Peru’s President Apologizes for Deaths in Protests; IACHR Mission Urges Cessation of Violence

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Peruvian President Dina Boluarte on Friday night asked for “forgiveness” for dozens killed in protests in recent weeks; and a mission of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged the cessation of violence in the country, which, he said, is going through a “very complicated” stage.

In a message to the nation broadcast on television, Boluarte asked Congress to accelerate the date for a second vote to endorse the advance for two years, to April 2024, of the general elections to reassure the population.

The protests erupted after the impeachment and arrest of former leftist president Pedro Castillo, who tried on December 7 to illegally dissolve Congress, in a country tired of politicians accused of corruption and postponed demands mainly from poor Andean sectors.

“I understand and share their indignation, the State has a great debt with the country, it is special with deep Peru,” said Boluarte, after lamenting the death of 42 people, including a policeman, after heavy clashes in the protests.

“I apologize for this situation and for what was allowed to be done to avoid these tragic events,” he said.

The demonstrations demand the resignation of Boluarte, the closure of Congress, a new Constitution and the freedom of Castillo, who is serving preventive detention for “rebellion.”

Boluarte indicated that the causes of the deaths must be investigated because “today we know that a type of firearms and ammunition would have entered the country through southern Peru, and those are the ones that could have caused the deaths.”

“I must be emphatic in pointing out that this type of ammunition is not used by our police or our armed forces,” she said.

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INFILTRATED?

Government officials denounced in early January that a group of Bolivians entered the country to stir up the protest, and banned former leftist President Evo Morales, a staunch defender of Castillo and critic of Boluarte, from entering Peru.

“What about the gossipers and foreign infiltrators, let everything be investigated. We need results soon to identify those truly responsible,” he said.

Human rights groups have accused Peruvian police and armed forces of using deadly firearms and firing tear gas from helicopters. Police say the protesters, mostly in the country’s southern Andes, have used homemade weapons and explosives.

Prior to the message, Boluarte adjusted his cabinet with three changes, including in the Interior Ministry and appointed retired police general Vicente Romero to lead that portfolio, amid criticism for the handling of the crisis.

Changes were also made to the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations.

Earlier, the head of the IACHR mission, Edgar Stuardo, said that after meetings with relatives of the victims, authorities and representatives of civil organizations he perceived that the solution to get out of one of the worst crises in the Andean country is to generate a broad national dialogue.

“We are waiting for what may happen in the coming days. We hope there won’t be any more deaths,” Stuardo told reporters. “We see a very complicated situation.”

HUNDREDS INJURED AND DETAINED

In recent days the protests were concentrated in the southern mining regions, but on Thursday thousands of people marched through the streets of Lima demanding the closure of Congress and the resignation of Boluarte.

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Stuardo said that the crisis in Peru is mainly due to the fragility of its institutions and the constant power struggle between the Executive and Congress, which have generated that the country has six presidents and three parliaments in five years, with resignations and dismissals caused by heads of state.

“This has weakened citizen confidence in institutions and hampered governance,” he said.

The official said that during his visit he received complaints from relatives of the victims of an excessive use of force by the police; but also of the actions of “violent groups” that must be identified.

The Public Ministry reported that it opened preliminary investigations into the violent events in southern regions of Puno, Cusco, Arequipa, Apurimac and Ucayali, foci of the largest protests, in addition to the capital, Lima.

These investigations march in parallel to the investigation, also preliminary, announced this week against President Boluarte for the alleged crimes of “genocide, qualified homicide and serious injuries” in the protests, in which part of her cabinet of ministers was included.

According to the “first investigations,” 355 civilians and 176 police officers were injured, and 329 arrests of citizens were registered during the protests of December and January, the prosecutor’s office detailed.

The investigation considers the alleged crimes of riots, violence, resistance to authority and obstruction to the operation of public services, he said.

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