MIAMI (AP) — A group of House Democrats is urging the Biden administration to halt all U.S. security assistance to Peru over a “pattern crackdown” on antigovernment protests that has left more than 50 civilians dead.
The letter, sent Monday and a copy of which was shared with the Associated Press, urges the Biden administration to halt all security assistance until it can confirm that the crackdown has ended and Peruvian officials responsible for human rights violations were held accountable.
Peru’s foreign minister is in Washington this week seeking international support for President Dina Boluarte’s increasingly beleaguered government. Pressure has mounted on Boluarte, the vice president under President Pedro Castillo, to step down from the office he inherited last month when Castillo was impeached and arrested over his ill-fated attempt to shut down Peru’s Congress.
“Security forces responded indiscriminately with almost no regard for the protesters’ human rights,” according to the letter, signed by 20 mostly progressive House Democrats. “Rather than working to reduce tensions, the Boluarte government has substantially increased tensions, including classifying protesters as ‘terrorists’ and limiting citizens’ right of movement.”
The United States provides more than $40 million a year to Peru in security assistance, according to the Washington Office for Latin America. The vast majority are intended to help Peru curb drug trafficking.
While protesters initially called for Castillo’s release from prison, the unrest spread across the country, galvanizing support from many poor and indigenous Peruvians who benefited little from Peru’s mining-led economic boom.
Protesters are calling for both Boluarte and Congress to step down and for new elections to be held this year. Lawmakers declined that Friday, but after another protester died and Boluarte urged them to reconsider, Congress narrowly agreed on Monday to discuss a proposal to hold an election in October.
Meanwhile, as the protests extend into their second month, beleaguered security forces have grown more energetic.
Among the incidents cited in the letter organized by Rep. Susan Wild of Pennsylvania was the National Police raid on student dormitories at San Marcos University in Lima, which included the mass arrest of nearly 200 people. This has shocked many Peruvians because campuses have long been off-limits to security forces, except when crimes are committed.
The campus invasion drew harsh condemnation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which said it had gathered testimony from civil society groups who said law enforcement officers invaded the bedrooms of student leaders , launched racist comments against indigenous activists and forced women to strip naked and do squats.
Officials from the United Nations and the European Union have strongly condemned what they see as the disproportionate use of force. The Biden administration has been more measured, calling for impartial investigations into the abuses, while also expressing support for Boluarte’s efforts to restore calm and seek a political solution.
Amid the unrest, outgoing US Ambassador Lisa Kenna announced an additional $8 million in US support for coca eradication efforts in the remote Alta Huallaga Valley. You also met with the defense minister and other cabinet members.
Such actions send an “ambiguous message,” according to the letter, also signed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Congresswoman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, a longtime voice for human rights in America Latin.
“The US government can and should do more,” they wrote. “We believe our proposed actions would send a powerful signal in support of fundamental rights and help promote effective engagement for a political resolution.”
A copy of the letter was also sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Joshua Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman