Fuel protests spark curfew in Lima as Ukraine crisis hits South America | Peru

Embattled Peruvian President Pedro Castillo has banned residents of the capital Lima from leaving their homes in a bid to quell nationwide protests over soaring fuel and fertilizer prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In a televised address just before midnight Monday, Castillo announced a curfew from 2 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, saying the measure would “protect the basic rights of everyone.”

Castillo said the curfew was a response to “acts of violence that some groups have created by blocking free transit” on roads in and out of the capital, where about a third of Peru’s 33 million citizens live.

But the move was widely criticized as excessive and improvised and a sign of Castillo’s increasingly fragile grip on power. In just eight months in office, he survived two impeachment attempts and went through four cabinets and an unprecedented number of ministers.

The schoolteacher of a peasant family narrowly won elections last year with the support of the rural poor. Now many of his former supporters, including farmers and transport workers, are pushing the protests into their second week as the government scrambles to bring prices down.

Peru is not the only country in South America where the war in Ukraine is having a political and social impact.

Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and his allies have tried to use the conflict to fast-track the passage of highly controversial legislation that would allow commercial mining on indigenous lands.

“This crisis between Ukraine and Russia … gave us a good opportunity,” Bolsonaro said last month, arguing that potash reserves on protected indigenous lands needed to be exploited after Russia’s decision to suspend the export of fertilizers that Brazil’s agricultural sector desperately needed.

Experts reject such logic, noting that only a small proportion of Brazil’s potash reserves lie under indigenous territories.

“It’s a pretext – an excuse,” said Márcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Brazilian Climate Observatory, a network of environmental groups that oppose the legislation.

“What Bolsonaro is doing is taking advantage of a situation to create a fallacious argument and fast-track a bill driven by other interests, involving wanting to take those lands away from indigenous communities and privatize them.” , added Astrini. .

Thousands of indigenous activists are gathering in the Brazilian capital this week for a 10-day protest camp partly aimed at convincing members of Congress to block mining legislation. “We will not back down,” said one of their leaders, Sônia Guajajara, 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 “coup”, or “auto-golpewhen in 1992 the now imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori dissolved Congress, assumed extraordinary powers and sent tanks and soldiers to the streets.

Peruvian President Pedro Castillo addresses the nation as he imposes a curfew in the capital, Lima. Photo: Jhonel Rodriguez Robles/Presidency of Peru/Reuters

The Peruvian human rights ombudsman demanded that the government lift the unconstitutional law and “Absolutely disproportionate” curfew.

At least four people have been killed in the protests that have spread from the rural Andes to the capital. On Monday, protesters set fire to toll booths and fought police near Ica, about 300 km south of Lima.

The unrest erupted last week when farmers and truck drivers blocked roads to Lima, causing food prices to spike. Inflation in Peru has reached a 26 year old top Friday with consumer prices up 1.48% last month. Over the weekend, the government responded by trying to lower fuel prices by removing taxes.

Peru – who matters 1.2 million tons of fertilizer per year – issued an emergency statement for its agricultural sector due to rising fertilizer prices triggered by Western sanctions against Russia, a major exporter of soil nutrients.

Christi C. Elwood