XAPIRI VOICES - Peru Crisis 2023 Commentary

"Struggle is a good, the greatest good that has been granted to man, but provided that the struggle is not hopelessly sterile or useless, because then it is no longer struggle, it is Hell." José María Arguedas
Jack Wheeler
January 25, 2023

Cover Illustration: Los Clanes Unidos by Brus Rubio

XAPIRI VOICES | Peru Crisis 2023

a commentary on the country's political turmoil

Demonstrations against Congress and for the re-elections in Peru have been ongoing across the country since the ousting of former president Pedro Castillo on the 8th of December 2022. Immediately proceeding this, over the duration of six weeks, at least 60 people have died during the clashes between demonstrators and the police force. Protests have been prominent in the southern regions of Peru, leading up to the ‘takeover of Lima’; a people's march which took place on the 19th of January in Peru's capitol. In recent days police raided the National University of San Marcos (a highly respected and the oldest institution of higher education in the Americas) to detain students and people arriving in regional delegations, while conversely the nation's famous citadel Machu Picchu has been ‘closed until further notice. 
During this extremely difficult time in Peru we have invited a few local friends and artistic collaborators to share with us their thoughts. This situation is extremely complicated, as such, these commentaries act solely to give a necessary glimpse and voice from different people in locations throughout the Peruvian Amazon. 

David Diaz Gonzales (Shipibo-Konibo, Pucallpa, Perú) 

David is a groundbreaking Shipibo-Konibo photographer and photo-journalist whose debut exhibition was hosted at Xapiri Ground in 2022. 

The following commentary was given by David Diaz Gonzales for Xapiri Voices.

"In the first days of the conflict's outbreak, the areas that have been directly affected by this political situation have been that of economic inflation and food shortage. Similarly, due to the price increase and shortage of fuel at the city's gas pumps brought the consequential rise in the price of public transportation. However, even though these are situations that have occurred in the past; within the current conflict, the situation has only worsened.
I believe that the political situation in which we find ourselves now is the consequence of the lack of state presence in the most distant places and the lack of rapprochement with other regions. The oblivion towards the cities where we as different indigenous peoples inhabit, has not allowed them to know the reality in which we find ourselves. 
Photo: David Diaz Gonzales | Pucallpa, Perú | ©2023

The people who now go out into the streets to demonstrate, saw the disdain that was reflected upon Castillo on the part of the government, without mentioning all the obstacles that were put to his government by the Congress. That is why, when Pedro Castillo was removed from the presidency, the people took to the streets, because they felt attacked, and also along with it, the aggravation towards the media for not having shown all the information that they believed was necessary to expose.
In Pucallpa, we as Shipibo-Konibo people, through the calls for mobilization in command for the struggle of the indigenous peoples of the Ucayali region, have shown solidarity in support for the other regions of the country that were violently repressed for demonstrating and whose consequences were the deaths that ensued. 
Photo: David Diaz Gonzales | Pucallpa, Perú | ©2023

To date, the message that Dina Boluarte gave on January 19th proved to be more fuel to feed the fire. The future of Peru is uncertain if Dina Boluarte does not resign, the deaths are of this government. I believe that political will is necessary to make the changes that could reduce the situation in which we now find ourselves. 
We, the indigenous peoples, are willing to work together with the state, however, the state has not been willing to get closer to us the people. For example, we have the non-recognition of the autonomous governments that make up the Awajún, Wampís and the Shipibo-Konibo people. The participation of Indigenous peoples' representatives who hold important positions is vital in order to make decisions that can change the course of this country, since we also have that right. And that all possible support be given through education to the children and youth of the indigenous communities, for they are the ones who in the future will be our representatives and who will fight for the utopia of a unified society.
Otherwise we will continue to have these same conflicts."

Photo: Davis Torres | Xapiri Ground

Emily Urquía Sebastián (Yine, Puerto Maldonado, Perú)

Emily is long-term friend and collaborator of Xapiri Ground who exhibited at the launch of our San Blas gallery. She is a master artist and former president of the Mashko-Yine handicraft association of the native Yine community of Monte Salvado.

