On December 7th, the Peruvian Congress removed sitting President Pedro Castillo from office after he announced plans to shut down congress. This presidential announcement came hours before Castillo was set to face an impeachment trial. Violent protests and police brutality have followed in the wake of these decisions, leaving 58 citizens dead. This disaster in Peru is a recent example of the risks that a democratic government runs when they decline to protect ordinary citizens and let corruption become a common occurrence.
Following its independence from Spain in 1821, the majority of the population and wealth of the country has been heavily concentrated in Lima. The World Bank classifies Peru as an “upper middle income”. However, the more rural areas are home to Peru’s Indigenous populations and are filled with intense poverty. These areas have little access to health care, limited water, lack of electricity and face social exclusion from the wealthier part of the country. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN food and Agriculture Organization reported that more than half of Peruvians are considered food insecure. The government of Peru has made no effort to help these massive problems in the country which has left some of its most vulnerable citizens to die. This has created a severe distrust between the citizens and the top leaders. There is a common sense amongst the people that the government does not hear or see them enough to help.
This lack of assistance to vulnerable citizens is largely due to the mass corruption that plagues the government of Peru. For decades, all levels of the Peruvian government have been riddled with fraudulent and deceptive behavior. From President Fujimori’s bribery to blatant cronyism by Martín Vizcarra, the people of Peru are very familiar with their government being corrupt. A 2021 study run by Vanderbilt University found that Peru had the highest level of perceived political corruption with 88 percent of the citizens believing that more than 50% of the politicians were corrupt. The study also found that Peru had the second-lowest rate of satisfaction with the democracy in the country with only 21% of pollees saying that they were satisfied. Another study done by Transparency International’s 2022 Perceptions of Corruption study, shows that 59% of Peruvians feel that their personal finances have been impacted by the government dishonesty. It also found that more than 60% of Peruvian citizens believe that Peru’s congress is corrupt. These beliefs have caused a severe distrust and disruption towards the government. I believe that it has been the catalyst to the devouring of Peru’s democracy.
Another catalyst of the demise of Peru’s democracy also comes from the events that unfolded in 2016. After a 16-year return to a fairly well functioning democracy, the 2016 election became a “winner-takes-all” brawl. This high stakes between party foes reignited historic tensions between citizens of the country during the election of Keiko Fujimori. This battle between Fujimori supporters and the Anti-Fujimori crowd created an extremely polarized climate in Peru and one that fails to represent its people. After losing the election, Fujimori acted in revenge and used her parties new legislative majority to stop her opponent’s party from excelling. Using constitutional provisions, she effectively forced many cabinet members to resign. This started a war between the president and Congress that has persisted into 2023. It has effectively dismantled the system of checks and balances that is essential to democracy. Instead of working together, both the president and Congress have used these checks and balances to try and overpower the other which led to a democracy in peril.
With a majority of the population having little to no trust in the feuding government to protect them, they have taken to the streets. Since the December 7th removal of the president for launching a self-coup, the people have been protesting unfair elections, corrupt leaders, and ultimately the lack of democracy that is being upheld in the country. While there have been thousands of peaceful protesters, there has also been an outpour of violence across the country. Much of this has been due to the fact that the government agencies have had a ruthless response to the protesting. In many of the recent protests, the National Police of Peru have fired both lethal and non-lethal weapons onto protestors. These attacks have been particularly directed at Indigenous people and those in poorer areas. Many people have died from state repression and others have been killed by road blockades. Government official have consistently avoided directing police and security entities to respect peaceful protests and has taken no accountability for the police violence that has occurred. Instead, they have focused the attention on the citizens, blaming them for the disorder that has occurred.
This denial and shifted blame have invoked even more anger from the citizens. It has further proved that the government of Peru is so far removed from the issues that its people face and that they have no plan to fight for the citizens of the country. There is a distinct separation between the wants and needs of the people and the wants of the leaders in power. The governmental authorities are carelessly sacrificing democracy for their own pursuits. This has limited them in being able to accurately represent the wants and needs of the people that they swore to protect. Currently in Peru, democracy is hanging in the balance. Politian’s must abandon their personal agendas and put the country first. It is apparent that the democracy many have worked so hard to build may be destroyed is the corruption and neglect by the government continues. Leaders have an incredible opportunity to positively use the democratic institutions that are set up to elevate the life and longevity of the country and the people. If not, it is possible that they will no longer have the systems that they do today.