Hall of Infamy: Dina Boluarte

POSITION: President of Peru

REPUTATION: Power-hungry opportunist.

No part of the political spectrum from Right to Left is immune from the addiction to power. This truism has recently come home to roost for Peruvians who have spent decades fighting the landowning oligarchy’s fraudulent grip on political life.

Peru’s Congress is controlled by a coalition of rightwing parties who recently chose Dina Boluarte as their new leader after the overthrow of incumbent Pedro Castillo on 7 December 2022. Castillo had tried to dissolve the hostile Congress in an attempt to head off a third impeachment attempt – a constitutional coup followed by self-coup, which his own lawyer described as ‘political suicide’.

In less than 24 hours, Castillo went from presidential palace to jail cell, and was swiftly replaced with his vice-president Boluarte, a 60-year-old lawyer with rural and Indigenous roots, becoming Peru’s first female leader. This could not have happened without a lot of behind the scenes wheeling and dealing with big power-holders in the Peruvian Congress and military. Boluarte formed a technocratic government with the usual boilerplate promises of bringing national unity and fighting against corruption.

But many Peruvians were not totally convinced by the unelected leader’s promises, and took to the streets in their thousands to demand fresh elections and a new constitution for the country. The police responded with brutal force, massacring at least 49 people, and injuring hundreds more. Despite the usual police claims of self-defence, forensic evidence showed many demonstrators were shot with long-distance sniper rifles. Boluarte, priding herself on her ‘moderation’ (with fashionable Clintonesque pant suits to match), equivocated.

Although she tried to distance herself from the police and military which she claimed ‘not to control’, her insistence on branding the protesters as ‘terrorists’ was perhaps not the best course of action to calm things down. In the months since, Boluarte has shown her true colours, shifting from unconvincing moderate to rightwing neoliberal with an authoritarian edge. Boluarte, along with the Right-dominated Congress, are now resisting calls for an immediate election (which she would likely lose with eight out of ten Peruvians believing she should step down).

The unelected leader is also pushing for a new law to stifle press freedoms. If passed, journalists could face jail time for ‘inciting terrorist protests’ – or, in other words, doing their jobs. Hard to know whether Boluarte, who has been described as Peru’s ‘accidental President’ is the architect of her rise or simply the instrument and beneficiary of clever manipulation by the ruthless rightwing clique that controls the hugely unpopular Congress.

For the ever-malleable former leftist it seems like it was ‘right place, right time’: when the Peruvian elite needed a reliable replacement for the deposed Castillo. Still, Boluarte’s alacrity at staying centre stage and quickly becoming the public face of militarized law and order means she shouldn’t be taken lightly.

LOW CUNNING

Part of Boluarte’s reputation as a leftist human rights advocate came from her co-authorship of the book The Recognition of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, more than half of which was later found to have been plagiarized. She was expelled from her own Libre party after she disavowed their egalitarian programme. Her advocacy of a non-totalitarian Left sounds promising but is hard to square with her support for widespread human rights abuses by the army and police.

SENSE OF HUMOUR

Boluarte left herself open to parody with her spontaneous renditions of a famous Andean folk huayno to invoke her own patriotic authenticity. The well-known Peruvian comedian Carlos Álverez posted a parody video on YouTube mimicking the tone-deaf President, swapping the lyrics with his own to reflect the unpopular reality of high food prices in Peru today. As Álverez says: ‘If the politician makes fun of the people, why not us at them?’ If Boluarte smiled, it was a thin one.

Sources: NACLA; the New York Times; The Guardian; the Peru Support Group; the Miami Herald; CNN; The Huffington Post; Al Jazeera; Infobae