Peru at the End of 2022: Can Diversity be a Source of Development, not of Conflict

Author: Deyan Kolev


For the past two weeks, Peru has been capturing the attention of the media around the world. After President Pedro Castillo tried to dissolve Congress, appoint an interim government and make sweeping reforms to the judiciary within a day, he was ousted from power, arrested and is now in prison on remand. Protests broke out in the Andes, which surprisingly spread even to the capital, Lima, and a week later a state of emergency was imposed. The situation changes every day and hardly anyone can predict what will happen even in the coming days. But what is really going on in Peru and why did it get here?

I write this brief analysis not as a specialist in current political developments in Peru. My view is rather that of a bystander who has been interested in Peruvian/Latin American culture and the indigenous peoples of Latin America[1] for years, as well as someone, who just two months ago had the chance to tour some of the regions in Southern Peru that currently have some of the most active protests. During this tour, I visited not only the famous historical destinations (Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu, Cusco, Titicaca, and the temples of the region), but also schools and Indigenous communities in the mentioned provinces. In ‌conversations with ordinary local people, informal leaders, teachers, spiritual leaders and intellectuals, we inevitably came to ‌questions about the rulers and in particular about President Castillo. Of course, at that time I had no idea how quickly events could develop there and in what direction they could go…

A brief background story

To an outside observer unfamiliar with Peru (whether they are European or North American), what is happening there, especially the mass protests after Castillo’s deposition, certainly seems incomprehensible. To most observers, the former president looks like an amateur and a layman in politics, who for inexplicable reasons was elected to this high office and, after a series of permanent mistakes and scandals, was logically removed.

Until 2021, Pedro Castillo was unknown to politics. He was born into a poor Indigenous family in the central Andes, in a small town in the Cajamarca region (the same Cajamarca where Pizarro’s conquistadors captured the Inca Atahualpa and thus began the end of the great Inca empire).


Later in his life, he became a teacher and union leader and then became famous in 2017 for organizing one of the teachers’ strikes. Politically, he was originally a member of Peru Posible party led by Alejandro Toledo, who overthrew the dictator Fujimori and became Peru’s first indigenous president. In 2021, this party no longer existed and Castillo chose to run for president as a representative of the far-left and conservative Marxist party Free Peru (Peru Libre).

Before the first round of the presidential elections in April 2021, no observer took seriously the candidacy of the Castillo-Boluarte tandem, and a month before the election polls gave them 3%. To the surprise of many, Castillo came out on top in the race, taking the votes of the people of the Andes, and in two of the southern Peruvian regions he received a majority in the first round. After an extremely contested runoff with Keiko Fujimori[2], Castillo won by the heart-stopping 0.2%. At the same time, representatives of 15 parties, primarily right-wing and far-right, were elected to the 130-member parliament.

The governing structure of 2021 – a far-left president and a right-wing Congress in itself foreshadowed conflicts and a tense political life. Add to this the fact that in the last six years this was the sixth president of Peru, with political instability leading to frequent changes of the head of state – some of the presidents “ruled” for a week or two[3].

In this extremely restless and controversial political environment, Castillo was stepping in like a bull in a China shop according to the criteria of political science. In 16 months, he replaced five governments and 84 ministers. For many of them, as well as for the president himself, corruption scandals began. The latter, however, is one of the most common phenomena in Peruvian politics: in the last four years, 21 out of a total of 25 regional governors and more than 1,000 mayors have been investigated for corruption or are already in prison for proven corruption. Almost all presidents of recent decades have been convicted of corruption – starting with Fujimori, Toledo, Umala, etc. President Garcia, who committed suicide before entering prison, was also sentenced. The relationship between the president and Congress was fraught with constant scandal. Congress tried unsuccessfully to “impeach” Castillo in December 2021 and May 2022, with a new trial scheduled for December 7. Meanwhile, both institutions have steadily lost public confidence as measured by polling agencies. The latest poll from November 2022 showed 61% distrust Castillo and 81% distrust Congress.

