Protests in Peru show widespread impact of Putin’s war

Rising fuel prices initially sparked protests that began last week but quickly escalated into large anti-government demonstrations with marches and road blockades.

By Wednesday, at least six people had been killed over several days of protests as officials urged calm and struggled to contain the situation, according to Peruvian authorities. At least nine major roads in the country remain blocked by protesters.

Late Monday, President Pedro Castillo declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew in the nation’s capital, but backed down Tuesday afternoon and lifted the curfew order as hundreds of protesters defying the measure took to the streets of Lima to demand his resignation.

“Peru is going through a tough time” Castillo said On Tuesday after leaving a meeting with lawmakers, “but we have to solve this with the state.”

A few blocks later, police in riot gear fired tear gas to disperse the protests and stones were thrown at demonstrators, injuring at least 11 people in clashes.

Why Peru?

Peru is no stranger to political unrest. The country has had five presidents in the past five years, two of whom have been impeached and removed from office amid street protests. And Castillo himself has already faced — and survived — two impeachment votes since taking office in July.
Last year, Castillo won the presidential election by a narrow margin and faced the fact that the Congress was in the hands of the opposition, which limited his political capital and ability to act.

But if Peru has been a fertile ground for protests in recent years, this crisis was a direct consequence of the war in Ukraine.

Long aftermath of Putin’s war

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent decision of world leaders to isolate Russia from the world oil markets led to a sharp increase in oil prices.

And for Peru, the consequences were especially serious.

Compared to other countries in the region such as Argentina or Venezuela, Peru imports most of its oil. This left it more vulnerable to the recent surge hitting the economy just as it was recovering from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns.

As a result, Inflation in Peru in March was the highest in 26 yearsIt is reported by the Institute of Statistics of the country. The most vulnerable segments were food and fuel, prices for which rose by 9.54% compared to last year. This was announced by the Central Bank of Peru..

Prices rose so rapidly that protests soon began to spread across the country. And on March 28, a group of transport workers and the truckers’ union called for a general strike demanding cheaper fuel.

Over the past few days, other organizations and groups have joined the protests, including some regions close schools and turning to online learning due to roadblocks and pickets.

Before becoming president, Castillo was a union leader and teacher at a small school in rural Cajamarca, demanding higher wages and better working conditions.

Now his core constituency, the urban working class in Lima’s suburbs and rural farmers across the country, have been particularly hard hit by the inflationary spiral because they pay higher prices for food and transportation.

This further undermines his political support. According to the Institute of Peruvian Studiesindependent electoral center in Lima, the president’s popularity is at its lowest point since taking office, with less than one in four Peruvians supporting his actions.
Demonstrators protest against the government of Peruvian President Pedro Castillo in Lima on Tuesday.

What will happen next?

It is difficult to predict how the situation will develop. Even before the curfew was announced, Castillo had already made some concessions to the protesters, cutting fuel taxes and raising the minimum wage to 1,025 soles (roughly $280) on Sunday. But this did not calm the streets.

After his curfew order backfires, the president appears to be running out of options given Peru’s lack of control over global oil prices. As the conflict in Ukraine continues to rage, the current inflationary climate is projected to continue.

Any further subsidies to cut fuel prices would add to Peru’s debt and further hurt its battered finances.

However, the situation in Peru is far from unique, and Castillo is not alone.

Other leaders face the same difficult choice of dealing with rising inflation as they try to get their finances in order after the chaos caused by Covid-19.

As the crisis deepens, Peru may find itself looking to other countries for answers.

Claudia Rebaza of CNN, Jimena de la Quintana of CNN Español in Lima, Florencia Trucco in Atlanta and Jorge Engels in London provided the coverage.

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