By Regina Garcia Cano and Franklin Briceno | Associated Press
LIMA, Peru — Peru’s new President Dina Boluarte gave in to protesters’ demands early Monday, announcing in a nationally televised address that she would send Congress a proposal to move up elections after thousands of protesters again took to the streets demanding she resign.
The protests turned deadly Sunday, with at least two deaths in a remote community in the Andes, according to officials. The protesters want elections to replace not only Boluarte but all members of Congress.
But Boluarte’s announcement did not placate protesters. Hours after her address, demonstrators blocked access to an international airport in southern Peru and occupied its runway.
Boluarte said she would propose general elections for April 2024 — a reversal of her earlier assertion that she should remain president for the remaining 3 1/2 years of her predecessor’s term.
“My duty as president of the republic in the current difficult time is to interpret, read and collect the aspirations, interests and concerns …of the vast majority of Peruvians,” Boluarte said. “So, interpreting in the broadest way the will of the citizens… I have decided to assume the initiative to reach an agreement with the Congress of the republic to advance the general elections.”
Many protesters were also demanding the release from custody of ex-president Pedro Castillo, who was ousted Wednesday by lawmakers after he sought to dissolve Congress ahead of an impeachment vote.
The protests have been particularly heated in rural areas, strongholds for Castillo, a former schoolteacher and political newcomer from a poor Andean mountain district. Protesters set fire to a police station, vandalized a small airport used by the armed forces, and marched in the streets.
A 15-year-old boy died of an injury suffered during a protest in the remote Andes community of Andahuaylas, Congresswoman Maria Taipe Coronado said as she made an impassioned plea from the legislative palace for Boluarte to step down.
“The death of this compatriot is the responsibility of Mrs. Dina for not submitting her resignation,” said Taipe, who is affiliated with the party that helped Castillo and Boluarte win election before both were kicked out of that party. “Since when is protesting a crime?”
Taipe charged that security forces were using heavy-handed repressive tactics in quelling demonstrations. But it remains unclear how the teen was fatally injured.
Officials also confirmed the death of a second protester, which the director of a local hospital said was an 18-year-old man. But his sister, Raquel Quispe, identified him as 17-year-old Beckham Romario Quispe Garfias. She told The Associated Press she was not given a cause of death, but bloody images she shared showed a severe head injury that exposed his brain, which she said counters the suggestion he was hit “by a rock.”
At least 26 people were reported injured in Sunday’s protests.
Boluarte, in her address to the nation, declared a state of emergency in areas outside Lima, where protests have been particularly violent.
On Monday, protesters in Arequipa breached the Alfredo Rodriguez Ballon International Airport, which is heavily used by tourists and hiking enthusiasts. State media reported about 100 police officers were deployed to remove the demonstrators.
Boluarte, 60, was swiftly sworn in at midweek to replace Castillo, hours after he stunned the country by ordering the dissolution of Congress, which in turn dismissed him for “permanent moral incapacity.” Castillo was arrested on charges of rebellion.
Castillo’s failed move against the opposition-led Congress came hours before lawmakers were set to start a third impeachment attempt against him.
Scattered protests around the country have continued for days. Protesters have also set up roadblocks, leaving people stranded for hours. On Saturday in Andahuaylas, 16 people were treated for concussions at a hospital, including one who was in serious condition.
Boluarte has called for a time of national unity to heal from the latest upheaval. But many of those demonstrating in favor of Castillo have called her a “traitor.”
“The life of no Peruvian deserves to be sacrificed for political interests,” Boluarte tweeted hours before her address to the nation. “I express my condolences for the death of a citizen in Andahuaylas. I reiterate my call for dialogue and to put an end to violence.”
Meanwhile, in Lima, hundreds of people again protested outside Congress on Sunday. Dozens of police officers in riot gear used tear gas against those gathered, while just inside the building, lawmakers were beginning a session. Police also chased and beat protesters as they ran from the scene amid clouds of gas.
Peru has had six presidents in the last six years, including three in a single week in 2020 when Congress flexed its impeachment powers.
The power struggle in the country has continued as the Andes region and its thousands of small farms struggle to survive the worst drought in a half-century. The country of more than 33 million people is also experiencing a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections — having recorded about 4.3 million infections and 217,000 deaths since the pandemic began.
Briceño reported from Andahuaylas.