Peru’s embattled president Pedro Castillo has banned residents of the capital, Lima, from leaving their homes in an attempt to quell nationwide protests over soaring fuel and fertiliser prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a televised address just before midnight on Monday, Castillo announced a curfew from 2am until 11.59pm on Tuesday, claiming the measure would “protect the fundamental rights of all people”.
Castillo said the curfew was a response to “violent acts certain groups have created by blocking free transit” on roads in and out of the capital, where about a third of Peru’s 33 million citizens live.
But the move has been widely criticised as excessive and improvised and a sign of Castillo’s increasingly shaky grip on power. In just eight months in office, he has survived two impeachment attempts and rattled through four cabinets and an unprecedented number of ministers.
The schoolteacher from a peasant farmer family narrowly won the election last year with the backing of the rural poor. Now many of his former supporters, among them farmers and transport workers, are driving the protests into their second week, while the government strives to bring prices down.
Peru is not the only South American country where the Ukraine war is having a political and social impact.
Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, and his allies have been trying to use the conflict to accelerate the passing of highly controversial legislation that would allow commercial mining on Indigenous land.
“This crisis between Ukraine and Russia … has thrown up a good opportunity for us,” Bolsonaro said last month, arguing that potash reserves on protected Indigenous lands needed exploiting after Russia’s decision to suspend the export of fertilisers desperately needed by Brazil’s farm sector.
Experts reject such logic, noting that only a small proportion of Brazil’s potash reserves are found beneath Indigenous territories.
“It’s a pretext – an excuse,” said Márcio Astrini, the executive secretary of Brazil’s Climate Observatory, a network of environmental groups that oppose the legislation.
“What Bolsonaro is doing is taking advantage of a situation in order to create a fallacious argument and speed up the voting of a bill which is motivated by other interests, involving wanting to take these lands away from Indigenous communities and privatize them,” Astrini added.
Thousands of Indigenous activists are gathering in Brazil’s capital this week for a 10-day protest camp partly designed to convince members of congress to block the mining legislation. “We will not retreat,” one of their leaders, Sônia Guajajara, said on Monday as representatives of 200 of Brazil’s 305 Indigenous peoples began to arrive in Brasília.
Castillo’s curfew in Peru has sparked unfavourable comparisons as it falls on the 30th anniversary of the infamous “self-coup”, or “auto-golpe”, when in 1992, the now jailed former president Alberto Fujimori dissolved congress, assumed extraordinary powers and sent tanks and soldiers on to the streets.
Peru’s human rights ombudsman demanded the government lift the unconstitutional and “absolutely disproportionate” curfew.
At least four people have been killed in the protests which spread from the rural Andes to the capital. On Monday, protesters burned toll booths and fought police near Ica, about 300km south of Lima.
The unrest erupted last week as farmers and lorry drivers blocked roads into Lima, triggering a jump in food prices. Inflation in Peru hit a 26-year high on Friday with consumer prices rising 1.48% last month. Over the weekend, the government responded by trying to lower fuel prices by waiving taxes.
Peru – which imports 1.2m tonnes of fertilisers a year – issued an emergency declaration for its agricultural sector due to rising fertiliser prices triggered by western sanctions on Russia, a major exporter of soil nutrients.