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)
A new coalition of Amazonian indigenous groups and environmentalists has come together in Peru to demand oversight and accountability in the development of a huge new hydrocarbon exploitation bloc in the rainforest. The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) won exploitation rights in 2017 at Bloc 58, in the Upper Urubamba zone of Cuzco region, after explorations revealed some 3.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, enough to increase Peru's total gas reserves by nearly 28%. But Bloc 58 overlaps with the traditional territories of the Asháninka and Matsigenka (Machiguenga) indigenous peoples, and is near the indigenous communities of Tangoshiari, Kirigueti, and Kochiri. It additionally overlaps with the "buffer zones" (zonas de amortiguamiento) of the Asháninka Communal Reserve, the Machiguenga Communal Reserve, Megantoni National Sanctuary and Otishi National Park.
One week after Peru's close and hotly contested presidential run-off election, far-right candidate Keiko Fujimori appears to be taking a tip from the Donald Trump playbook. The official results from the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) give Fujimori 49.8% of the vote, and 50.2% to her left-populist challenger Pedro Castillo. However, the results only become official when they are certified by the National Jury of Elections (JNE)—and Fujimori is calling for some 200,000 votes to be nullified as fraudulent, more than enough to throw the race in her favor. On June 11, the JNE said it would extend the deadline for filing challenges to votes, which had passed two days earlier. However, it reversed this decision hours later, in response to a public outcry and accusations by Castillo and his supporters of an attempted "coup d'etat." (Peru21, June 12; DW, June 11; BBC Mundo, June 10)
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."
In a decision made very timely amid new mobilizations against oil and mineral operations on peasant and indigenous lands, Peru's high court last month struck down a provision of the country's penal code that rights advocates said criminalized the right to "social protest." The July 6 ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal voided an amendment to Article 200 of the Penal Code that had been instated under Legislative Decree 1237, issued by then-president Ollanta Humala in September 2015. The decree expanded the definition of "extortion" to apply not only to use of force to gain "economic advantage" but also "advantage of any other nature." This expanded definition has been used to bring criminal charges against protesters who have blocked roads or occupied oil-fields or mining installations. The legal challenge to the decree was brought by an alliance of regional human rights organizations led by the Legal Defense Institute (IDL). (IDL, Servindi, July 7)
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."
Indigenous leaders are warning that a combination of neglect, inadequate preparations, and a lack of lockdown measures is exposing remote and vulnerable communities in the Amazon to potentially devastating outbreaks of COVID-19. The nationwide death toll in Brazil has soared above 11,000 amid growing anger at President Jair Bolsonaro's dismissive response. The situation is particularly bad in the Amazon gateway city of Manaus, where the number of fatalities is feared to be many times the official 500 to 600. Peru and Ecuador also have large outbreaks and significant Amazonian indigenous populations.