Dina Boluarte’s Freezing Ascension to Power

  • Peru is currently facing its worst political violence in more than two decades. 
  • Dina Boluarte’s appointment as President has resulted in widespread protests and demands for structural reforms. 
  • The crisis in Peru reflects a broader pattern of distrust in political institutions in Latin America.
Dina Boluarte, President of Peru
Presidencia Perú (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Why is Dina Boluarte’s heat level freezing?

Answer: Dina Boluarte has failed to attain support from the Peruvian Congress and population, provoking widespread unrest.

Dina Boluarte became president of Peru on 7 December, 2022, after former president Pedro Castillo, accused of corruption and treason, was removed from power by Congress due to having attempted a ‘coup d’etat’. The sudden removal of Castillo has thrown Peru in a political and civil crisis characterized by widespread protests

Since her appointment, Boluarte has faced significant criticism and opposition from the population. Many have argued that she lacks democratic legitimacy, as she was not elected into office. Her lack of political experience has also raised concerns since, before becoming vice-president in 2021, she had never been elected to a political office. Moreover, in January, Boluarte was expelled from Peru Libre, the party to which she and Castillo belonged, stating that she has betrayed the left by forming a cabinet largely consisting of centrists and conservatives. Polls show that the majority of Peruvians are unhappy with their democracy and believe Boluarte should resign. 

As president, Boluarte lacks support in both Congress and among the population, limiting her ability to pass legislation or introduce significant changes. The Peruvian constitution encourages instability and a weak executive as it creates ambiguity in who has the greater power – president or Congress. Congress is given an immense scope to limit executive power, including removal through impeachment. Regarded as corrupt institutions, the presidency and congress are widely discredited. Additionally, the situation has been compounded by the country’s deep polarization and division as shown through its fragmented party structure and regional and racial differences among the population. 

The general lack of support for Boluarte has led to widespread unrest in the country, with protests paralyzing large areas of Peru. Highways and mining operations continue to be blocked while the government shut down the tourism industry by closing iconic sites such as Machu Picchu. 

What is changing Boluarte’s temperature?

Answer: Political stalemates and persistent protests.

Peru is experiencing its worst political violence in more than two decades since Boluarte became president. Protests, led by supporters of Castillo, have persisted for more than two months. Although protests initially began in the South, where Castillo enjoys wide support, they have spread to the rest of the country. Protesters are demanding the resignation of Boluarte, structural reforms, and earlier elections. 

On January 15, Boluarte proclaimed a national state of emergency, thereby limiting guarantees to certain civil rights such as the right to free transit and assembly. In early February, the state of emergency was prolonged for 60 days. Additionally, Protests have turned increasingly dangerous as national police and army are reported to have used excessive use of force, resulting in the death of over 50 people.  

Peru’s Attorney General has opened an investigation on charges of “genocide, qualified homicide and serious injuries” into Boluarte and various of her ministers due to their response to the protests. Moreover, five ministers have resigned over disagreements regarding the government’s handling of the protests. Meanwhile, left-wing members of Congress are gathering signatures to remove Boluarte from office and three regional governments have demanded her immediate resignation. 

Boluarte put forward a proposal calling for new elections in October and a new president taking office on December 31. However, Congress shelved the proposal on a technicality before it even reached debate. This means that the proposal cannot be taken up again until the new legislative year, starting in July. Congress has repeatedly rejected proposals to move up congressional and presidential elections – one of the key demands of the protesters. The next elections are scheduled for 2026. 

Political stalemates and persistent protests in Peru are characterizing Boluarte’s temperature as her government is facing a significant challenge.

What is driving Dina Boluarte? 

Answer: Fomenting unity and stability between the divided north and south.

Boluarte, a lawyer and former civil servant, hails from the southern city of Arequipa, but has spent much of her career advocating for the interests of both the north and south. When she was sworn in as Vice President in 2021, she announced that she was taking office to serve “the nobodies”. Coming from Apurimac, Boluarte presents a strong connection to her region. She is using this connection as well as her ability to speak Quechua, mostly spoken in majority indigenous regions, as a bridge to the protesters, emphasizing the similarities between her and them. She regards unity between the north and south as a key factor in achieving stability and security for the country. 

Boluarte has urged unity since her ascension to power, emphasizing the importance of politics that “allows divergence and criticism”. She rejected Castillo’s attempt to rule by decree, calling it an authoritarian power grab. The widespread criticism has, however, been her lack of effective governance with many demanding her resignation. Yet, she has reiterated various times that she is not stepping down as she is set on defending the democratic system. 

In an effort to present herself as a symbol of order, she undermines the demonstrations by claiming that the most violent demonstrators are organized by narco-trafficking groups, the illegal mining industry and political activists in Bolivia. Her allegations have been rejected by protesters. On monday, Boluarte emphasized that she fully backs Peru’s police and armed forces in the fight against drug-trafficking and pledged a crackdown on “narcoterrorism”. Boluarte recently presented Bill No.4271 in Congress which proposes increasing penalties for crimes committed during the State of Emergency. 

What does this mean for you?

Answer: The crisis in Peru reflects an erosion of trust in democracies across Latin America.

At the heart of the crisis in Peru is a deep distrust of political institutions and processes. The country has faced a series of corruption scandals that have eroded public confidence in elected officials and institutions. This has led to a sense of disillusionment and frustration among many Peruvians, who feel that the government is failing to address their needs.

The protests have gained vocal support from the Latin America left, with several leaders defending Castillo. Mexican President Adrés Lopez Obrador called Castillo’s removal a “soft coup” and has refused to recognize Boluarte. Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard said that his government was reviewing a petition by Castillo for asylum. A move met with discontent in Peru, expelling Mexico’s ambassador in protest. Additionally, at the Summit of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Argentina,  Honduran President Xiomara Castro called Boluarte’s ascension to power a “coup d’état”. Peru responded by withdrawing its ambassador to Honduras, Jorge Raffo, due to Honduras’ “unacceptable interference” in its internal affairs. 

Meanwhile, the West, including the US, UK, and EU, has recognized Boluarte as Peru’s legitimate leader and emphasized the need to support democracy and promote a peaceful dialogue. US ambassador to Peru, Lisa Kenna, commended the institutional response to Castillo’s attempt to dissolve Congress, calling it a “win for democracy in Peru”. The UN and EU have expressed their willingness to collaborate in a negotiation effort between the government and protesters, similar to their involvement in Bolivia, where they helped to set the path for new elections after violent protests in 2019. 
The crisis in Peru reflects a broader trend of disaffection with the government in Latin America. Only 40% of Latin Americans trust their political institutions. Growing inequality and corruption have equally fueled distrust. In recent years, there has been a rise in populist leaders in Latin America who have capitalized on public dissatisfaction, appealing to one’s nationalistic sentiment while undermining democratic norms and institutions. Countries such as Colombia, Chile, and Brazil have all seen large anti-government protests in recent years.