PUBLISHED: January 31, 2023 at 11:27 PM EST
Following a “pattern of repression” against anti-government protests that have resulted in the deaths of over 50 civilians, several US Democrats in the House of Representatives have prompted the Biden administration to suspend Peru security assistance.
In a letter sent to the Biden administration on Monday, the lawmakers demanded an end to security aid until it was verified that the crackdown in Peru had ended and those responsible for human rights abuses were being held to account, according to Al Jazeera.
Peru’s foreign minister is in the United States capital this week to lobby for international aid for President Dina Boluarte’s increasingly isolated administration.
Many people want Boluarte to step down from her position as president of Peru, which she assumed last month after Pedro Castillo was impeached and arrested for his failed attempt to dissolve Congress.
The letter, signed by 20 primarily progressive US Democrats, claims that “security forces have indiscriminately responded with almost no regard for protestors’ human rights.”
The letter also said that the Boluarte government has substantially increased tensions by labeling protesters as “terrorists” and restricting citizens’ right to movement rather than working to de-escalate tensions.
US Spends Millions Annually on Peru’s Security
The Washington Office on Latin America estimates that the annual U.S. Peru security assistance is over $40 million.
Most of this aid is destined to assist Peru in its fight against drug trafficking, per AP.
Initial protesters were calling for Castillo’s release from prison. Still, the unrest has since spread across the country, gaining support from many low-income indigenous Peruvians who have seen little benefit from the mining industry’s recent economic boom.
Protesters are calling for Boluarte and Congress to resign immediately and hold new elections this year.
Congress rejected the idea on Friday, but after the death of another protester and Boluarte’s pleas, they agreed to debate the idea of holding elections in October by a razor-thin margin on Monday.
Meanwhile, the security forces have ramped up their power as the protests enter their second month.
The national police raid on student dormitories at San Marcos University in Lima, which resulted in the mass arrest of nearly 200 people, is one incident cited in the letter organized by one of the US Democrats, Rep. Susan Wild of Pennsylvania.
Many Peruvians were taken aback by this news, as university campuses have traditionally been off-limits to the police except in cases of actual crime.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a scathing indictment of the campus invasion after hearing testimony from civil society groups alleging that law enforcement officers had broken into the bedrooms of student leaders, made racist remarks to indigenous activists, and forced women to strip naked and do squats.
What Started the Repression in Peru?
After illegally trying to shut down Congress to avoid impeachment, leftist President Pedro Castillo was ousted and arrested in December, setting off unrest in the South American country of about 34 million. Dina Boluarte, his vice president, is now the president.
The economy and access to essential services outside of Lima were hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Castillo, a former teacher and the son of peasant farmers, campaigned on a promise to advocate for Peru’s rural poor and Indigenous communities, who are often overlooked in the country’s political arena.
Many people were outraged by Castillo’s arrest, and that anger has translated into widespread demonstrations against voter suppression, NBC News noted.
As a result of the protests, Boluarte has cracked down on demonstrators, instituted curfews in some cities, and temporarily revoked some civil liberties.
Meanwhile, many progressive Latino members of Congress, like Representatives Jess “Chuy” Garca, Ral Grijalva, Nanette Diaz Barragán, Juan Vargas, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Adriano Espaillat, Nydia Velázquez, and Delia Ramirez, signed the letter sent by US Democrats to the Biden administration.