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Protests in Peru show broad impact of Putin’s war

Rising fuel prices initially sparked the protests, which began last week but quickly escalated into large anti-government demonstrations with marches and roadblocks.

As of Wednesday, at least six people were reported dead during days of protests, according to Peruvian authorities, as officials called for calm and struggled to contain the situation. At least nine major roads in the country remained blocked by protesters.

Late Monday, President Pedro Castillo declared a state of emergency and placed the country’s capital under curfew, but backtracked and lifted the curfew order on Tuesday afternoon as hundreds of Protesters unaware of the measure took to the streets of Lima to demand his resignation.

“Peru is not going through a good time,” Castillo said Tuesday after leaving a meeting with lawmakers, “but we have to solve it with the powers of the state.”

A few blocks away, police in riot gear used tear gas to break up protests and demonstrators threw rocks, leaving at least 11 injured in the clashes.

Why Peru?

Peru is not new to political turmoil. In the past five years, the country has had five presidents, two of whom were impeached and removed from office amid street protests. And Castillo himself has already faced — and survived — two impeachment votes since taking office in July.
Last year, Castillo won the presidency by the slimmest of margins and faced an opposition-ridden Congress, limiting his political capital and his ability to function.

But while Peru has been a breeding ground for protests in recent years, this crisis has been sparked as a direct result of the war in Ukraine.

The Long Consequences of Putin’s War

The Russian invasion of Ukraine – and the subsequent decision by world leaders to isolate Russia from world oil markets – has driven up the price of oil.

And for Peru, the impact has been particularly severe.

Compared to other countries in the region, such as Argentina or Venezuela, Peru imports most of its oil. That left it more exposed to the recent spike, hitting the economy just as it recovered from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns.

As a result, inflation in Peru in March was the highest in 26 years, according to the country’s Institute of Statistics. The most exposed segment was food and fuel, with prices up 9.54% since last year, the Peruvian Central Bank reported.

With prices rising so rapidly, it didn’t take long before protests began to spread across the country. And on March 28, a group of transport workers and a truckers’ union called a general strike to demand cheaper fuel.

In recent days, other organizations and groups have joined the protests, with some areas closing schools and resorting to online education due to roadblocks and pickets.

Before becoming president, Castillo was a union leader and teacher at a small school in rural Cajamarca, demanding better pay and working conditions.

Today, its hard core, the urban working class of the suburbs of Lima and rural farmers throughout the country, are particularly affected by the inflationary spiral, as they pay higher prices for their food and for transport.

This further erodes his political support. According to the Institute of Peruvian Studies, an independent polling center in Lima, the president’s popularity is at its lowest level since taking office, with less than one in four Peruvians backing his actions.
Protests in Peru show broad impact of Putin’s war

What happens next?

It is difficult to predict how the situation will develop. Even before issuing the curfew order, Castillo had already made some concessions to protesters by reducing fuel taxes and raising the minimum wage to 1,025 soles – about $280 – on Sunday. But that didn’t calm the streets either.

After his curfew order failed, the president appears to be running out of options, given that Peru lacks the ability to control the international price of oil. As the conflict in Ukraine continues to rage, the current climate of inflation is expected to continue.

Any further subsidies to lower fuel prices would increase Peru’s debts and further damage its struggling finances.

However, Peru’s situation is far from unique and Castillo is not alone.

Other leaders are facing the same tough choices about how to manage rising inflation while trying to get their finances in order after the chaos caused by Covid-19.

As the crisis deepens, Peru could find itself looking for answers in other countries.

CNN’s Claudia Rebaza, CNN Español’s Jimena de la Quintana in Lima, Florencia Trucco in Atlanta and Jorge Engels in London contributed reporting.


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