ICA, Peru, Dec 19 (Reuters) – Peru’s newly installed President Dina Boluarte sent three ministers to Ica, one of the regions at the heart of recent protests on Monday, in an effort to placate public anger as families in nearby Ayacucho held funerals and mourned for the people killed in the unrest over the last fortnight.
The Andean country has been torn apart by protests since the Dec. 7 ouster and arrest of former leftist leader Pedro Castillo, hours after he tried to dissolve Congress to avoid an impeachment vote. At least 20 people have died – including many teenagers – with around half being from Ayacucho, the largely rural, impoverished and indigenous communities in the country’s south.
The police and armed forces have been accused by rights groups of using deadly firearms and dropping smoke bombs from helicopters. The military says protesters, most in Peru’s Andean south, have used homemade weapons and explosives.
The protests, the worst to hit the country in years, threaten to disrupt Peru’s economy and the political stability in the world’s No. 2 copper producer where many have lost faith in government institutions in recent years.
The delegation, including the ministers of farming, development and housing, comes after days when many families in nearby Ayacucho held funerals for those who were killed in clashes with police and security forces.
Reuters images on Sunday showed relatives and friends, wiping away tears as they carried a white coffin in the streets of Ayacucho. Others came with flowers and placards reading “Justice!”
Housing minister Hania Pérez de Cuellar, one of the trio in Ica, told radio station RPP the government wanted dialogue and was giving property titles to residents in Ica, some 300 km (186 miles) south of Lima, where many blockades had started.
“In this crisis today where families are mourning and in pain, where basic public infrastructure is destroyed… I reiterate that dialogue is our main way to return to normality,” Boluarte said in a speech at a naval school.
While many protesters have called for Boluarte to resign, Magali Vivanco Hernandez, one local resident, supported her efforts, saying she needed more time and that people should remain calm.
A recent Ipsos Peru poll showed that 52% of people who live in Peru’s south supported Castillo’s attempt to shutter Congress, while nationally only 33% approved with 63% against it.
Among the protesters are Castillo supporters who say the former teacher and union activist is the democratically elected president, while many others are Peruvians simply angry with the opposition-controlled Congress and the Lima-based political elite, seen as corrupt and self-serving.
“The situation is sad, rights have been trampled on,” Alcides Taquiri Barboza, a resident of the town of Tierra Prometida in the Ica region, told Reuters.
“This area is forgotten by politicians and rulers.”