They came from all over the country: from the south and the north; the coastal regions and the Amazonian jungle, many Aymara and Quechua speakers; workers, peasants and the student youth; all united in Lima with one aim – to bring down the illegitimate president Dina Boluarte who took office after the 7 December coup against Pedro Castillo.
The march of the 4 Suyos (so named after the four cardinal points in the administrative division of the Inca empire) was huge, tens of thousands at the very least, though it is difficult to get a clear overall picture. From early in the morning they gathered in different parts of the capital Lima to march to the centre. They had been arriving since Monday, 16 January despìte the declaration of the state of emergency in the Departments of Lima, el Callao, Puno y Cusco by the government. Police road blockades tried to stop the motorcades converging on the capital, but to no avail, workers and peasants found a way through.
The mass movement against the coup in Peru has reached that point that the ruling class fears across the globe: repression no longer works to cow the masses. There have already been nearly 50 people killed by police and the army, and yet the struggle endures.
Brutal repression fails to cow the movement
The latest incident before yesterday’s national strike was in Macusani, Carabaya province, Puno. Here, members of the rondas campesinas [peasant patrols] had come into the provincial capital to protest against Dina Boluarte and the coup against Castillo. After a peaceful march, they were getting ready to go back to their communities. An anonymous rondero described what happened next to La República:
“Everything was fine. The police started to point at us and threaten us with racist insults and then everything got out of control. They were firing guns and we defended ourselves with slingshots.”
The police used AKM assault rifles. Sonia Aguilar, 35, a peasant rondera was killed instantaneously from a bullet to her head. Salomón Valenzuela Chua, 60, also a rondero, would die the day after from bullet wounds to the thorax. “When our sister fell dead, everyone was furious because it was not possible for them to kill us.”
The rage of the people erupted and they torched down the building of the judiciary and then forced the police to abandon the town, then torched the police station too.
Those who arrived in Lima were welcomed by students at two of the main universities, the San Marcos and the Nacional de Ingeniería, who had taken over the facilities to provide a place to sleep for those who had travelled long distances in coaches and mini-vans. The people of Lima provided food, water and blankets.
The columns of demonstrators converged at the Plaza 2 de Mayo at around 4pm. It was not only delegations from the provinces, but also substantial numbers of workers and students from the capital joined them. The main organisers had announced that the march would make its way to Parque Kennedy, but many decided to march towards the Congress and the Presidency instead, with one aim in mind: kick them all out, the illegitimate murderous “president” Boluarte and the whole of the coup-plotting Congress.
“This democracy is no longer a democracy”
One of the main slogans of the protests in recent days, after the bloodbath in December, has been: “This democracy is no longer a democracy.” Protesters have taken to shaming police officers: “que triste debe ser, matar a campesinos para poder comer” (“It must be very sad, to kill peasants so that you can eat”).
The government had readied 12,000 police officers, many of them in riot gear, as well as armoured vehicles. Soon they had broken the huge march into at least five large blocks. At Abancay avenue, leading to the National Congress, a police barrier contained the crowd, but as they attempted to push forward, the police started firing teargas canisters from armoured vehicles.
🔴URGENTE🔴 Tanquetas del ejército disparan gases lacrimógenos contra manifestantes en Lima, Av, Abancay, previamente la actuación policial había divido la enorme #MarchaDeLosCuatroSuyos en dos. pic.twitter.com/KxWNm5nDHd— Jorge Martin ☭ (@marxistJorge) January 19, 2023
Large groups of demonstrators regrouped around Plaza San Martin, others decided to march to Miraflores district. There was brutal police repression for hours. Groups of army reservists who have joined the movement fought back against the riot police. The youth, with homemade shields, organised self-defence.
At one point, an old wooden building in a corner of Plaza San Martin caught fire. Eyewitnesses say that it was a police teargas canister that started the fire, which engulfed the whole building. The city centre was filled with smoke and tear gas. Police were meting out random beatings.
As well as Lima, there were also mass demonstrations in Ayacucho, Cusco, Puno, in several provinces to the north of the capital, etc. Dozens of road blockades covered the map of the country.
