Peru: the “forgotten” share mattresses and coca leaves before demonstrating in Lima

Mattresses on the cement floor, crowded common room and corridors, queue for breakfast… Coming from the Andes to demonstrate against Peruvian President Dina Boluarte, dozens of peasants, the vast majority of Amerindian origin, wake up Wednesday at the premises of a left-wing party which hosts them.

“We come from Chumbivilcas (one of the provinces of Cuzco) to defend our rights. To make our voices heard. We have been completely forgotten,” says Edwin Condori, a 43-year-old farmer, traditional hat on his head and a red and black scarf.

He looks tired. Like him, hundreds, even thousands of protesters left their town or village to join Lima and participate in the big rally in the capital on Thursday. Objective: “take Lima”.

The protests, which erupted after the December 7 dismissal and arrest of left-wing President Pedro Castillo, accused of attempting to carry out a coup by trying to dissolve the Parliament which was preparing to oust him from power, have already caused at least 42 deaths.

A soup prepared for the demonstrators in Lima, January 18, 2023 (AFP – Ernesto BENAVIDES)

Braving the state of emergency extended on Saturday in strategic places like Lima, the protesters believe that they will be better heard in the capital after weeks of mobilization in their regions, especially in the South, the epicenter of the protest.

They demand the resignation of the President, the dissolution of Parliament and new elections with a Constituent Assembly.

It was however impossible, despite the announcements of each other, to know the extent of this mobilization and to know how many people have arrived or are on their way to Lima.

– “Not traffickers” –

Hats of Peruvian peasants on the back of a bus heading for Lima to take part in the large protest rally, in Nazca, 450 kilometers south of Lima, on January 17, 2023 (AFP - Bernat BIDEGAIN)
Hats of Peruvian peasants on the back of a bus heading for Lima to take part in the large protest rally, in Nazca, 450 kilometers south of Lima, on January 17, 2023 (AFP – Bernat BIDEGAIN)

Edwin Condori’s journey took 24 hours from Cuzco (south). Farmers from Ayacucho, Cajamarca, Puno, Andahuaylas or others travel in trucks, buses or shared cars. Some come to Lima for the first time in their life.

The corridors of the buses are crowded with food provided for several days. The demonstrators only took a simple backpack with some clothes. We chew coca leaves to evade hunger and fatigue.

“We want Dina Boluarte to resign. We don’t feel represented by her,” said Jesus Gomez, dressed as Edwin Condori. “We came to occupy Lima, to paralyze Lima in order to be heard”, says this peasant who cultivates potatoes, corn and wheat.

On Wednesday morning, a group of four women are preparing “aguadito” in large pots, a soup made from chicken offal, vegetables and rice seasoned with coriander.

A demonstrator stacks mattresses after the night protesters from all over the country were housed in Lima, January 18, 2023 (AFP - Ernesto BENAVIDES)
A demonstrator stacks mattresses after the night protesters from all over the country were housed in Lima, January 18, 2023 (AFP – Ernesto BENAVIDES)

Disciplined, the villagers line up to receive the soup served in small bowls. Once finished, each of them washes their plate and spoon in a small sink.

“We are totally forgotten,” also says Nélida Aguirre, 30, a coca grower. “We don’t have good schools or health services. Power forgets us.”

She gets angry when we talk about the accusations of the authorities who assure that the mobilization is financed by drug traffickers: “We are not financed by traffickers, we are not terrorists. We are peasants!”

“We came to make people feel that we peasants have guts. Tomorrow, if we take Lima, it’s so that they (the politicians) put themselves in our shoes and understand our suffering,” she said. .

An altar with offerings in front of photos of three demonstrators who died during protest rallies against President Dina Bolurate on January 18, 2023 in Lima (AFP - Ernesto BENAVIDES)
An altar with offerings in front of photos of three demonstrators who died during protest rallies against President Dina Bolurate on January 18, 2023 in Lima (AFP – Ernesto BENAVIDES)

Before breakfast, the villagers performed a ritual in honor of Pachamama, the Earth Mother. Gathered, they pose earth, grains of corn, water, fruits and flowers in front of photographs of some of the victims of the demonstrations and pronounce a few words in homage to the dead.

“Tomorrow is a day of struggle for us”, assures “one of the organizers of the mobilization, Aurora Coronado, from the region of Junin. “This protest will last until the resignation of the usurper”.

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