From a secret safehouse, Peru’s indigenous rebellions progressed

From a secret safehouse, Peru’s indigenous rebellions progressed

LIMA, Peru (AP) — In an industrial corridor in Peru’s capital, a dirt staircase leads to a second-floor safe room. Dozens of Quechua and Aymara workers lie on mattresses spread out on the floor, resting for more. Anti-government protests Volunteers cook a breakfast of donated rice, pasta and vegetables.

Among the temporary refugees is Marcelo Fonseca. The 46-year-old friend was shot and killed as they were in December Clashes with security forces In the southern city of Juliaca. Within hours, Fonseca joined a caravan of protesters who descended on the capital, Lima, to demand their resignation. Interim President Dina Bouluert.

“Our Andean blood burns when we are angry,” Fonseca, whose native language is Quechua, said in halting Spanish. “It moves fast. That’s what got us here.”

Two months into Peru’s angry uprising, emotions have run high. While the unrest has barely disturbed late-night revelry in Lima’s beach enclaves, roadblocks still rage across the countryside, scaring off foreign tourists and causing shortages of gas and other staples.

The unrest was sparked by the December impeachment of President Pedro Castillo, which left at least 60 dead. To Peruvians like Fonseca, the leftist rural teacher was a symbol of their own exclusion, while Baluarte’s rise to power from the vice presidency, at odds with Castillo’s conservative enemies in Congress, was seen as an unforgivable class betrayal.

The impasse has shaken confidence in Peru’s indigenous movement. Unlike neighboring Bolivia, where indigenous groups were emboldened by the 2006 presidential election of Aymara coca-grower Evo Morales, or Ecuador, where ethnic groups have a long tradition of toppling unpopular governments, Peru’s indigenous groups have long struggled to gain political influence.

While Peruvians of all backgrounds take pride in the history of the Inca Empire, the country’s indigenous population is often treated with neglect and even hostility. Despite being spoken by millions of people and an official language since 1975, little has been done to promote Quechua. As of the 2017 census Peruvians were not asked if they identified with any of the more than 50 indigenous groups.

Tercilla Rivera, a prominent Quechua activist and former United Nations adviser on indigenous issues, abhors systemic racism that stretches back to the Spanish conquest.

“Even though two hundred years have passed since the founding of our republic, the reality is that those of us who come from pre-Hispanic civilizations have not had our rights, nor have those rights been taken into account,” Rivera said.

The current unrest has also given rise to racism. From the floor of Congress, a lawmaker insulted the rainbow-colored Wifala flag, which represents the indigenous people of the Andes, by using the term for a cheap Chinese restaurant as little more than a “Chifa tablecloth.” Another called for a big “kick” to the security forces to send the protesters to Bolivia.

Rivera says the crackdown has radicalized young protesters. In the meantime, the spread of smartphones and internet has been going on for the past few days Decades of economic stability Indigenous peoples have made Peruvians more aware of their rights, the country’s gaping inequality and the sacrifices of previously unsung indigenous heroes, whose achievements contrast with perennial victim narratives.

“All of us kids are taught that we’re losers, miserable souls who won without a fight,” Rivera said.

Current protest movements are concentrated in the southern Andes, where indigenous identities are strongest. The area is the source of most of Peru’s mineral wealth and has archaeological gems that attracted more than 4 million tourists a year before Covid.

Its farmers are also Peru’s most neglected.

These inequalities were on stark display this month at a roadblock near Cusco, where a group of campesinos sat for hours on a road lined with tires, tree stumps and boulders. Tensions flared as lines of stranded vehicles grew as motorists complained they had family emergencies.

“Don’t yell at me when I’m talking to you politely!” yelled a motorist who blamed protesters for voting for Castillo, who lived in an adobe house in one of Peru’s poorest districts before winning the presidency. “Don’t let shameless politicians, who are often from the same community, deceive you,” he said, repeating a false narrative held by elites that Castillo’s victory was the result of bribery, fraud and chicanery.

Eventually, the protesters bowed to pressure and briefly opened the road, after blaming “millionaires” and powerful interests for driving their communities into desperate action.

Back in Lima, the safehouse awaits another day of display as a hive of activity. Handwritten signs list the daily tasks to keep the cramped quarters safe and clean. Dozens more workers are expected from Cusco soon and need to be housed in one of dozens of homes, apartments and businesses across the capital that have opened their doors, such as secret rebel bases.

Discretion is a must. Like Fonseka, many protesters had already been detained after security forces fired tear gas and stormed a university campus during breakfast and arrested hundreds for trespassing. As a result, occupants are encouraged to leave the safe house one or two at a time, turn off the lights quickly, and immediately report the police intrusion to two human rights lawyers on permanent standby. Windows are covered with newspaper and dog food bags to deter snoops.

But more than fear, the mood is one of hope.

“Whatever happens, I dare say we have already won,” said Victor Quinones as he poured coca leaf powder on his cheek.

At 60, Quinones is one of the veterans of the group. He says the past few weeks in the capital have strengthened his resolve to move forward and no longer accept the status quo — or a futile standoff with the police back home — as the best way to change it.

“We have broken barriers. We have started our long march — and look at the support we have received along the way,” he reflected. “We won because, now, the world knows.”


Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman

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