EXCLUSIVE: “Dina Boluarte has committed crimes against humanity.”

A wide-ranging interview with an Indigenous lawyer in Perú on the escalating repression of Dina Boluarte’s “usurper” government in Perú.
This interview was conducted on 10 January 2023 with an Indigenous lawyer and social movement leader in Peru who requested anonymity for their safety.
This interview was conducted on 10 January 2023 with an Indigenous lawyer and social movement leader in Peru who requested anonymity for their safety.

Progressive International: Could you describe for us how the situation in Peru feels now?

Anonymous: For us, for a large part of Peru, especially in the south and in Indigenous communities, Pedro Castillo continues to be the constitutional president.

We believe that Dina Boluarte is a usurper and is an illegitimate ruler who has not assumed office according to the rules of the Constitution because the vote in Congress was 102 votes and the Constitution establishes that it must be 104 votes. They did not respect the constitutional procedure. Not much is said about this, but this is an issue that — at least in the south, in Indigenous communities — matters a lot, besides Mrs. Dina [Boluarte]’s own illegitimacy. 

We feel — trying to speak for the rural communities in the south – we feel very indignant, we feel trampled upon. There was racism from the first day against our president. They deemed him, in their words, incapable. In their words, they called him a fool. People from Lima, whites, intellectuals, they made fun of how he spoke. 

That was an offense that seemed to be targeted at him. But in reality it was against all of us and against all Indigenous people. Because we speak that way. We come from that background. I may be educated, but I won’t reject my mother, my grandparents. We speak like this and they mocked us.

From the first day, they did everything possible to make a government impossible, to put obstacles in the way. And in the last days, the President was egregiously besieged by the Attorney General's Office and, in our opinion, this led him to make a mistaken decision in political terms, but not in legal or penal terms.

A poor decision perhaps from a strictly constitutional point of view, but perhaps also in accordance with the needs of the people. Because he closes the Congress and calls for a new Constitution and a constituent assembly. Within two hours, they had him by the throat. They had publicly humiliated him. Of course, if we base ourselves on the formal framework of this Constitution, it was wrong what he did. But if we base it on the substance of what this country is, this Constitution was always born spurious, it was born inappropriately and it was a corset to afflict the country for the benefit of foreigners.

So, if we base it on legitimacy, on what the people actually wanted, this is an extralegal option. He was right to do that. But of course, the formal mechanisms automatically functioned as mechanisms designed by the right wing, meant to favor right wing and foreign interests. So in this context, we feel very upset, deeply upset.

We are approaching one month of protests in Peru and we are not going to stop. We are going to go all the way. That I can tell you as an introduction.

PI: We are talking about just a few days after the massacre that left 17 people dead in Puno. As we mentioned, already more than 40 people have died since Dina Boluarte assumed the presidency. Could you describe what happened in these massacres? 

A: In Peru there have been three massacres since Dina Boluarte has taken office. And it is not mentioned. 

The first massacre, four days after she took office in Abancay, seven young people were killed in a single day. We thought that it was enough to force them to change things and to dismiss her Minister of Defense, Otárola. This name, Otárola, is very much in our minds. 

But three days later, Ayacucho, another southern region, rose up and the second massacre took place, where at the airport, the military — not the police, the military — killed six young people, two children and left about 50 wounded. That was the second massacre. 

And the third massacre is the one that occurred three days ago in Puno, in which Otárola was no longer Minister of Defense, but rather the Prime Minister. He was rewarded for the first two massacres and took over as Prime Minister. The indolence of this president. It is indolence because all the sectors told her 'It is not right that you keep that man.' And they rewarded him for the crimes of the first two massacres. 

In this third massacre 22 people died. In one day, 22 people died. In 3 hours, 15 people were shot dead. Shots in the head, in the chest, in the neck. One of these bullets, well, several of these bullets, were explosive rounds that enter the body and then detonate. One bullet that entered the lung exploded and burst his lung. It is not normal. These are weapons of war. 

They see us as enemies; they don't see us as citizens. They see us as enemies to destroy, to manhandle, to frighten, to intimidate. 

Many of us are scared, self-censored out of having an opinion. We are afraid. The resistance here in Lima is afraid. And it is an enemy city. We are Indigenous here and it worries us. But down in the south, the government is killing them. Some say, ‘They wanted to protect an airport'. You kill people to protect an airport?

