By Paula Bustamante
Peruvian lawmakers on Tuesday once again failed to agree on a plan to bring forward elections in a bid to end weeks of deadly protests that have brought parts of the South American country to a standstill.
Peru has been embroiled in a political crisis with near-daily demonstrations since December 7, when then-president Pedro Castillo was arrested after attempting to dissolve Congress and rule by decree.
In seven weeks of demonstrations, 48 people — including one police officer — have been killed in clashes between security forces and protesters, according to the human rights ombudsman’s office.
Protesters are demanding immediate elections, the dissolution of Congress, a new constitution, and the resignation of President Dina Boluarte, who as his vice president took over with Castillo gone.
Last month, lawmakers moved elections, originally due in 2026, up to April 2024, but as protesters dug in their heels, Boluarte called for holding a vote this year instead.
On Tuesday, lawmakers again failed to reach an agreement on a potential 2023 vote, and adjourned until Wednesday, after first rejecting Boluarte’s proposal on Friday and then on Monday.
“The plenary session is suspended and will resume February 1 at 11:00 am (1600 GMT),” the legislative body’s official Twitter account announced Tuesday evening.
As lawmakers debated Tuesday, demonstrators gathered for new protests in central Lima, only a few blocks from Congress.
The so-called Great March, called by union leaders and rural organizations, saw protesters chanting and waving banners reading “Dina resign now.”
For union leader Geronimo Lopez, a protest coordinator, the stalemate at the political level was indicative of a Congress “clinging to stay in office.”
“There is no political will to listen to the platform of struggle of the people,” he said.
Roadblocks erected by protesters have caused shortages of food, fuel and other basic commodities in several regions of the Andean nation.
And early Tuesday, police gathered in large numbers to keep protesters out of the capital’s airport.
The unrest is being propelled mainly by poor southern, Indigenous Peruvians who perceived Castillo, who is also from that region and has Indigenous roots, as an ally in their fight against poverty, racism and inequality.
Demonstrators amassed in towns of Peru’s poor, rural south Tuesday — the epicenter of the protests — chanting “Dina, resign.”
Nelson Calderon, a 30-year-old student from the southern city of Puno, told AFP that early elections alone would not fulfill protesters’ demands.
“What do we solve with bringing forward elections if the people don’t want to have anything to do with Dina Boluarte?” he asked in Lima.
A survey by the Institute of Peruvian Studies found 73 percent of respondents want elections this year.
If lawmakers again refuse to hold earlier elections, Boluarte has said she will propose a constitutional reform allowing a first voting round to be held in October and a runoff in December.
The main disagreement holding up a vote is whether a referendum on calling a constituent assembly to write a new constitution should be included in any bill bringing forward elections, a measure favored by leftist lawmakers such as congressman Edgar Tello, who said Peru’s existing political model has failed.
Apart from those who have died in clashes, 10 civilians — including two babies — died when they were unable to get medical treatment or medicine due to roadblocks, according to the ombudsman’s office.
The protest movement has also affected Peru’s vital tourism industry, forcing the repeated closure of the world-renowned Machu Picchu Inca citadel ruins.
Peru’s Las Bambas copper mine — responsible for about two percent of global metal supply — said Monday it would have to halt production from Wednesday unless the roadblocks were lifted.
Soldiers were on Tuesday guarding a section of the Pan-American Highway that connects several major cities and which they cleared of roadblocks with the help of police the day before.