Peruvians love their dances. They are known for marinera, their captivating courtship dance. However, for the past couple of months, the fun-loving Peruvians have been witness to ruthless democracy-destroying dances of death. Peru’s cities are echoing with ‘Go Dina, Go’ cries. Peruvians want Dina Boluarte, 60, their president, resign and go right away. They say Ms Boluarte is a murderess and has no right to stay on.

A murderess for sure. Since Ms Boluarte assumed office as Peru’s first female president on 7 December 2022, at least 60 Peruvians have lost their lives in anti-Boluarte protests. More than 600 have been wounded. Ms Boluarte has become the Peruvian object of hatred so soon. Her name has turned into a synonym for murder so fast. In less than a couple of months, she has managed to forfeit her legitimacy and right to rule.

Polarised and Racially Ruptured

Such forfeitures and nightmares are not new to Latin America. Chile’s streets convulsed with anti-government ‘social outbursts’ between October 2019 and March 2020. Columbia’s public squares were paralysed by mass unrest between April and December 2021. Ecuador experienced similar turmoil in June 2022. Peru, with a history of violence, inequalities and a sensitive racial mix, was a powder keg waiting to explode, and it has.

This explosion is now threatening the survival of democracy in Peru. In a region, which has had an on-off romance with democracy, the dangers arising from the explosion are real. Peru is perniciously polarised and racially ruptured today. Peruvians are positioned on the edge of a civil war, signs of which are becoming more evident by the day. The ongoing unrest is an inevitable consequence of a socio-economic imbalances.

Precursors to a Civil War

Propped by imbalances, the Peruvian unrest is snowballing. Arterial highways remain blocked. Awe-inspiring archaeological wonders, Machu Picchu including, remain shut. Disappointed international tourists are returning. Peru’s mainstay tourism is hurting. Railways and airports lie comatose. As Peruvians run out of patience, they will seek refuge in a civil war.

As precursors to a civil war, supermarkets are running out of food and other essentials. Gas stations are going dry. Hospitals are gasping for vital oxygen for the ailing. At the end of the day, Peru lies wounded by serious losses in its gross domestic product and damages to its economic infrastructure. One estimate puts these losses at over USD 550m. Lima, Peru’s picturesque capital city, is struggling to limp back to recovery.

Selling a Phoney Theory

Seeing Lima struggle, the Peruvian police are wringing their hands in despair. Who brought matters to this tragic pass? Pedro Castillo, 53, for sure. Mr Castillo, a left-winger, was elected in July 2021 with a wafer-thin majority. On 7 December 2022, he bungled his self-coup attempt to dissolve the Congress and take over the judiciary. The attempt was to avoid his impeachment. However, he was impeached, ousted and arrested.

The Congress went on to pick Mr Castillo’s vice-president Ms Boluarte as Peru’s president. Not the one to give up, Mr Castillo, the author of the coup, was bent on projecting himself as the victim of a coup. Mr Castillo could sell this theory to most Peruvians. He could convince them Ms Boluarte is the architect of the coup, is allied with the right wing, is Peru’s illegitimate ruler and needs to go. This is how protests began.

Leveraging Lofty Rhetoric

As the protests progressed, Mr Castillo could make native and rural Peruvians feel change is needed. His 16 months in power (July 2021-December 2022) were nothing to rave about, and was marred by corruption, chaos and scandals. Yet, he leveraged his lofty rhetoric with great results. Most Peruvians began believing he was ousted unfairly and wronged. Their belief is responsible for the anti-Boluarte protests gathering great traction of late.

Exit of Ms Boluarte apart, what else do the Peruvian protesters want? One, the dissolution of the Congress. Two, an immediate general election. Three, a new constitution. Four, release of Mr Castillo from detention. These four demands are the prime movers behind the protests by Peruvians, who are terribly unhappy today. Their unhappiness is threatening democracy in Peru and political stability in the Latin American region.

Instability and Informality Dominate

Thriving corruption is making this threat more severe in Peru. With institutions decaying, informal sectors expanding and unlawful activities rising, illegal workers are burgeoning. Holding out a scary prospect, flourishing illegal financial activities now account for USD 10 billion a year. This is 4.5 per cent of Peru’s GDP. This is widening inequalities and deepening poverty further in Peru. This too is behind Peru’s political instability.

Peru’s economic debacle is sure to maim Peru’s politics. The multi-party system is splintering. A mere 130 members of the Congress are scattered over a dozen parties. Political parties are run as businesses. In Peru’s shaky political setup, the state is toothless. Instability rules Peruvian politics. Informality dominates its economy. These are sure signs of a protest convulsing into a major civil war.

Rank Opportunists Take Over

Civil war for sure. Peruvians are already against the senseless backing decentralisation gets. Mining and construction companies puppeteer regional governors to bag lucrative contracts. This will make Peru’s socio-economic and political structures crumble. When they crumble, native Peruvians will get hurt the most. Horrifying, Peru’s poverty rate will cross the 33-per cent mark recorded in 2020. This bodes ill for Peru’s current rulers.

Yet, the left opportunists of Latin America are trying to make hay out of Peru’s misery. Mr Castillo is pouring oil on the fire. Cuba is stoking the flames. Former Bolivian president Evo Morales is known to engineer the unrest from behind. Former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is trying to gain control of Peru’s judiciary. When rank opportunists take over Peru, it is heyday for criminals and arsonists.

Not Adept at Communication

The end result is before us now: Peru is burning. Protests are paralysing the nation. Demanding a new constitution and immediate polls, protesters are pushing Peru over the political cliff. The protest logic is simple. Instigating left politicians want to suspend constitutional checks and balances. Such a suspension will help them usher in price controls and nationalisation of major businesses.

Clear, the left needs to take the blame for the protests. Yet, this does not absolve Ms Boluarte of her failures. As a greenhorn, she is not adept at effective communication. She has failed to engage native Peruvians and address their concerns. She has done little to prove her distaste for State profligacy. Topping these, she continues to cling on to power. She is dithering over calling an early election and bringing in constitutional checks.

Peru is Not Alone in this Decay

As Ms Boluarte dithers and hesitates, Peru is descending deeper into a dark abyss. Ms Boluarte is unsure over linking an early election to a constituent assembly. Why, she appears to dread an election. However, Peruvians are not going to give up on their demands. As long as Ms Boluarte continues to drag her feet, she will remain singularly responsible for the fast-spreading decay in Peru’s democracy.

Peru is not alone in this Latin American decay. Peru is perhaps symptomatic of the unrest in the region. Brazil is being battered by the far-right, which is trying to fracture its democracy. Haiti is being held hostage to a massive social meltdown. Bolivia is being bruised by protests over the arrest of a right-wing leader. Peru is raring to prove now it can do better and has snuffed out 60 lives so far.

In Conclusion

Perturbed, Ms Boluarte has got the 2026 elections advanced to April 2024. She is promising a constitutional reform, if polls do not happen. Yet, Peruvians are not in a mood to halt their protests. They want nothing short of her exit, dissolution of the Congress, fresh elections and a new constitution, the whole package right away. As Ms Boluarte continues to dither, democracy is gasping for breath in Peru. Ms Boluarte is Peru’s seventh president in six years. Will she be Peru’s last?