The following commentary was given by Emily Urquía Sebastián for Xapiri Voices.

"This situation is affecting us a lot in society, in my daily life, it is obstructing us from working freely and we do not have freedom because there are protesters... who want a constitutional change and they are demanding constitutional change and also the resignation of President Dina Boluarte, they are also asking for the closure of the Congress and they are asking, I think, for the release of ex-president Pedro Castillo.
They have closed the roads and have barricaded the people, mainly by those who live in Puno, in Juliaca, in the highlands, and this has affected us completely, there is no longer peace, there is violence, they are not peaceful demonstrations, they violate very important things in our society. For example they want to burn down the judiciary, or they want to burn things that are useful, so it is very hard for people who do not understand, they want that change but they are using a lot of violence and it affects other groups that simply want to work everyday to bring something home. We live day by day, for example, I have a crafts stall [in the town center] and when I have orders they come to the pier and I sell and that's what I live from. If the strike doesn't end now, what are we to do? 
My brother just arrived from Pucallpa without a single tourist having entered the port. Now more and more there is no fuel, there is no oil. Each day I have to walk up to 5 kilometers to get to my shop and now even farther to sell, like 5kms carrying our products on the boulevard. It is very difficult the situation that I am living, it’s tiresome all the time and we are short of food. It is all very sad, in my opinion, you will see it on television, on Facebook, etc. and it just makes me really sad... I don't know what else to say about the problem in our country, I don't know how it can be solved.

Photo: Emily Urquía Sebastián | Puerto Maldonado, Perú ©2023

At the same time, I feel sorry for the protesters because they are fighting and risking their lives. There are already 50 dead now, but nevertheless they say that they are fighting for these deaths, that they will do justice. But I believe that the situation is getting worse and the situation is reaching the brink. I don't know how things will end up...
I believe in the indigenous population. Yes, we are forgotten! But not so much as well forgotten, I mean, the state has a presence here in Puerto Maldonado. The state has been granting many concessions and there are many communities that cannot be titled because they live within this concession, and so the state itself can no longer title these communities because it no longer belongs to them even though the communities are the owners of the territory. The federation has no longer been able to title Puerto Nuevo, Santa Alicia and there are others there at Alto Madre de Dios. For that matter I believe that the state should not do these things without prior consent, but there are good things, yes, of the state, but also there are things not so good. I think that each government that enters should modify this law that grants concessions to loggers, miners and brazil nut concessions that are for 40 to 60 years, I do agree that that article should be modified while first prioritizing the native communities, that would be my answer."

Photo: Davis Torres | Xapiri Ground

Brus Rubio (Murui- Bora, Paucarquillo, Perú)

Brus Rubio is a highly regarded Amazonian artist from the community of Pucaurquillo in the Peruvian Amazon. His recent exhibition “Un Viaje Amazónico” was on show at Xapiri Ground - a series of large scale paintings depicting the magical realism for which he is known. 

The following statements were given by Brus Rubio for Xapiri Voices about the value of art in cultural and social transformation.

"In this way the voice through art is powerful and visible which calls attention to a permanent dialogue that is capable of transforming itself in the face of differences, respecting other cultures, I believe our government still does not know this deep value that there is in the ancestral people".

El Clan Achuni by Brus Rubio

"The means of organization is a life related to the ongoing daily activity with the earth and the cosmos as the source that motivates one to continue, to cope with disasters and to regain social stability as a whole."

Xapiri Ground supports free speech and peaceful social demonstration. Our platform rejects all forms of violence and supports the human rights of the people to appeal against unjust political decisions and actions. We hope for constructive dialogue in search of peaceful solutions. 

For further reading in English and more background information on Peru's situation, we recommend following the journalism of Dan Collyns, often shared on the Guardian and media commentary by the Al Jazeera news channel.