It never became clear why on December 7 Castillo decided to launch a “frontal attack” simultaneously against Congress and the judiciary, announcing the dissolution of Congress, early elections and judicial reforms. As a “retaliatory” measure, Congress voted overwhelmingly to impeach the president. The military and police sided with the legislature, and the president was captured on his way to the Mexican embassy. On the same day, Vice President Dina Boluarte was sworn in as Peru’s first female president.


The events that followed certainly surprised many. Spontaneously and without serious political organization[4], mass protests broke out. First, they were in the regions of Southern Peru. Then they immediately spread over the entire Andes and into the Amazonian provinces, and very quickly reached Lima and the cities on the coast. Protesters (primarily representatives of the poor and indigenous peoples) occupied the airports of Arequipa, Cusco and other cities; they blocked roads and started clashes with the police.

After it was reported that at least 22 protesters were killed (including teenagers) and dozens of police officers were injured, the government declared a state of emergency across the country. The new President Boluarte called for calm and national reconciliation and promised elections as early as 2024, but then proposed that they be held in December 2023. At the moment, Congress rejects this proposal, although it has the support of 89% of Peruvians according to the latest poll. These appeals and the state of emergency did not stop the protests and did not calm the protesters, who perceive Boluarte as a “traitor”. Hardly anyone can predict what will happen in the coming days…

The tripartite division of Peru

As I have indicated above, during my trip to Peru in October 2022, I often talked with local people (both in the Andes and partially in Lima) about the political situation at the time. It struck me that although without the same enthusiasm with which the Bolivian Indians spoke of Evo Morales, the native Peruvians supported Castillo. Both ordinary people (farmers, workers, self-employed, taxi drivers) and representatives of the “middle class” explained that they supported the teacher from Cajamarca over “the rich, highly educated daughter who doesn’t know people outside of Lima” (they meant Keiko Fujimori, who was the other presidential candidate in the 2021 runoff). They definitely supported the then president Castillo and explained the constant media scandals with the fact that he did not pay the media and also opposed the oligarchs and the “rich clique of Creoles in Lima”. Many said that this was the first president from the left (until 2021 there was no left-wing president) and the first representative of the indigenous peoples who did not forget where he started from.

 In addition, we must take into account that today, Peru is a country with diverse faces – regionally, socially and ethnically. In practice, the three large geographical areas – the coast (Costa), the Andes (Sierra) and the Amazon (Selva) are very different in social and ethnic terms, and these differences are also strongly culturally based. Since their independence 200 years ago, Lima and the cities of the coast have attracted the wealthiest strata, predominantly representatives of the Creoles and some of the mestizos. Until the beginning of the 20th century, it was them who broadcast the presidents of Peru, most of the ministers, magistrates, and representatives of the authorities. The Andes and their predominantly indigenous population have for many generations been (and largely still are) in a subordinate position, far from power and subject to various forms of discrimination. The latter bears the heavy imprint of the Conquest and 300 years of colonial rule, during which Indigenous were not only heavily exploited and placed below the lines of power and society, but were on the edge of their survival.

Wall paining in Cusco, near Qoricancha

It is not by chance that the Bulgarian and French philosopher Tsvetan Todorov calls the Conquest “the greatest genocide in the history of mankind”, since nearly 70 million Indigenous were killed during the conquest and during the first century of Spanish rule in Latin America. Independence at the beginning of the 19th century changed almost nothing of the situation of the indigenous population – both in Peru and in other Latin American countries. It was only at the end of the XX and the beginning of the XXI century that the indigenous population gradually acquired real rights, including recognition of languages, culture and the right to self-determinatio[5]. In Peru, the government of General Alvarado set the beginning of this process, which continues to this day. For the first time, a representative of indigenous peoples was elected president in 2001 – Alejandro Toledo. Two terms later, Olyanta Umala was also elected, who accelerated the introduction of bilingual and intercultural education. 

However, the convergence between Costa and Sierra and the equal opportunities of different ethnicities and traditions have not yet been achieved. In any case, there is a deep conviction among a large part of the Andean people that the “oligarchy in Lima” makes the important decisions and discriminates against the indigenous peoples of the Andes. Almost all representatives of indigenous communities in the Andes whom I asked about discrimination were adamant that it does exist. They expressed it differently – as the discrimination of the peasants from the rich, the Andean people from the coast, the Indigenouss from the Creoles, etc.; they all argued that discrimination still existed. It was exactly discrimination that they pointed out as the reason for politicians’ and journalists’ negative attitude towards the president at the time.