In Juliaca (Puno), Arequipa and Cusco, the masses attempted to take over the local airports. In Arequipa, they managed to overrun the police guarding it, who responded with live ammunition: Jhan Carlo Condori Arcana, 30, was killed by police gunfire.
AREQUIPA - obreros y campesinos sobrepasan a policía y ejército y ocupan el aeropuerto durante el #ParoNacionalPeru - se reporta un muerto por disparos de la policía, Giancarlo Condori Condori, de 31 años de edad pic.twitter.com/FXkfgNk5Vi— Jorge Martin ☭ (@marxistJorge) January 19, 2023
After 9pm, Dina Boluarte made a televised address. Instead of using a conciliatory tone, she doubled down. She blamed the protests on “bad citizens who are attempting to break the rule of law, create chaos, unrest and take power”. She added that she had no intention to resign and that her “government remains firm and more united than ever”. She extended a 30-day state of emergency to the regions of Amazonas, La Libertad y Tacna, revealing how the movement keeps growing.
Fears of the ruling class
However, behind this confident facade, the ruling class is clearly worried. The movement shows no signs of abating, despite brutal repression. Opinion polls show overwhelming rejection of Boluarte and the Congress. Some of the more astute ruling class commentators are starting to wonder whether it would be a good idea for Boluarte to step aside in order to restore calm and deactivate the movement.
The problem they are facing is that, on the one hand, this would be a victory for the movement and there is no guarantee that people would stop at that. On the other, they have no obvious replacement for her. They would need a figure that has a certain degree of popular support to replace her. In fact, she, being Castillo’s own vice president, was the “best” figure to front the coup from the point of view of the ruling class. That card has been used and it did not work.
The resignation of Boluarte under pressure from the mass movement would immediately raise the question of the Constituent Assembly and freedom for Castillo. The ruling class is afraid of the implications of this. In an opinion article in Argentinean right-wing media outlet Infobae, Rafael Zacnich Nonalaya, from the Peruvian Society of Foreign Trade, warned:
“A new Constitution… would open the space to, for example, destroy one of the bases of growth and the generation of resources, such as the economic chapter of the Constitution, returning to the state intervention in the economy and discouraging private investment in our country.”
The capitalist oligarchy, and the mining multinationals fear what a Constituent Assembly might rule regarding the economy. Nationalisation of gas and mining was one of the election promises that got Castillo elected. The same opinion poll that revealed massive discrediting of Boluarte and the Congress, also showed strong support for more state-owned companies.
Still, if faced with the prospect of being overthrown by the masses of workers and peasants on the streets, the ruling class might consider the option of conceding some sort of Constituent Assembly, one that would take place after many months, involve a referendum and then an actual election months later still, and would include a series of mechanisms to guarantee it was firmly under their control. The aim would be to divert the masses away from street mobilisation and into the safe channels of bourgeois parliamentarism, of the constitutional variety.
Fight to the finish!
The mass movement of workers and peasants is still on the ascent and spreading in numbers and scope. The resilience of the Peruvian masses is truly inspiring. They have risen up and they are prepared to go until the end. Today, there were 127 road blockades in main roads across the country, covering 18 different regions. The masses of workers and peasants are determined and they have not been defeated.
However, there is the danger of a stalemate, which would tire the masses out. Boluarte is not prepared to resign and the movement is not prepared to retreat. Now is the time to seize the opportunity and move forward.
To do so, the movement needs a centralised, democratic leadership. So far, the CGTP trade union and the National Peoples’ Assembly (ANP) have given it a certain degree of coordination, together with coordination bodies and mass organisations that exist at different levels: regional Peoples’ Defence Fronts, the national coordination of rondas campesinas, trade union bodies, peasant leagues, indigenous organisations, etc.
They should all be brought together into a grand National Revolutionary Assembly of Workers and Peasants, made up of elected and recallable delegates, which would take the reigns of the country into their own hands and do away with all existing institutions. The question of who rules the country has been posed. The working people of Peru must take the struggle to its conclusion, by taking power into their own hands.