Conflict Alerts # 418, 4 August 2021
In the news
On 31 July, protests were held in the Peruvian capital of Lima against new president Castillo's decision to appoint a hardliner Marxist as his Prime Minister. Guido Bellido has been accused of sympathizing with the terrorist group Shining Path, which had been engaged in a violent effort to seize power in the 1980s and 1990s.
"Terrorism, never again," Al Jazeera reported the crowd as chanting, with many holding placards bearing anti-communist messages. Many in the protests were linked to the Popular Force Party, whose leader Keiko Fujimori had lost narrowly to Castillo in the elections. Media outlet TeleSUR reported that a group of 300 protesters reached within a block of the presidential residence of Saturday, which led to reinforcement of security.
Issues at large
First, Bellido's alleged defense of the Shining Path. The controversy seems to have been sparked by comments that Bellido made on Friday after taking up his parliamentary seat. According to France24, Bellido said: "The country was a disaster, there were Peruvians who mistakenly took a path — are they Peruvians or not? What do you have against the senderistas (Shining Path)?" This touched a nerve with a lot of Peruvians for whom traumatic memories of the violent uprising by Shining Path still remains raw. According to a 2003 report by a commission to investigate the Peruvian conflict of the 80s and the 90s, the Shining Path had been responsible for the deaths of more 30,000 people in the country.
Second, an erosion of Castillo's credibility. Castillo had been accused of having links to far-left terrorist groups, including the Shining Path, during the election campaign. These had been strengthened with the group allegedly distributing anti-Fujimori pamphlets, threatening people who voted for her. Castillo had refuted those allegations by pointing out that he had been a Rondero, a member of peasant patrol groups who had fought against the Shining Path. Nevertheless, appointing Bellido will only strengthen these suspicions further.
Third, Fujimori's ability to prevent Castillo from ruling. That many of the protesters belong to Fujimori's party, show that she still has the ability to mobilize her supporters and create unrest in the country. While Castillo's Peru Libre is the largest party in the parliament, Fujimori could still form a right-wing coalition against him, preventing him from passing legislation or even impeaching him. Castillo has not done himself any favours with Bellido's appointment likely to alienate many moderates in the parliament.
The protests, just a couple of days after Castillo's swearing-in, sees his reign as president off to a tumultuous reign. Bellido's appointment has dashed hopes that Castillo would adopt a more moderate approach. Like Castillo, Bellido too is a political novice who has never held public office and it remains to be seen if either of them can navigate the choppy waters of the Peruvian political landscape. Castillo is Peru's sixth president since 2016.
The role that Fujimori has played in engineering these protests is important. With her still not fully accepting the election results, it is probable that such disruptions will become a regular feature of Peruvian politics.