The Ship's Log: Crisis in Peru reinforces a truism in LATAM: all states lie during protests
The playbook for anti-democratic crackdowns is one that crosses political boundaries
As the death toll at the hands of Peruvian police continues to rise amidst ongoing protests, I can’t help but feel a sense of deja vu. A draconian crackdown by police has now killed over 50 people, and as anyone who has spent time at, or studied, protest movements in LATAM knows it’s likely to get much worse before it gets better.
I’ve covered major protests from the front-lines in four countries in Latin America over the course of seven years, and watched a dozen more from afar. And state responses to popular discontent, regardless of whether the government is perceived as “left” or “right”, seem to always draw responses from the same well-thumbed playbook. Peru is proving to be no exception.
Last month, President Pedro Castillo was removed from office and imprisoned after he tried to dissolve Congress and declare a “state of emergency” that effectively amounted to martial law. Since then, national protests against widespread corruption and “internal colonization”, the dynamic of a government for and by elites in the capital, that has long ignored and exploited indigenous and rural poor communities, have grown.
After Castillo was jailed, new interim President Dina Boluarte and Congress quickly declared their own “state of emergency”, granting broad powers to police and deployed military to contain protests— a measure that amounts to a martial law of their own. And a deadly crackdown by police, especially in the south of the country, away from the cameras of international journalists, has only given momentum to protests which have at times turned violent.
Saturday, police killed a protester in Lima, and wounded dozens more, in a series of clashes that are sure to only increase popular support for demonstrations in the capital as well.
But rather than dwell on the specific “why’s” and “how’s” of ongoing protests in Peru, I want to address a dynamic that stretches across all of Latin America, and can be applied in degrees to all countries in the world.
States lie, across the board and without exception, when faced with popular discontent. It isn’t a conspiracy theory, it is merely an observable phenomenon of how the dynamics of power function, whether in Nicaragua, Colombia, Peru ,Venezuela, or anywhere else.