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  • Writer's pictureAshli Akins

Breaking News. Vacancy: President of Peru.

“Get out, rats.”

“Merino isn’t my President.”

“I’d rather die of COVID than an overdose of indifference.”

These are just a few of the protest signs that people were passionately waving Friday night in Cusco’s Plaza del Armas - the central plaza that has been silent and empty since March due to quarantine.

Last week, Peru’s President, Martin Vizcarra, was ousted by congress, with no due process nor constitutional order. No investigation has taken place, and 68 of the 108 congressmen who voted him out - including the man who took over his seat as (unelected) president, Manuel Merino - are currently under their own legal processes for corruption scandals.

Many of my friends say that Peru is no longer a democracy. Manuel Merino and the congress have a dangerous amount of power in their hands. Merino’s values are against virtually everything that I stand for. He is against the environment. He is against human rights. He is against education. He is homophobic. The list goes on.

Many claim that this new “government” is illegitimate.

Because of this, protests and riots have sprung up across the country - some peaceful, some violent. The police killed two protestors a few days ago, as they fired shotgun pellets and tear gas into a crowd of peaceful marchers. Another 114 have been injured and 41 disappeared from protests this past week. These atrocities led to the resignation of over half of Merino’s cabinet, and a loud demand that Merino resign immediately.

A demand from the people. And eventually, from the congress. And today, from the head of cabinet, Luis Valdez.

It worked. The protests, the marches, the voices, the angry screams, the calls for action. They all worked.

The voices were heard.

As of an hour ago, Merino has resigned as interim President of Peru, and we are now without a president. “In the midst of a pandemic, without president,” says my friend, Maga. “Peru is a crazy thing.”

All of this political turmoil at a time when Peru is facing socioeconomic and health catastrophe.

Peru is just now tepidly finding its footing after facing the world’s longest lockdown. And, with nearly 35,000 deaths due to COVID-19, it has the world’s highest per capita death rate.

It is facing one of the worst economic recessions it has ever faced, with no long-term plan of how to recover in a holistic sustainable way that will support its local culture, environment, and economy.

“With the ouster of Martin Vizcarra, Peru has extended a spate of governmental instability that few countries can match, with every president since 1985 but one either impeached, imprisoned or sought in criminal investigations,” wrote John Quigley for the Washington Post.

Even in the past two years, the political chaos has been hard to keep up with. Vizcarra’s presidency began in 2018 because the previous president PPK forcibly resigned after facing multiple scandals and an impeachment vote. Last year, former (relatively well-liked) president Alan Garcia shot himself as police were preparing to arrest him over corruption charges.

One of the most powerful signs I read on Friday night read: “The system can’t combat the corruption because the corruption is the system.”

It is (far past) time to change the system.


Photos by Ashli Akins at Cusco’s protest on Friday, November 13, 2020. From top to bottom:

  • "Merino is not my President."

  • March in Cusco's Plaza del Armas

  • "I would rather die of COVID than of an overdose of indifference."

  • Women lead the drumming and chanting.

  • Police supervising the protest in Cusco. Plaza del Armas.

  • Gallery, clockwise: Our protest sign in Quechua, "Merino is not my representative." / Protest, with sign on right, “The system can’t combat the corruption because the corruption is the system.” / Masked circus performer on stilts. / Two protest signs that read: "Usurping Congress" and "I am here because I want and I believe in a future Peru."

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