Peru protests show the wide impact of Putin’s war

Rising fuel costs originally sparked the protests, which began last week but quickly escalated into large anti-government demonstrations with marches and roadblocks.

By Wednesday, at least six people had been reported dead during days of protests, according to Peruvian authorities, as officials called for calm and struggled to contain the situation. At least nine main roads in the country remained blocked by protesters.

On Monday night, President Pedro Castillo declared a state of emergency and placed the country’s capital under a curfew, but reversed course and lifted the curfew order on Tuesday afternoon when hundreds of protesters ignoring the measure took to the streets of Lima to demand his resignation.

“Peru is not going through a good time,” Castillo said on Tuesday after leaving a meeting with legislators, “but we have to solve it with the powers of the state.”

A few blocks away, police in riot gear used tear gas to disperse protests and protesters threw stones, with at least 11 people injured in the clashes.

Why Peru?

Peru is not new to political unrest. In the past five years, the country has had five presidents, including one who was impeached and removed from office amid street protests. And Castillo himself has already faced, and survived, two impeachment votes since he took office in July.
Last year, Castillo won the presidency with a slim margin and faced a Congress in the hands of the opposition, which limited his political capital and his ability to operate.

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

The Long Consequences of Putin’s War

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the ensuing decision by world leaders to isolate Russia from world oil markets, sent the price of oil soaring.

And for Peru, the impact has been particularly severe.

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

As a result, Peru’s inflation in March was the highest in 26 years, according to the country’s Statistics Institute. The most exposed segment was food and fuel, with prices that rose 9.54% from last year, reported the Central Bank of Peru.

With prices rising so fast, it wasn’t long before protests began to spread across the country. And on March 28, a group of transport workers and the teamsters union called a general strike to demand cheaper fuel.

In recent days, other organizations and groups have joined the protests, with some regions closing schools and turning to online learning as a result of roadblocks and pickets.

Before assuming the presidency, Castillo was a union leader and teacher at a small school in the rural region of Cajamarca demanding better wages and working conditions.

Now his main constituency, the urban working class in the suburbs of Lima and rural farmers across the country, are particularly affected by the inflationary spiral, because they are paying higher prices for their food and transportation.

This further erodes their political support. According to the Institute of Peruvian Studies, an independent polling station in Lima, the president’s popularity is at its lowest point since he took office, with fewer than one in four Peruvians supporting his actions.
Demonstrators protest against the government of Peruvian President Pedro Castillo in Lima on Tuesday.

What happens next?

It is difficult to predict how the situation will evolve. Even before issuing the curfew order, Castillo had already made some concessions to protesters by cutting fuel taxes and raising the minimum wage to 1,025 soles, about $280, on Sunday. But that also failed to calm the streets.

After his curfew order failed, the president seems to be running out of options, given that Peru does not have the ability to control the international price of oil. As the conflict in Ukraine continues, the current inflationary climate is expected to continue.

Any additional subsidies to lower fuel prices would increase Peru’s debts and further damage its ailing finances.

However, Peru’s situation is far from unique and Castillo is not alone.

Other leaders face the same difficult decisions about how to handle rising inflation as they try to get their finances in order after the chaos caused by Covid-19.

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

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that only one Peruvian president has been impeached and removed from office in the last five years.

CNN’s Claudia Rebaza, CNN Español’s Jimena de la Quintana in Lima, Florencia Trucco in Atlanta and Jorge Engels in London contributed reporting.

Leave a Comment