A Mohawk in Peru: Report #2 on the US/Canadian Coup

Police armed and at the ready lining the protest route.

There is a saying in Peru, if you’re born poor, you die poor. This saying applies to the rural Indigenous Peruvians where hopelessness abounds and equality of opportunity is nonexistent. You work to survive and hopefully provide for your family.

Last night, I was in the streets again observing the mass protests by Indigenous people. Rather than abating, the protests are gathering steam as the number of protestors swell. More University students and professors are joining in along with former military and busloads of rural Indigenous people. The protestors are very well organized and led by strong voices. 

Protestor in Plaza de Armas in Arequipa with sign reading “Dina Asesina” or Dina the Murderer.

I estimate that there were at least 10,000 protestors marching through the streets of Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru, being cheered on by tens of thousands of supporters. There is a strong police and military presence everywhere. The police are armed with machine guns, assault rifles and tear-gas and they are constantly snapping photographs of protestors’ faces as an intimidation tactic. 

As we marched along the route, skirmishes broke out with pro-government supporters that were all instigated by anti-Castillo proponents, calling the former President and protestors “terrorists.” Pedro Castillo, the first rural Indigenous President of Peru, continues to sit in prison on the flimsy charges of “rebellion.” For her part, now President Dina Boluarte, dubbed “Dina Asesina” (Dina the murderer) by the protestors, this week gave the national police a special cash bonus for their outstanding work.

Some of the 10,000 or more peaceful protestors in Plaza de Armas, Arequipa.

President Castillo was doomed from the beginning. His ascension from a rural Andean peasant school teacher and labour leader to the Presidential palace in a narrow election victory over Keiko Fujimori was dramatic. Keiko, as she is referred to in Peru, is a conservative politician and the eldest daughter of former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori. Alberto Fujimori was the President of Peru for 10 years but is now serving a 25 year prison sentence after been convicted of human rights abuses, murder, kidnapping and abuse of power, amongst other things. Keiko supports her father’s ideology of “Fujimorism,” and she has been described as having an authoritarian and far-right political ideology. She rules with a “heavy hand” and believes that democracy “…must be supported by a solid principle of authority.”

Pedro Castillo, who was President for approximately 18 months, was hindered by a Congress that made him face three impeachment proceedings in his short presidency. Castillo did not have the support of the military nor the police, meaning that he could be easily disposed of. For Indigenous people, Castillo offered a glimmer of hope for upward social mobility. 

Protestor dressed as President Dina Boluarte surrounded by her military along the protest route.

Indigenous people here cannot afford private healthcare, security, education and housing. In the public service sector, the services are very low quality and corrupt. Castillo knows first-hand the struggles of the Indigenous people, and he was their beacon of hope for a better life free of racism and class oppression. The removal of Castillo as President was the last straw for the Indigenous people and a victory for the elite, urban, white and westernized right. The elite blame poverty on the poor, saying that they should work more and harder. 

Indeed, I have been accosted here at protests with jeers that I should get a job and stop being lazy. Peru has an “us versus them” mentality with Indigenous people viewed as backward. Policies of “integration” have been acheived through cultural genocide in Peru. The colonial goal has been the elimination of language, beliefs and traditions. This is no different than colonization in Canada and the eurocentric, superior attitude over Indigenous people that has existed since Canada’s inception. 

Protest group representing rural Indigenous women.

There is a concept here that I have learned of called “acomplejado.” It is a notion that is very much alive in Canada as well for Indigenous people. The concept is that some Indigenous people are embarrassed and self-conscious of being Indigenous and their rural background and attempt to “de-Indigenize” and hide their identity to get ahead. 

I have spoken to Indigenous people in Peru, especially the younger generation, who admitted to pretending they’re not Indigenous to attempt to blend in with Lima’s elite. They wish their skin was lighter, and they are embarrassed of their traditions and of their rural parents and grandparents. This has been a running theme in Canada for generations where our people have hid their Indigenous roots and pretended to be white to try and have success in Canadian society. 

It is clear that the 1993 constitution of former President Alberto Fujimori is a framework for inequality. Peru is a country that is in need of constitutional reform, much like the process that other South American countries have gone through or are currently going through to make the country more equitable and fair for the destitute and Indigenous people. Some examples of solutions would be to reserve seats for Indigenous people in private schools, universities and Congress and to have more accessible healthcare and services.

Retired military protesting.

As Francis Bacon said, information is power. Noam Chomsky argued that the public is manipulated and controlled by the media and it is the primary vehicle for delivering propaganda. El Comercio has a firm grip on the media in Peru. El Comercio is a right-wing, family owned company that dominates the media in Peru. It owns nine newspapers at the local and national levels and controls Internet traffic through thirteen digital media outlets. They are the largest, unrivaled media giant in Latin America. They have control over 80% of newspaper circulation and 78% of readership in Peru. Their online digital platform has a monthly audience of 72 million unique users of the total of 100 million. 

I have watched El Comercio’s news programming in Peru and it caters to the right. There is a litany of anti-Indigenous right-wing politicians on these channels, especially during these challenging times. However, these are not balanced interviews, but are unfettered rants promoting colonial ideology. If you control the media, you control a political platform. This is very confusing when you live in rule Andean areas and you’re bombarded through television and print media that spin stories that cater to the elite. The theme is that these peaceful protestors are violent terrorists. I have not seen any examples of this when on the front-lines. 

Protestors calling for the closing of Congress.

When former president Castillo was interviewed by the Peruvian media, he was constantly attacked and undermined, unlike the right-wing politicians from Congress. These politicians appear on El Comercio television continuously to give uninterrupted diatribes. Balanced reporting does not exist and there is no “truth” in media. Canada is not exempt from tainted media espousing their political agenda. Look no further than Canada’s only national English newspaper and its centre-right reporting on Indigenous issues. These platforms are used to formulate and shape the view and opinions of the masses. If it is written or on television, it must be true, right?

One example is government sponsored infiltrators. To further the “Indigenous protestor as terrorist” reporting, these infiltrators disrupt the peaceful protests intent on discrediting the protest and providing reasons for authoritarian control of freedom of speech. These infiltrators are masquerading as Andean Indigenous protesters and have a modus operandi of throwing rocks, picking fights and destroying property. The protest leaders, being the rural Indigenous, union leaders, lawyers, professors and students, do not know who these individuals are and do not endorse their violent tactics. I am told by the leaders that this is an old, dirty trick by the government and media in Peru to sway public opinion. El Comercio is complicit and reports widely on these professional, paid infiltrators, but not on peaceful protest. The infiltrators undermine movements and are most likely government agents trying to facilitate a narrative of Indigenous terrorism. 

Heavy police presence along the protest route.

Another example is the tragic fire and destruction of a century old mansion close to the protests in the historic San Martin Plaza in Lima. The mansion was burned to the ground and only a smoldering empty lot remains. The Peruvian press has reported and it has been widely repeated by the North American press, that the so-called terrorist protesters were responsible for the fire. However, the owner of the mansion witnessed the police set his building ablaze during a peaceful protest and he has the evidence. The media did not report this. 

The owner of the historic mansion has submitted a bill to the Peruvian government for the replacement of his building. A century old mansion in the heart of Lima is irreplaceable and it shows the lengths that the government and press will go to discredit Indigenous struggles. Despite the right wing media having the evidence of police culpability, they continue to run stories blaming the protesters for the fire. The media has a stranglehold on the hearts and minds of Peruvians with their biased, one-sided conservative reporting.

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