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Deadly protests in Peru call for the resignation of President Dina Boluarte

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There's been more anger and violence overnight in Peru. Protesters flooded the streets of Lima, the capital, again last night. They want President Dina Boluarte to step down, instant elections and a new constitution. It is the latest wave of political unrest that's consumed the country for more than six weeks and claimed more than 50 lives. NPR's South American correspondent Carrie Kahn joins us now from Lima. Carrie, thanks so much for being with us.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Sure. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: You've been out on the streets. You've spoken with protesters. Why do they want President Boluarte out?

KAHN: Well, protests first started last month after the arrest and the impeachment of the former president, Pedro Castillo. He had tried to dissolve Congress. He was this outsider politician, someone who represented the forgotten, discriminated, poor and Indigenous there. And during those first wave of protests in the south, that's when more than 50 people were killed, mostly at the hands of security forces. And those deaths have now just enraged people around the country. And the protests have spread to Lima. And the demands have intensified against President Dina Boluarte. And protesters want her out. They want justice for the dead.

SIMON: How has the president responded?

KAHN: She says she's not going anywhere. She's defiant, and she calls the protesters vandals.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DINA BOLUARTE: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: She said those that are trying to generate chaos and disorder to take power in the country are mistaken. She says the protesters are being manipulated or paid by outsiders, signaling her siding with the conservative forces in Congress. And she does say she's still willing to negotiate with all opponents, but her opponents are digging in, too, with demands for new elections and her immediate resignation.

SIMON: Carrie, is there any prospect for a compromise or some way out of the crisis?

KAHN: That's a tough one to answer. No one is budging. Political scientist Eduardo Dargent at the Pontifical Catholic University here says Boluarte, a political novice just like her predecessor, is playing this poorly.

EDUARDO DARGENT: You cannot address a problem by insulting those that you are trying to bring to your side, no?

KAHN: And he says that while there might be coordination and outside influences, the protesters' grievances are real. Look. Peru has great divisions, and they're getting bigger. Economically and geographically, the country's export-led economy works better for urban Peruvians and has not worked well for those in the southern, more Indigenous areas. There's a growing wealth gap here and a huge political divide that's getting more polarized with each election. And Scott, there are a lot of elections and political turnover in Peru. Since 2018, there have been six presidents - six in the last five years.

SIMON: Can that cycle of unrest and instability keep going on?

KAHN: It's muddled along for the last few years, but the country's struggling economically, especially since the pandemic. Poverty has spiked. Food insecurity is up. I was talking with Eric Farnsworth from the Council of the Americas in Washington, D.C., and he said the Peruvian case is just the latest democracy in the region showing signs of stress.

ERIC FARNSWORTH: If the political leadership now cannot find a way to return calm to the streets, that does open the doors for bad alternatives.

KAHN: Peru does have a history of dictators and strongmen. Politicians are very weak here. Congress is hated too, more than the president. And the way the system is set up, they both have means of sabotaging each other, and they keep doing just that without ever addressing Peru's deep problems or finding solutions.

SIMON: NPR's Carrie Kahn in Lima, thanks so much.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Carrie Kahn
Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.