REFILE-Peru’s forgotten people rage against the ruling political class after Castillo arrest

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(Corrects spelling mistake in Leopoldo Huamani’s surname in first, second, sixth, and ninth paragraphs

Marco Aquino and Alexander Villegas

LIMA, December 18 (Reuters) – Leopoldo Huamani 60, a farmer hailing from Chalhuanca, southern Peru, traveled three days to reach Lima, where he marched in support of Pedro Castillo who was arrested and ousted. The fall of Castillo has sparked violent protests across the country.

Huamani is one Peru’s “forgotten” rural people. Castillo tried to represent them, often failing to achieve their goals. His arrest has ignited anger, and threatens to undermine a fragile government and a hated Congress.

The South American nation has been experiencing voter anger for years. This is despite years of turbulent politics that saw six presidents in five year. Most of the ex-leaders have been arrested or investigated in corruption cases.

Over the last two weeks, the situation escalated. After Castillo’s Dec. 7 ouster hours after he illegally attempted to shutter Congress in order to avoid an impending impeachment vote that he was afraid of losing, protesters have taken over airports, blocked roads and set fire to buildings. At least 18 people died.

Many protesters, Castillo supporters or simply angry, said that they felt ignored and neglected by their political leaders. Castillo was a former teacher, and a son of peasant farmers.

Huamani stated, “Nobody represents” me now and blames Congress and Dina Boluarte, Castillo’s former vice president, on the protest deaths. He is not the only one who holds banners calling her a murderer and demanding that she resign.

Rights groups have accused the police and armed forces of using deadly firearms, and dropping smoke bombs from their helicopters. According to the military, protesters mainly from Peru’s Andean South used homemade explosives and weapons.

Boluarte is Peru’s first female President and can speak the Quechua Andean language. Despite the pressures, she has stated that she will not resign.

Huamani said, “She only represents those who are dead.” “We elected a humble rural teacher, like us, in the hope of a revolution that would bring down the poor.”

“NEST OF RATS”

Castillo unexpectedly rose to the presidency last spring on the support of rural voters fed up by the status quo, and what they perceived as corrupt Lima-based politicians.

Castillo wrote from prison that he was selected by the forgotten men of deep Peru, the dispossessed who had been neglected for more than 200 years. Castillo is currently in pretrial detention for 18 months while he is being investigated for alleged rebellion and conspiracy crimes, which he denies.

He thanked his supporters and accused the police and military of “massacres”.

He wrote, “In this difficult context the coup mongers exploiting and starving, today they want silence my people.”

He was a political rookie and had gained support by promising to reform the constitution, redistribute copper riches, and empower marginalized groups of indigenous peoples. His star was waning shortly before his demise. His associates were subject to a series of corruption probes. He swept through five Cabinets and more than 80 ministers in just 17-months.

However, his arrest has brought some relief to the situation. He is currently being held in jail despite the support of hundreds from Peru’s Amazonian rainforest, mountain, and rural regions.

Merina Chavez, a supporter for the Peruvian People, said outside of prison that “The Peruvian People will rise and defend popular vote”, pointing her ire at lawmakers. “Congress refused to let him do what he was supposed to.”

Castillo was a socialist Peru Libre candidate who later shifted to the right. He faced a hostile legislature with a fragmented legislature where the most powerful bloc was held by the conservative party he narrowly defeated.

Three times he was impeached, the last time by a large majority. His attempt to disband Congress caused resignations from ministers and accusations that he had been a coup plotter by ex-allies.

However, most Peruvians still attribute the country’s political woes to Congress. According to Datum pollster, only 11% approves of the parliament. Castillo’s approval rating was only 11% before his departure.

Recent polls showed that 44% of Peruvians supported Castillo’s attempt to dissolve Congress, even though it was done outside the bounds of the Constitution.

Katherine Asto was seen outside Lima jail wearing a white hat and a slogan to express her support for Castillo: “Shut Down Congress, It’s A Nest of Rats.”

(Reporting from Marco Aquino, Alexander Villegas, Liamar Ramos. Writing by Adam Jourdan. Editing by Daniel Wallis. Frances Kerry.

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