Peru’s beleaguered President Pedro Castillo has banned residents of the capital Lima from leaving their homes in an effort to quell nationwide protests over rising fuel and fertilizer prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a televised address just before midnight on Monday, Castillo announced a curfew from 2 p.m. to 11.59 p.m. on Tuesday, claiming the measure would “protect the fundamental rights of all people”.
Castillo said the curfew was a response to the “violent acts some groups have created by blocking free transit” on the streets in and outside the capital, where nearly a third of Peru’s 33 million citizens live.
But the move was widely criticized as excessive and instantaneous and indicated Castillo’s increasingly weak grip on power. In just eight months in office, he survived two impeachment attempts and traipsed through four cabinets and an unprecedented number of ministers.
A school teacher from a farmer-farmer family won the election last year with the support of the rural poor. Now many of his former supporters, including farmers and transport workers, are protesting in their second week, while the government attempts to lower prices.
Peru is not the only South American country where the Ukraine war is having political and social impact.
Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, and his allies are trying to use the conflict to accelerate the passage of a highly controversial law that would allow commercial mining on indigenous lands.
“This crisis between Ukraine and Russia … has presented a good opportunity for us,” Bolsonaro said last month, arguing that potash reserves need to be exploited on protected indigenous lands, Russia’s Brazilian agriculture. The need for exploitation comes after the decision to suspend exports of fertilizers essential to the sector.
Experts reject such an argument, saying that only a small part of Brazil’s potash reserves are found under indigenous areas.
“It’s an excuse – an excuse,” said Marcio Estrini, executive secretary of the Brazilian Climate Observatory, a network of environmental groups that oppose the law.
Estrini said, “What Bolsonaro is doing is taking advantage of a situation to create a false argument and to expedite the voting of a bill motivated by other interests, including taking these lands away from indigenous communities and their privatization is involved.” ,
Thousands of indigenous activists are gathering in the Brazilian capital this week for a 10-day protest camp, partly designed to persuade members of Congress to block the mining law. “We will not back down,” one of their leaders, Sonia Guajara, said on Monday as representatives of 200 of Brazil’s 305 indigenous peoples began arriving in Brasilia.
Castillo’s curfew in Peru has drawn unfavorable comparisons as it falls on the 30th anniversary of the infamous “self-coup”, or “auto-golpe”, when in 1992, now-prisoned former President Alberto Fujimori dissolved Congress, assumed extraordinary powers and sent tanks and soldiers into the streets.
Peru’s Human Rights Ombudsman called on the government to lift the unconstitutional and “absolutely inconsistent” curfew.
At least four people have been killed in the protests that have spread from the rural Andes to the capital. On Monday, protesters torched toll booths and clashed with police near Ica, about 300km south of Lima.
Unrest broke out last week when farmers and lorry drivers blocked roads in Lima, triggering a spike in food prices. Inflation in Peru rose to a 26-year high on Friday and consumer prices rose 1.48% last month. Over the weekend, the government responded by trying to lower fuel prices by waiving taxes.
Peru – which imports 1.2m tonnes of fertilizers a year – issued an emergency declaration for its agriculture sector due to rising fertilizer prices due to Western sanctions on Russia, a major exporter of soil nutrients.