When Dina Boluarte was anointed Peru’s sixth president in five years, she faced battles on two fronts: appeasing the lawmakers who had ousted her boss and predecessor Pedro Castillo, and calming protesters enraged by the dethroning of yet another president.
She called for a “political truce” with Congress on her first day of her job — a peace offering to the legislative body that had been at odds with Castillo and impeached him in December after he undemocratically attempted to dissolve Congress.
But nearly two months on, her presidency is looking even more beleaguered than Castillo’s aborted term. Several ministers in her government have resigned while the country has been rocked by its most violent protests in decades. She was forced to once again call for a truce on Tuesday – this time appealing to the protesters, many of whom hail from Peru’s majority-indigenous rural areas, saying in Quechua that she is one of them.
Boluarte, who was born in a largely indigenous region in south-central Peru where Quechua is the most spoken language, might have been the leader to channel protesters’ frustrations and work with them. She has made much of her rural origins, and rose to power initially as Castillo’s vice president on the leftwing Peru Libre party ticket, buoyed by the rural and indigenous vote.
But her plea for mutual understanding with protesters now is likely too late in what analysts are calling the deadliest popular uprising in South America in recent years. Officials say 56 civilians and one police officer has died in the violence, and hundreds more have been injured, as protesters call for fresh elections, a new constitution and Boluarte’s resignation.
Boluarte has tried to placate protesters, asking Congress for an earlier election date. But Peru’s Congress on Saturday rejected a motion to bring forward elections to December 2023. The proposal obtained 45 votes in favor, 62 votes against, and 2 abstentions.
The head of Parliament, José Williams Zapata, announced that after the initial vote, a “reconsideration” of the result was presented. Congress will reconvene Monday at 10 a.m. local time, he said.
“We regret that the Congress of the Republic has not been able to agree to define the date of the general elections where Peruvians can freely and democratically elect the new authorities,” Peru’s Presidential Twitter account wrote in a tweet.
“We urge the benches to put down their partisan and group interests and place the interests of Peru above. Our citizens promptly await a clear response that will pave the way out of the political crisis and build social peace,” it added.
Peru watchers say Boluarte already made the fatal error of distancing herself from rural constituents after she took the top job as Peru’s first woman president.
“One has to understand Boluarte’s own ambitions, she was clearly willing to sacrifice her leftist ideas and principles in order to build a coalition with the right to hold onto power,” Jo-Marie Burt, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America and an expert on Peru, told CNN. “And to use force against the very same people who voted for the Castillo-Boluarte ticket.”
Castillo’s brief term saw him face a hostile Congress in the hands of the opposition, limiting his political capital and capacity to operate. ” (Boluarte) had to make a choice: either she went the Castillo way and spent the next four years fighting a Congress that wants to impeach her or she sided with the right and got power,” Alonso Gurmendi, a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Oxford, who is a Peruvian legal expert, told CNN.
She chose the latter, experts say, distancing herself from Castillo and instead relying on support of a broad coalition of right-wing politicians to stay in presidency. CNN has reached out to Boluarte’s office for comment and has made repeated requests for an interview.
During her inauguration, former political rival Keiko Fujimori – whose father Alberto Fujimori is a former president who used security forces to repress opponents during his decade-long rule of Peru – said Boluarte could “count on the support and backing” of her party.
The politically inexperienced
Boluarte’s woes are a far cry from her early days in Peruvian’s civil service, working at the National Registry of Identification and Civil Status in Surco, as an advisor to senior management and, later, as the head of the local office.
She ran as a candidate for mayor of Surquillo with the Marxist-Leninist Peru Libre Party in 2018. She failed to gain a seat in the 2020 parliamentary elections, but had better luck the following year, as Castillo’s running-mate.