Peru peasants march to Lima, vowing to give lives for change

Not even a police blockade could prevent around 200 members of Peru's Chanka indigenous group from reaching Lima to join an imminent anti-government protest.

They are among thousands of demonstrators demanding the resignation of President Dina Boluarte, the dissolution of parliament and immediate fresh elections.

"Listen Dina, the Chankas are coming," chanted the members of this ethnicity with a reputation for being warriors. Some say they will stop at nothing to make their voices heard.

"If a Peruvian is not able to give his life for his country, then he's not Peruvian," said Abdon Felix Flores Huaman, 30, an unemployed psychologist and father of a small daughter.

"Some brothers have already lost their lives. We're also ready to give ours... so that my child has better opportunities, so she is not a marginalized Indian."

The Chankas began their journey on Sunday afternoon from the mountain city of Andahuaylas in the southern Apurimac region.

A day into their journey, police blocked them in the city of Humay, still some 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of Lima.

They eventually managed to reach the capital at dawn on Tuesday after a journey that had lasted 40 hours.

They are now waiting for the protest to begin.

Thousands of protesters, mostly from the south of this Andean country, have been arriving in Lima in recent days to lend their weight to a social mobilization that began on December 7 following the ousting of former president Pedro Castillo, himself of indigenous origin.

The subsequent clashes between protesters and security forces have left 42 people dead while the government has declared a state of emergency in parts of the country, including Lima, in a bid to calm the unrest.

- 'Traitor! Murderer!' -

In Humay, police had clearly been given orders to slow down demonstrators heading to Lima.

A line of police wearing helmets and carrying riot shields prevented cars from passing, others guarded the local police station.

The Chankas' four drivers were stopped for problems related to "vehicle insurance and missing technical controls", said police commander Alex Escalante Salazar, who denied trying to delay the demonstrators and insisted he was doing his best to speed up the process.

As the law requires, a photo of Boluarte is hung on the wall of the station.

"The police are unfairly preventing us from going to Lima," complained farmer Julian Huaman, 30, while holding the flag of the Apurimac region.

"Clearly the putschist ordered them to attack us on route," he added in reference to Boluarte.

"It's not the first time," added Flores Huaman. In their mountain city, police had"checked every backpack... but we're not carrying anything illegal. Our hands are clean."

In December, at least two people were killed in Andahuaylas, one of the epicenters of the protest movement.

Support for the demonstrators is high.

"In the communities, everyone has given one or two soles (26-53 US cents). With this money, we're going to Lima," said Flores Huaman.

It's a far cry from authorities claiming demonstrators are financed through "illegal mining exploitation and drug trafficking."

In Humay, protesters shouted slogans denouncing the "traitor" and "murderer" Boluarte.

She was the vice-president under Castillo and is from the same left-wing party.

But she succeeded Castillo when he was arrested after attempting to dissolve parliament and rule by decree as he sought to fend off an impeachment vote.

He has been the subject of several corruption investigations since coming to power in June 2021.

- City against provinces -

"Boluarte said she wanted to see us in Lima, well she will see us in Lima," wrote Anastasia Lipe Quispe, 63, dressed in traditional indigenous clothing.

"We have our corn and our cheese," she said, vowing to reach Lima "by foot if we have to."

The police blockade was eventually lifted around midnight on Monday.

The political and social crisis shows the rift between the capital and the poor provinces that support Castillo and who saw his election as revenge against contempt from Lima elites

"It's a struggle for the Chanka nation. It is a struggle of Quechuas and Aymaras against a state that after 200 years of being a republic continues to marginalize us. This is a fight against racism," said farmer German Altamirano, 75.

The Andean provinces often feel economically neglected by the rich capital.

They accuse multinationals, especially mining companies, of "pillaging" the country without investing back into their regions.

"Life is tough in Peru. It's very chaotic at the moment, "said Flores Huaman.

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