In these harsh times, Peru needs civil society and the support of the International Community to follow up on the abuses of Dina Boluarte's government to demand that all Human Rights violations cease and punish those that have already occurred. | Paolo Aguilar, EFE
#SOSPeru: The repeated script of repression in Latin America
The stigmatization of social protest by Peru’s interim government has put civil society and the media in demanding guarantees for a dialogue that allows for political transition without violence.
In the midst of a political crisis, Peru is repeating images of violence against protests in Latin America. A familiar script: social and political discontent leads thousands of people to go to the streets, where they face police violence permitted by the government, which, in turn, declares a state of emergency (giving it additional powers) while instilling fear of an alleged terrorist and democracy-destabilizing threat. In the face of repression, like an echo chamber, discontent grows, and violence escalates.
While being played in different manners, the script follows a well-known story in the region. In Peru, protests have mainly been staged by communities in the south: indigenous people, students, and peasants tired of inequality, corruption, and the neglect of their territories. In response, police violence has already left more than 60 civilians dead from gunshot wounds, hundreds arbitrarily detained, thousands injured by police, eye injuries from less lethal weapons, military operations against university students, and harassment of journalists.
Stigmatisation justifies repression
At the heart of this script is the misrepresentation of words. In Latin America, countries often include in their constitutions the rights to assembly, freedom of expression, and political participation, which, by integrating the right to peaceful protest, allow citizens to present their demands in the public space as a crucial instrument of Democracy. International treaties in the region, such as the American Convention on Human Rights, also recognizes peaceful public demonstration as a fundamental Human Right.
For this reason, repression against peaceful protest is often based on a discourse that blurs it as an exercise of citizenship and reduces it to (minority) cases of violent protests or the actions of criminal organizations. This stigmatization is the magic wand that turns democratic into terrorists and authoritarian into democratic. And police violence, underpinned by stigmatization, increases discontent and leads to more violent clashes with protesters —the final ingredient for the discordant script to sell in national and international public opinion. Thus, while the police injure or kill even passers-by who do not participate in the demonstrations, their violence almost never comes to justice, and their impunity has already led to protests in the past, remains the great defender of Democracy.
So have Dina Boluarte, Iván Duque, Nicolás Maduro, and other rulers in Latin America, whose strategies of stigmatization and repression gave them a free hand to repress their real enemy: political dissent. For this reason, the reports of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Chile, Venezuela, and Colombia, regardless of whether they are democracies or dictatorships, repeat the discourse: they all report Human Rights violations in the context of protests, stigmatization, arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force and the violent death of protesters.
Social protest strengthens the Democracy
Now, Dina Boluarte has adopted the strategy of stigmatization, claiming that the protests were motivated by terrorist groups, radicals, or drug traffickers without evidence, fuelling an escalation in violence.
In Colombia, the National Strike (Paro Nacional) showed that civil society and alternative media could prevent the stigmatization story from being the only one told. In 2021, these actors exposed the scale of the violence while the government of Iván Duque tried to deny that police brutality was anything more than “responses against criminals”: civil society revealed that the police, sometimes supported by armed civilians, violently intervened in 734 peaceful demonstrations, leaving more than 91 dead, 1,917 injured, 3,473 people arbitrarily detained and 28 victims of sexual violence.
Peaceful social protest is an essential part of Democracy because it lives in the right of everyone to express their disagreement and demand attention from the state, including communities that did not vote for the incumbent leader. In democracies, unlike authoritarian systems, political disagreement and dissent are dealt with through dialogue, not force and violence. And while the state must and can use the force and punish protesters who commit concerning acts of violence, it cannot use this as an excuse to silence entire populations. Or, at least, it cannot do so if it claims to be democratic and to respect the American Convention on Human Rights.
In these harsh times, Peru needs civil society and the support of the International Community to follow up on the abuses of Dina Boluarte’s government to demand that all Human Rights violations cease and punish those that have already occurred. Peru also needs to open a dialogue with the citizens who are demonstrating, as this is the only way to do justice to the demands of Democracy. But above all, the country needs all our solidarity.