Angry mobs stormed various government buildings in Lima, Peru, on Tuesday night, attempting to burn down the Superior Court of Justice of Lima and fighting police with bricks and sticks.
The violent protests followed a turbulent 24 hours in which communist President Pedro Castillo abruptly announced a “curfew” stripping citizens of their constitutional rights, then repealed the curfew when thousands disobeyed it. The curfew, Castillo claimed, was an attempt to subdue nationwide protests against skyrocketing gasoline and food prices, an increasingly common phenomenon in the world’s most vulnerable economies. Outraged political observers told local media that the curfew was baffling given that the government did not implement such measures even at the height of the terror spree by largely defunct Marxist gang Shining Path, and suggested Castillo had lost control of the country.
Castillo announced the curfew in a nationally televised address on Monday, minutes before midnight on Tuesday. He lifted the curfew at 5 p.m. Lima time on Tuesday after Public Defender of Peru Walter Gutiérrez filed a habeas corpus petition regarding the move, arguing it was unconstitutional. The mayor of Lima, Jorge Muñoz, similarly challenged the curfew through a habeas corpus petition.
“Peru today is capsizing socially, politically, and economically, and there seems to be no way out,” Muñoz said. “A solution should immediately be sought to end this situation. You [Castillo] said you would hold early elections if you did not meet expectatations – what are you waiting for?”
Ending the curfew did not stop mobs of “vandals,” as local outlets decribed them, attacking the headquarters of the Public Ministry, the National Jury of Elections, and the Superior Court of Justice of Lima, the top regional judiciary. The latter suffered some of the most significant damage. Radio Programas del Perú described protesters ripping cobblestones out of the street and throwing them at the facade of the Superior Court building and “using its door as a urinal.” Some in the mob, it continued, found a path around police to the back of the building, where they “united to use sticks, lances, and rocks to break open the locks.”
🔵Corte Superior de Lima: Los vándalos no solo rompieron las puertas de vidrio. Se robaron todo lo que encontraron a su paso. Escritorio, computadoras, sillas y hasta expedientes.
📹; @HILDAQUISPEH #ElInformativoxNacional pic.twitter.com/Y8pq1txGlY
— Nacional (@RadioNacionalFM) April 6, 2022
#Peru Tras el aumento en combustibles y alimentos se desató una ola de protestas en todo el país. Esta noche el Lima saquearon la sede de la Corte Superior. Piden la renuncia del presidente. @radiogonnet #LaPlata Facebook . #Argentina . Informe de la TV peruana pic.twitter.com/xLSNdNqiA2
— Diario de Gonnet (@GonnetDigital) April 6, 2022
The mob broke into the building and reportedly started looting it. Some reportedly attempted to start fires in the basement.
The Peruvian investigative journalism outlet Convoca described the mob looking for expensive technology, office furniture, and appliances like microwaves.
“A mob entered the building and stole computer equipment, refrigerators, microwaves, chairs, fire extinguishers, and other objects,” Convoca narrated. “The delinquents started a fire inside the building that was controlled by security personnel.”
The head of the judicial branch of Peru, Elvia Barrios, confirmed on Wednesday that the Superior Court of Justice of Lima was one of two judiciary facilities attacked on Tuesday night and that the mob attempted to burn down the former building.
“I’m told it was a mob of about 100 people who directly went to that place [the Lima court],” Barrios told reporters.
In addition to the court and other government buildings, at least one church, the Conception Church in Lima, suffered significant vandalism on Tuesday, and multiple shops were fully looted. The National Police of Peru reported 18 arrests on Wednesday, a small number given reports of hundreds engaging in mob attacks and thousands simply disregarding the curfew prior to its lifting. Even prior to the nighttime mob attacks, local outlets reported that thousands of people had simply chosen to ignore the curfew and attempt to go about their days normally, with minimal police pushback.
— Nacional (@RadioNacionalFM) April 6, 2022
“Thousands of people disregarded the order, announced close to midnight on Monday, to protest the government,” the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio reported. Many, the newspaper relayed, complained that the curfew had stopped public transportation, rendering it impossible for them to go to work.
“Collective taxi drivers did benefit from what happened, taking advantage of the desperation to raise prices and transporting people even in the trunks of their cars,” El Comercio narrated.
The outbreak of civil unrest ended a short period of political victory for Castillo that began in mid-March, when an attempt to impeach him in Congress failed. It was the second such attempt since he took office in July.
Peru’s constitution allows Congress to impeach a president on extremely thin grounds, granting a provision for perceived “moral” infractions. As a result, Congress has made a tradition of attempting to impeach presidents when the opposition gains a majority. Castillo is the fifth president Peru has had in six years; Peru had three presidents in 2020.
Following his victory over impeachment, Castillo is once again facing calls to resign, as Lima Mayor Muñoz exemplified. Various political observers told La República, another Peruvian newspaper, that his response to widespread protests against high food and fuel prices indicated that he had no real understanding of how the state operates and should step aside.
“The president has already violated the Constitution [through the curfew], as the last link in a string of mistakes. His remaining [in power] will only guarantee instability, mismanagement and maintenance of the pipelines of corruption,” political science professor Fernando Tuesta Soldevilla told the newspaper. “His resignation is necessary, accompanied by a national agreement to exit the crisis within the framework of the Constitution and the law.”
Another Peruvian pundit, Rosa María Palacios, accused Castillo of having “an absolute disconnect with reality” for calling the curfew.
“Not even during the armed seizures by Shining Path did they manage such a restriction of fundamental rights,” she noted.