A police officer was burned alive by a mob in Peru on Tuesday as violent clashes between government forces and protesters continue to rock the country. (Photo: Peru Interior Ministry)
A police officer was burned alive by a mob in Peru on Tuesday as violent clashes between government forces and protesters continue to rock the country after the ouster and arrest of former president Pedro Castillo. The attack on the officer came less than 24 hours after 17 civilians were killed in the deadliest day since protests began in December.
The protests began just over a month ago when Castillo was arrested on charges of rebellion and conspiracy on Dec. 7., and replaced by his Vice President, Dina Boluarte. She quickly declared a state of emergency and ordered the military onto the streets to quell the growing protests.
Castillo, an unheralded leftist from the rural and impoverished Cajamarca region, rose to power on a platform of addressing inequality in Peru, shocking the political establishment when he narrowly won the presidency in 2021. But within his first year in office, his administration was rocked with scandal when the attorney general accused Castillo of corruption, alleging that he headed a criminal organization involving his family and allies that traded public contracts for bribes.
As political rivals moved to impeach the embattled president, Castillo attempted to dissolve congress and rule by decree in a political maneuver that was considered unconstitutional, and led to his December arrest.
But seeing Castillo deposed led to outrage among the country’s rural population, who championed Castillo’s candidacy. For many in the countryside, Castillo—a former elementary school teacher who went from living in a humble two-story adobe house in the Andean highlands to the presidential palace—represented an attack on a leader who finally pledged to protect their interests.
Protests broke out around the country as Boluarte, a former Castillo ally, assumed the presidency. The protesters, primarily indigenous and rural Castillo supporters, demanded either the release and reinstatement of Castillo or immediate elections where voters could choose their own leader. Although Boluarte has said that she hopes to hold elections in late 2023 or early 2024, much earlier than the scheduled 2026 elections, protests continued to escalate.
While many protests were peaceful, others saw fierce clashes between authorities and civilians; 47 people have died, including 39 protesters, seven people killed during traffic accidents connected to protest blockades, and one police officer, the Peruvian government announced Tuesday.
This week’s violence was centered in Juliaca, a city near Lake Titicaca and the border with Bolivia. Peru’s interior minister, Victor Rojas, said that the first peaceful protest turned violent when roughly 9,000 protesters attempted to take control of a local airport and police officers were attacked with makeshift guns and explosives.
The next day, Juliaca police officer José Luis Soncco Quispe and his partner were attacked by an estimated 350 people while on patrol, according to the government. The partner, Ronald Villasante Toque, was pulled away from the car, beaten, and tied up, while Soncco Quispe died after the vehicle he was in was lit ablaze. Villasante Toque was taken to the hospital with head injuries and was unaware that Soncco Quispe was burned alive until being told hours later.
Rojas said that the 17 dead were a result of legal self defense by security forces because “it became impossible to control the mob.”
But Monday’s death toll has already been widely condemned, both within Peru and abroad. Peru’s top prosecutor’s office announced that it launched an inquiry into president Boluarte and members of her cabinet, including Rojas, to investigate allegations of genocide during the protests.
On Tuesday, Castillo took to Twitter from behind bars to show his support for the protests in Juliaca.
“The Peruvians who have been assassinated for defending the country from the coup dictatorship will be immortalized in the history of our great homeland,” he tweeted in Spanish. “Terror is the last cartridge of a regime cornered by the people. Dina Boluarte and the Attorney General are hiding today.”
Castillo’s removal from office and the ongoing unrest is another blow to Peru’s political system which continues one of the most tumultuous periods in the country’s history. In the past five years, the country has had five different presidents, with three removed from office under the “moral incapacity” provision of the constitution.