LIMA, Peru (AP) – As university student Yesinia Medina tried to focus on her virtual psychology class, a shocking headline appeared on her screen: Peru’s Congress voted to oust the country’s popular president.
The enraged 23-year-old, along with thousands of students, workers and others this week, decided to end congressional elections and refuse to recognize the new president, Manuel Merino.
“I think people have removed him from personal interests rather than him,” he said. “Legislators must look after the interests of all.”
Peru’s Congress on Monday voted overwhelmingly to remove former President Martin Viscar, who complained about his handling of the epidemic and was accused of corruption. The shock referendum drew condemnation from international law groups, who warned that the powerful legislature could violate the constitution and undermine Peru’s democracy.
The move has provoked protests, unlike what has been seen in recent years, provoked by young people who are generally indifferent to the country’s turbulent politics, who have seen their expulsion by lawmakers seized, many of whom have been prosecuted for corruption under the Viscarra government.
Police mobilized with tear gas and rubber bullets have been criticized for using excessive force. The Public Safety Office said 19 people, including officers and civilians, were injured in a major protest Thursday. Rights groups have also warned against the use of unidentified and tear-jerker officers near homes and hospitals.
Eighteen protesters were detained on Thursday during the march.
“Adults have the right to protest,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, the United States director of Human Rights Watch. “Police and other authorities must protect peaceful demonstrations and avoid using excessive force in all situations.”
Analysts say the demonstrations – and the police response – are a clear indication that Merino will have difficulty managing. Some countries in the region have congratulated the new leader, and many are calling for him to continue with the planned April election.
Merino said the presidential referendum would go ahead as planned and would protect the expulsion of Viscarra, calling it an “act of absolute responsibility” and calling the former president “a thief.”
The protests come a year after protesters took to the streets in Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and elsewhere to protest against their governments and demand better conditions for the poor and working class. Like those demonstrations, large demonstrations are loosely organized, driven by announcements on social media and largely fueled by youth demands.
Political analyst Carlos Fernandez said, “Young people are identified with the anti-corruption movement. “They add pressure to the street.”
Prosecutors are investigating allegations that Wiscarra bribed $ 630,000 in exchange for several construction projects.
Wiscarra, who has fought the country’s widespread corruption, has strongly denied the allegations. But members of Congress – half of whom have prosecuted themselves – are provoking a 19th-century rule that allows a president to be removed for “moral incompetence.”
The former president has not been charged.
While opinion polls suggest that most Peruvians want Wiskerra to face trial on charges until the end of his term in July, some sections of the community support his poverty.
A panel of about 50 lawyers, conservative politicians and retired military officials welcomed the new president and issued an open letter denying a plot had been hatched. The move sent a message to the international community that “it has strengthened our democracy.”
The political turmoil is caused by the high COVID-19 mortality rate per capita in Peru worldwide and one of the region’s severe economic contractions. The International Monetary Fund estimates that Peru’s GDP could fall by 14% this year.
“Merino, listen, people reject you!” People chanted this week.
Lisbeth O’Brien, 22, said she was devastated to see Viscarra evacuated with her family.
“My dad said it was always like that,” he said. “The nation has been captured by rats.”
Now he is one of the protesters, worried that the balance of power in the country has been broken.
There have been protests in cities across the country. In the capital, the historic San Martin Plaza has become a central hub. In the large open space there is a statue of the liberator of Peru riding a horse.
“Merino, you’re confused with the wrong generation,” several signs were read at this week’s meeting.
Despite the police response, many have vowed to continue protesting.
20-year-old Abigail Kalouk ran away Thursday, coughing as she tried to escape a cloud of tear gas, with a sign saying “conspiracy.”
“I’m so tired of this situation,” he said. “They do whatever they want. We’m always quiet. Not anymore.”