PC(USA) partner reports on the Peru uprising that’s killed 50 and injured hundreds

‘In this prophetic task, the church cannot be absent’

By Dr. Rolando Pérez | Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP) and the University of Lima

*This article was originally published by the Presbyterian News Service on February 8, 2023

Church of San Francisco in Lima, Peru. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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 Kidnapped, 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.

Dr. Rolando Pérez

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.)

You can support the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s partner Red Uniendo Manos Peru by giving to the One Great Hour of Sharing.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.