Democrats in the US House of Representatives issue a letter condemning the deadly suffocation of protesters in Peru.
A group of Democrats in the United States House of Representatives called on the Biden administration to suspend all security assistance to Peru because of a “pattern of repression” against anti-government protests that have resulted in more than 50 civilian deaths.
Their letter, a copy of which was shared with The Associated Press, asked the Biden administration on Monday to suspend its security assistance until the government confirms that the crackdown in Peru has ended and that Peruvian officials responsible for human rights abuses are held accountable.
Peru’s foreign minister is in Washington, DC this week seeking international support for President Dina Boluarte’s increasingly besieged government. Pressure is mounting on Boluarte, the former vice president of ex-President Pedro Castillo, to resign from the post she inherited last month when Castillo was impeached and arrested over his ill-fated attempt to shut down Peru’s Congress.
“The security forces reacted indiscriminately with almost no regard for the human rights of the protesters,” said the letter signed by 20 mostly progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives. “Instead of working to de-escalate tensions, Boluarte’s government has significantly increased tensions — including classifying protesters as ‘terrorists’ and restricting citizens’ rights to movement.”
The US gives Peru more than $40 million a year in security assistance, according to the Washington Office on Latin America, a non-profit research organization. The vast majority is aimed at helping Peru fight drug trafficking.
While protesters initially demanded Castillo’s release from prison, unrest spread across the country, galvanizing the support of many poor, indigenous Peruvians who had benefited little from Peru’s mining boom.
The protesters demand that both Boluarte and the Congress step down and that new elections be held this year. Lawmakers rejected it on Friday. But after another protester died and Boluarte urged them to reconsider, Congress narrowly agreed on Monday to debate a proposal to hold elections in October, with 66 votes in favor, 49 against and six abstentions.
Meanwhile, as the protests stretch into a second month, the besieged security forces have grown stronger.
Among the incidents cited in the letter, which was organized by Rep. Susan Wild of Pennsylvania, was a national police raid on dormitories at the University of San Marcos in Lima, which involved the mass arrest of nearly 200 people. This shocked many Peruvians because campuses had long been off-limits to security forces, except when crimes were committed.
The campus invasion drew sharp condemnation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which said it had gathered testimony from civil society groups alleging that law enforcement officers raided the bedrooms of student leaders, made racist comments to indigenous activists and forced women to strip naked and do squats.
United Nations and European Union officials have strongly condemned what they consider the disproportionate use of force. The Biden administration has been more measured, calling for impartial investigations into the abuses while expressing support for Boluarte’s efforts to restore peace and find a political solution.
Amid the unrest, outgoing U.S. Ambassador Lisa Kenna announced an additional $8 million in U.S. support for coca eradication efforts in the remote Upper Huallaga Valley, part of Peru’s Amazon basin. Kenna also met with the Minister of Defense and other cabinet members.
Such actions send an “ambiguous message,” said the letter signed by Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Pramila Jayapal of Washington State and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, a longtime voice for human rights in Latin America.
“The US government can and must do more,” they wrote. “We believe our proposed actions would send a strong signal of support for fundamental rights and help promote effective engagement for a political solution.”
A copy of the letter was also sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.