, channels of citizen journalists, etc.).
The absence of intermediaries between the parties, either because they do not want to dialogue or because they do not consider the validity of any actor (among them the churches) is also an issue that will lead us to rethink our forms of accompaniment and dialogue with the communities that we encourage.
At present, the Red Uniendo Manos Peru has been providing support for those arriving to Lima with humanitarian aid as well as disseminating information. We are unsuccessful so far in being able to facilitate dialogue. Our allies and partners are either involved or immobilized by the permanence of the protest. We hope that the discontent and the protest can culminate or take a long pause when the president resigns and all the authorities are renewed as proposed by the protestors.
Having said that, there is a great risk that after the quick general elections that the protest intends, the political panorama will not change, and the weariness will grow.
You may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.
Categories: World Mission
Tags: Dr. Rolando Pérez, Milushka Rojas, National Association of Relatives of the Kidnappted Detained and Disappeared of Peru, Pastor Efraín Barrera, Paz y Esperanza, Peru, red uniendo manos peru, uprising, world mission
Tags: castillo, catholic university of peru, global partner, human rights, internal armed conflict, manos peru, peru, pontifical catholic university, pontifical catholic university of peru, presbyterian news service, prophetic task the church, red uniendo, red uniendo manos, red uniendo manos peru, rolando pérez, special to presbyterian news, special to presbyterian news service, uniendo manos, uniendo manos peru, university of peru
Ministries: World Mission