The protests in Peru show the broad impact of Putin’s war

Rising fuel costs initially sparked protests, which started last week but quickly intensified into large-scale anti-government demonstrations with marches and roadblocks.

On Wednesday, according to Peruvian authorities, at least six people had been reported dead during days of protests as officials called for calm and fought to curb the situation. At least nine major roads in the country remained blocked by protesters.

Late Monday, President Pedro Castillo declared a state of emergency and put the country’s capital under curfew, but withdrew and withdrew the curfew on Tuesday afternoon as hundreds of protesters ignoring the measure took to the streets of Lima to demand his departure.

“Peru is not going through a good moment,” Castillo said Tuesday after leaving a meeting with lawmakers, “but we have to resolve it with state powers.”

Just away, police in riot gear used tear gas to disperse protesters, and protesters threw stones and at least 11 people were injured in the clashes.

Why Peru?

Peru is not new to political unrest. Over the past five years, the country has had five presidents, including one who was sued and removed from office during street protests. And Castillo himself has already faced – and survived – two votes in a federal court case since taking office in July.
Last year, Castillo won the presidency by the thinnest margin and faced a congress in the hands of the opposition, limiting his political capital and capacity to operate.

But although Peru has been a breeding ground for protests in recent years, this crisis was triggered as a direct consequence of the war in Ukraine.

Police officers in Lima are facing a burning street vendor structure during a demonstration against Peruvian President Pedro Castillo.  The protests began over rising fuel and fertilizer prices triggered by the Ukraine conflict, but have expanded in scope.

The long consequences of Putin’s war

The Russian invasion of Ukraine – and the consequent decision of global leaders to isolate Russia from the world oil markets – sent oil prices soaring.

And for Peru, the impact has been particularly severe.

Compared to other countries in the region, such as Argentina or Venezuela, Peru imports most of its oil. It left it more exposed to the recent rise and hit the economy, just as it was recovering from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and shutdowns.

As a result, Peru’s inflation in March was the highest in 26 years, according to the country’s statistics institute. The most exposed segment was food and fuel, with prices rising 9.54% since last year, the Peruvian central bank reported.

When prices rose so fast, it was not long before the protests began to spread across the country. And on March 28, a group of transport workers and truck drivers’ union called for a general strike to demand cheaper fuel.

Over the past few days, other organizations and groups have joined the protests, with some regions closing schools and resorting to online education as a result of roadblocks and streaks.

Before becoming president, Castillo was a union leader and teacher at a small school in rural Cajamarca that demanded better pay and working conditions.

Now his core constituency, the urban working class in the suburbs of Lima and farmers across the country, are particularly hard hit by the inflation spiral because they are paying higher prices for their food and for transportation.

This erodes his political support even more. According to the Institute of Peruvian Studies, an independent polling station in Lima, the president’s popularity is at its lowest level since taking office, with less than one in four Peruvians supporting his actions.
Protesters are protesting in Lima on Tuesday against the government of Peruvian President Pedro Castillo.

What happens next?

It is difficult to predict how the situation will develop. Even before he issued the curfew, Castillo had already made some concessions to protesters by cutting fuel taxes and raising the minimum wage to 1,025 soles – about $ 280 – on Sunday. But it also failed to calm the streets.

After his curfew backfired, the president appears to be running out of opportunities as Peru does not have the capacity to control the international oil price. While the conflict in Ukraine continues to rage, the current inflationary climate is expected to continue.

Any additional subsidy at lower fuel prices will increase Peru’s debt and hurt its battered economy even more.

However, Peru’s situation is far from unique, and Castillo is not alone.

Other leaders are facing the same difficult choices about how to deal with rising inflation as they try to put their finances in order following the chaos caused by Covid-19.

As the crisis deepens, Peru may seek to seek out other countries for answers.

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that only one Peruvian president has been sued and removed from office in the last five years.

CNN’s Claudia Rebaza, CNN Española’s Jimena de la Quintana in Lima, Florencia Trucco in Atlanta and Jorge Engels in London contributed reporting.

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