What is happening right now is appalling. These are crimes against humanity that are going to have to be tried in the International Criminal Court of Justice. President Boric has already asked for this, President Petro has asked for this and we hope that at any moment more presidents will join in order to investigate crimes against humanity. 

What they are doing is equivalent to what has been done by various dictators and murderers in the world. This is ethnic cleansing. At least it is the beginning of that. And if it is not outright ethnic cleansing, it is the murder of specific ethnic groups because they are clearly Indigenous — either Quechua or Aymara. The elite in Lima — white, colonial, connected to Miami, connected to the fascist right wing of the world — do not consider these Indigenous people to be citizens. 

And this is not that this is an argument coming from the Left. We Indigenous people are not necessarily leftists. This is an argument against a whole sector of those who hold our country’s wealth. Because we are the true owners of this wealth. The gold is ours, the silver is ours, the lithium is ours. But they do not accept it. It is all part of an extractivist agenda. It is a very fierce struggle. 

And yes, these are mainly whites descended from the Spanish. Dina Boluarte is an Indigenous woman, though she does not present herself as Indigenous. But her face is Indigenous. She comes from an Indigenous region in the south, she speaks Quechua. But she works for them. 

PI: Why do the people stay in the streets protesting, despite so much violent repression?

A: I think that's the most important question of all. Because political protest movements have always been there. If you disagree with a ruler, you protest, but usually it doesn’t move beyond that. But why do we keep protesting, despite so many deaths? I believe that those of us who are Indigenous, we already know why. It is the first time in 200 years that a poor, humble, Indigenous person became president. A teacher. When I looked at his face as an Indigenous person, I looked at myself, I looked at my relatives, my uncles, his being. We had never seen a Peruvian in power.

When he arrived, we all arrived. We all arrived. It was the first time we all arrived together. The journey ended poorly. It is true that the president made many mistakes. Awful mistakes. He surrounded himself with the wrong people. But yet, there we were. We entered the palace or government. He invited many Indigenous people, social leaders, and children. It was different. 

That is why all these revolts are for an Indigenous identification, for a class, for an identity. We are not going to allow Dina to continue wielding and usurping power. She has to leave office. She does not represent us because we did not elect her. We elected Pedro Castillo. They have taken away our democracy, they have taken away the power that we had won democratically for the first time in 200 years since we were a colony and 500 since the arrival of the Spanish. That is half a millennium. That is the difference. And we are not going to give up. 

They say we are not protesting for specific enough issues, for urgent health issues, water, that we are not asking for anything concrete. To see ourselves represented, that is what we want. We want the order of things to change. We don't want to be where we are now. We want to be equal with Lima. And yes, we can consider this to be a conflict between Lima and the regions. It is. And in the end, it is nothing more than an inheritance of the whole colonial structure. 

We want to change that. We have to undergo a new re-foundation. We believe that this involves a new constitution, an Indigenous, plurinational constitution in which we have representation. Because the constitution that exists was made by a group of white men handpicked by the dictator Fujimori.

PI: How do you see the possibilities for a new constitution like you described? It seems that the people are consolidating around the new constitution as the protests’ primary demand. 

A: A year ago, I didn't think it was feasible. But the day Pedro Castillo dissolved Congress, called for a constituent assembly, and two hours later he was imprisoned for sedition, at that moment — a transfer of power, a vacuum of power — he transferred the power he himself had to all the people. 

And that was very wise, as I am coming to understand. He transferred the power and responsibility for our destiny to us the day he resigned. It was not his ideal, it was so that he himself could last the year in office. But that was almost magical because he transferred all the power to the people. 

The people are now convinced. In the south they want a new constitution. We are marching. They are killing us, they are murdering us. Who knows if we will reach 500 dead. But the form, the organic structural character of this movement, leads me to the conclusion that the social contract in Peru — as Hobbes defines it — is broken. 

And the right understands this. I think it is a matter of time before they also become aware that if they want to be on good terms with us, we must make a new contract and we must share the same house. A 'new agreement', a 'new deal,' if we can call it that. 

