‘Taken of Lima’: who is behind it and what are they demanding in the protests that have killed dozens in Peru

‘Taken of Lima’: who is behind it and what are they demanding in the protests that have killed dozens in Peru

  • Guillermo D. Olmo
  • Correspondent for BBC News Mundo in Peru

Jan 20, 2023 6:58 03

Demonstrators on the streets with the flag of Peru

Credit, Getty Images

The wave of protests in Peru reached the capital on Thursday (19 January).

So far, the city of Lima has not experienced such intense and violent incidents as in other parts of the country in recent weeks, where there are already 52 dead and more than a thousand injured.

But the call for the “takeover of Lima,” launched by various organizations and groups demanding the resignation of President Dina Boluarte and general elections to renew the executive and Congress, sparked violent protests.

Clashes erupted between protesters and riot police on the capital’s main streets. Police fired tear gas and set up barricades to stop the protesters from advancing.

Local media reported that several people were injured, including protesters and police officers.

Prime Minister Alberto Otálora announced that the government has extended the state of emergency to the entire country, including Lima, restricting some civil rights.

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Chaos scenes like this were recorded in Lima on Thursday afternoon (01/19).

Some protesters managed to reach the streets near the Government Palace and Congressional Headquarters, two points heavily guarded by security forces.

Dozens of firefighters have been called to tackle a major blaze at a threestory building in downtown Lima, the cause of which is unknown.

No deaths or injuries were recorded, although images of the fire are impressive.

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A building in downtown Lima was hit by a strong fire

The call to protest brought thousands of people from different parts of the country together in San Martín Square, Dos de Mayo Square and the campus of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, where they are receiving shelter, food and other types of support.

The mood in the city was tense all morning.

Classes at universities have been suspended and the government recommended companies allow remote working throughout the day.

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The Ministry of Health has placed all health posts in the country on alert in anticipation that protests in the capital will be repeated elsewhere.

The police apparatus in the capital was quite extensive, with 11,800 agents deployed to control possible unrest “in addition to 120 trucks and 49 military vehicles and also the involvement of the armed forces,” said the head of Lima’s police region. General Victor Zanabria.

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Credit, Getty Images

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Demonstrators attempted to enter Arequipa airport

In the cities of Arequipa, Juliaca and Cusco, hundreds of demonstrators tried to gain access to airports.

In the case of Arequipa, the air terminal said it had suspended operations as a precaution.

Protesters who threw stones and tore down part of the airport fence clashed with police, who used tear gas to disperse them.

The newspaper La República reported the death of a protester in the city, citing health officials as a source.

In Cusco, Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport has also temporarily suspended operations.

Traffic on the road network is halted at 127 points in 18 of the country’s 25 regions due to the protests, according to the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

how it all started

The crisis began with the arrest and removal of Pedro Castillo on December 7 last year.

The then president was arrested and then removed from office by Congress after he announced on television that he would be dissolved and that an emergency government would be set up in Peru.

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Current President Dina Boluarte replaced Castillo

In accordance with the constitution, her thenvice president, Dina Boluarte, took office and protest rallies soon followed.

Several departments (states) of the country, mainly in the south, have been hit by roadblocks, attacks on public buildings and attempts to take over airports.

The violence spread south, particularly in Puno Department, where 19 people died in the city of Juliaca on January 10.

Allegations that police used lethal ammunition indiscriminately against protesters fueled outrage and prompted many to move the protests to the capital, despite claims by authorities that they acted in selfdefense and in an appropriate manner.

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Some of the protesters have recently arrived in Lima

How did the “conquest of Lima” come about and who called it?

In fact, the slogan “Take Lima” has been used on other occasions to encourage demonstrations in the Peruvian capital, but without much impact.

This time it was raised by various groups from the south of the country, who decided to march on the capital to demand Boluarte’s resignation.

What first emerged as an initiative by indigenous communities and community and student organizations in the south of the country later had the support of students at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos and members of the General Confederation of Workers of Peru, one of the country’s main labor unions, which said on Thursday (19.01.) called for a nationwide strike on the occasion of the “conquest of Lima”.

On Wednesday (01/18) leaders of local organizations from the departments of Huánuco, Ancash, Lambayeque, Tacna, La Libertad, Moquegua, Apurímac, el Vraem , Arequipa, Loreto, Cajamarca and Junin.

They promised not to leave Lima until they had achieved their goals: the resignation of the president, the dissolution of Congress and the calling of new elections.

“The people and the farming communities are mobilizing. How is it possible that we have to come to Lima for them to understand our claim? This government was delegitimized from day one,” said Leonela Labra, Cusco representative.

Caravans headed for Lima have set out from various parts of the country in recent days, receiving assistance along the way.

Credit, Michael Bednar

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The discontent in southern Peru is not new

In such a heterogeneous mobilization there are multiple requests and demands, but the common goal of all protesters is the resignation of the President, the dissolution of Congress and the immediate calling of new elections.

Some are also calling for a new constitution for Peru and the release of former President Castillo.

They hold the government responsible for the deaths in the protests and claim that the police action violated human rights.

What does the government say

President Boluarte has reiterated that she has no intention of resigning.

“My commitment is to Peru, not to this small group that is making the country bleed,” she said.

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In the south of the country, 52 people died in clashes with the police

Boluarte invited the disaffected to demonstrate in Lima but urged them to do so peacefully.

It also offered an opportunity for dialogue, but specifically excluded raising issues such as the dissolution of Congress or constitutional reform, as these were beyond the President’s powers.

The government has promised all deaths will be investigated and prosecutors have launched an investigation into President and Prime Minister Alberto Otárola.

Shortly after succeeding Castillo, Boluarte stated that he planned to complete his predecessor’s term and remain in office until 2026.

But after the first wave of protests, she proposed bringing the election forward and Congress voted on a tentative agreement to hold it in April 2024.

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