Proclaiming that "change is coming," Pedro Castillo, a left-populist political outsider and former school teacher, was sworn in as Peru's new president on July 28—the bicentennial of the country's independence from Spain. The following day, a second symbolic inauguration ceremony was held at the Battlefield of Ayacucho, site of the 1824 battle that secured Peru's independence and put an end of Spanish colonialism in South America. (TeleSur, Reuters)
Under the slogans "Fujimori nunca más" and "Keiko No Va," many thousands of Peruvians filled the streets of Lima and cities across the country May 22 to repudiate the presidential candidacy of Keiko Fujimori, contender of the far-right Fuerza Popular party and daughter of imprisoned ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori. The lead contingent in the rally that filled downtown Lima's Plaza San Martín was composed of survivors of the reign of terror during the 1992-2000 Fujimori dictatorship.
Peru seems poised for polarization following surprise results in first-round presidential elections April 11, that saw a previously unknown leftist candidate, Pedro Castillo, taking 19% of the vote in a very crowded field—more than any of his rivals. In a June 6 run-off, he will face his runner-up—hard-right candidate Keiko Fujimori, who took 13%. The two candidates represent the extremes of Peru's electoral spectrum. Fujimori is the daughter of imprisoned ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori—and had herself been imprisoned as corruption charges were pending against her last year. Her Fuerza Popular party is the paradoxical populist vehicle of the most reactionary sectors of the country's elites, and has actually been assailed by columnist César Hildebrandt as a "mafia organization."
Supporters of longtime Peruvian social leader Hugo Blanco are protesting what they call a disinformation campaign launched by the military and political right in response to release of a documentary film about his life. The film, Hugo Blanco, Río Profundo, produced by filmmaker Malena Martínez, won last year's National Competition for Feature Film Distribution Projects, sponsored by Peru's Ministry of Culture. This has prompted a group of current and former generals and admirals of the armed forces to issue a joint statement accusing the Culture Ministry of helping to disseminate a film that glorifies "extreme terrorist violence." In an implicit reference to the Shining Path insurgency, the statement said the film is "alien to the sentiment of Peruvians, who have suffered decades of violence and terror, reversed with much sacrifice from all of society, especially our Armed Forces and Police."
Two imprisoned leaders of the Sendero Luminoso guerilla movement were released from military prison to house arrest by authorities in Peru, sparking outrage and debate in the country's media. Osmán Morote, once considered the number-two man in the organization, was arrested by anti-terrorist police in Lima in 1988. He completed his 25-year term in 2013, but remained in detention as new charges were brought against him. He was now accused of having directed from prison the 1992 car-bomb attack on Tarata Street in Lima that left 23 dead. This year, additional charges were brought against him, concerning the 1984 massacre of 120 peasants at the village of Soras, Ayacucho. Also ordered released was Margot Liendo, who was arrested in 1988 along with Morote, and also faces outstanding charges in the Tarata Street attack. The transfers from the detention facility at Callao Naval Base were ordered by the National Penal Chamber of Peru. Both Morote and Liendo were required to pay a bond of 10,000 soles ($3,100), and will be guarded at their homes in the Lima area by National Police agents. Morote and Liendo have both declared a hunger strike in protest of the police presence and house arrest order, saying they should have absolute freedom after serving their 25-year terms. But President Martín Vizcarra called upon the judges to reverse their decision, and keep Morote and Liendo behind bars while the new charges are pending against them. (El País, Peru21, April 20; InfoBae, April 27)
Thousands have taken to the streets of Lima every night since the Christmas Eve pardon of ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori, to be repeatedly dispersed by the riot police with tear-gas. One TV journalist was injured when he was hit by a fired tear-gas cannister in Lima's downtown Plaza San Martín on Christmas Day. The lead contingent in the marches has often been relatives of those assassinated and "disappeared" under Fujimori's rule, especially victims of the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres—carried out in 1991 and 1992, respectively, by regime-linked death squads against suspected sympathizers of the Shining Path guerilla movement. Marchers hold placards with the faces and names of "disappeared" students, workers and activists from the Fujimori era. (RPP, Dec. 29; Diario Uno, Dec. 26)
Thousands marched in Lima on July 7 to demand that Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski not pardon the country’s former strongman Alberto Fujimori, now serving a 25-year prison sentence for human rights violations. Kuczynski pledged on the campaign trail last year that there would be no pardon, helping him win a narrow victory against the ex-dictator's daughter, Keiko Fujimori. But last month Kuczynski broached a potential pardon for Fujimori, now 78, for ostensible health reasons. Interestingly, the move came as his finance minister Alfredo Thorne was ousted by Congress, dominated by Fujimori supporters.
Announcement of an aggressive new coca-eradication campaign in Peru was met with a deadly attack on security forces in the targeted production zone. Authorities said "narco-terrorists" attacked a National Police patrol in the Apurímac-Ene-Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM), leaving two troops dead. The VRAEM, a pocket of jungle on the eastern slopes of the Andes, is said to produce 75% of Peru's coca leaf, but the government has until now resisted US pressure to launch an eradication program there, for fear of enflaming the tense situation in the valley. A surviving remnant of the Shining Path insurgency remains active in the VRAEM, offering cocaleros protection from security forces in exchange for their loyalty.