Because otherwise, there is no house, no job, no mines. You want your mine? You're not going to have a mine. You want your millionaire importer from Europe? You're not going to see that. You have to be on good terms with us. Before, that was unthinkable to say. But because of everything that is happening, now it is more feasible and viable because the social energy is so high. The capitalist economy cannot stand to be placed in this situation, in this social context, as a result of the fact that Pedro practically transferred power to the country. 

It must also be said, that as a result of our 40 heroes who have been murdered by Dina Boluarte, blood multiplies itself by millions, as Tupac Amaru once said. It creates the bases, the economic, social, cultural and political conscience so that even the ruling class knows that this system has to be re-founded. 

The south is at a standstill, the mines are at a standstill, the exporters are at a standstill. Multi-million dollar projects, multi-million dollar investments are not operational. The hotels, the very rich hotels in Cusco of ultra millionaires are at a standstill. Perhaps there is a new contract still available if we want to move forward, if we want this country to be economically viable. We are already at that point and even though we are still going downhill, the path towards a new horizon, towards the summit, is very hard. I believe it could take maybe a year or less to reach this horizon. 

But things are already heating up in Peru. The grass is burning, the prairie is catching fire and that fire is spreading further and further. 

It is a very delicate situation. The sad side of this are our deaths, our fallen brothers and sisters, the families destroyed, the crying mothers. It is very sad, very sad. 

PI: What role can international solidarity play in supporting these popular, Indigenous, peasant forces in Peru at this time? 

The first thing that comes to mind is through communication, amplifying all the news, following Peruvians on Twitter, following what they are talking about, following Indigenous radio stations, Indigenous leaders, starting to connect with Peruvian organizations abroad that also have a lot of contact with us and help us.

It is also important the legal part through the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, through the Criminal Court of Justice. And an important matter is that they begin to communicate with friendly governments, urging Petro, urging Boric so that they, through their lawyers, can file lawsuits against Dina Boluarte in the International Criminal Court and measures through the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Boric requested it through lawyers in Chile filing a brief against Dina Boluarte. Only states can do that. It is important that from states there is that pressure. We need that support. 

We also need food. There is food, of course, but in the south, we are suffering a lot from poverty. Many poor, humble people die. They have no way to bury their dead. In this aspect, the chain of economic aid still needs to be formed. I myself would not request this support yet, but if there is a need, we will have to see how to structure it. 

PI: If the forces of the status quo and the right close the door to a new Constitution, obviously this popular movement that has awakened will not just stop there. Some have spoken of a splintering of the country, or a national strike, or other possibilities. How do you see the end of this crisis, if it does not end with a new Constitution?

What I see is the beginning of a revolution larger than just in Peru, which should be seen with greater prominence at the international level by scholars, by workers across the world. Because the working classes are brothers and sisters. The Indigenous peoples of the world are brothers and sisters.

This is going to escalate into a national strike, I think, at some point. Hopefully it will escalate further. The protests are already slowly approaching Lima and we believe that we are already experiencing a social explosion, as some like to call it, like in Chile. 

But the horizon that is coming is very difficult, because we have to admit it: the right wing does not want to give in either. And when two forces clash, and there are no connections or dialogues — they do not want to dialogue — the situation will become very unsustainable. 

I believe and I warn, judging from things I see in the south, that what is coming is the possibility of... Well it’s a little strong to say it in these terms, but... We do not have weapons, nor would we ever. We are peaceful peoples. But what could happen is that we could halt food shipments to Lima and that Lima's main communications could be cut off. It is possible that this could happen. Our brothers will take these measures. 

It has already been done in the past with Cusco, 300 years ago when Lima, which was the cradle of the Spaniards, was left without food. Because, as I repeat, we are not violent peoples, but we are in control of our food. The escalation could be greater at that level. Obviously there will be more repression and what is expected here… I don't know if civil war is the right word, but something similar to that is what is on the horizon in Peru. And it is sad to say, but these possibilities are becoming more and more real. 

I didn't think it would be that way, I wouldn't want it to be that way. I am a pacifist. I love all Peruvians, including all of the white people, all of them, because there are good people there, comrades too. But unfortunately, things are going badly, unless there is an understanding, which I see with a very low probability. I tell you this with great sadness. We are in a train crash of civilizations, you might say. 

Photo: Zoe Alexandra, Peoples Dispatch

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