The monument of Tupac Amaru II in Quispicanchi

 This division is a trinity of three factors: social (the inhabitants of the coast are significantly richer than those in the Andes), regional (regions in the Andes and Amazonia are more underdeveloped and poor than the coast), and ethnocultural. As I pointed out above, the division is largely culturally based: the indigenous Peruvians (especially in the Andes) are proud of being descendants of the Incas and continue with much of the cultural and spiritual practices of their descendants. Meanwhile, the Creoles and some mestizos experienced above all as perpetuators of Spanish colonial culture. This difference can be easily felt even by the casual tourist – Lima looks like a European or North American metropolitan city, while Cuzco, Puno and other Andean cities carry a very indigenous spirit. It’s very different anyway. The difference can also be clearly felt through ‌samples of Peruvian literature. Jose María Argedas and a whole generation of writers after him recreated in their works the world of the Peruvian Indians: the reader can

feel it on every page in “Deep Rivers” and in hundreds of other works of “indigenists” and authors – Quechua or Aymara. The works of the authors from the coast are quite different – equally captivating, but presenting a different world.

The said threefold distinction is often expressed differently. In the second half of the 20th century, it was “exploited” primarily as a social difference – between rich and poor, citizens and peasants, etc. On this basis grew the various forms of Marxist and communist agitation, moderate and radical leftist movements (including the terrorist Sendero Luminoso and Tupac Amaru), etc. The social perception of difference was also reinforced by the governments following General Alvarado, who defined the indigenous people of the Andes as “campesinos”, that is, “peasants”. This perception is still very strong today. Equally powerful is the regional perception – such as “andınos”, that is, “people from the Andes”. Purely ethnic awareness is strong among the Aymara and to a lesser extent among the Quechua. It has intensified in recent decades without reaching the extent seen in neighboring Bolivia and Ecuador.  The interweaving and overlapping of the three types of awareness of difference is characteristic.

Market in Ollyantaytambo

Most people in the Andes I spoke to described themselves as “campesinos”, “andınos” and “indigenas” at the same time, and depending on the topic of the conversation, one of these traits “emerged”.

In recent decades, the Peruvian state has undertaken numerous actions for convergence, equalizing regional and social differences, reducing discrimination, and granting real rights to Indigenous communities and peoples. They are visible, even with the “naked eye” or at least with the “weakly armed eye” – bilingual intercultural education (although primarily in the primary and less in the secondary level, mainly in the Andes and not in Lima), inscriptions in Quechua and Aymara, Indigenous street names (even the airport in Juliaca and the military unit in Puno are called “Manco Capac” after the first Inca), etc. The fact is that more and more Quechua and Aymara are being elected mayors and members of Congress. However, the feeling of discrimination is still strong, along with the perception that everything is run by a “rich oligarchy of Creoles in Lima”. To a very large extent, this led to the mass voting by the Andean regions and the “Indigenous neighborhoods” of Lima for Toledo in 2000 and 2001, for Umala in 2011, and for Castillo in 2021.

The military unit in Puno named after Manco Capac

Interestingly, in the second half of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands, even millions of indigenous people from the Andes settled in the capital, so that it is currently the city with the largest Quechua-speaking population.

Waiting for the new era of Pachacutec

The tripartite division of Peru and the deep sense of discrimination (social, regional and ethnic) are not entirely sufficient to explain the processes that have taken place in recent decades, including the immediate and violent reaction against Castillo’s removal. We must also bear in mind the “eschatological” expectation of the coming of the new Pachacutec age, shared by many of the indigenous people of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador (the former Inca empire of Tawantinsuyo). The belief that the Inca is alive and will return to bring order and justice has been widespread among the Quechua and Aymara throughout the Andean region for many generations. The Peruvian historian Alberto Flores Galindo points out that it is the basis for the understanding of identity in the Andean countries. It can be clearly seen both in literature (for example, the story “The Pongo’s Dream” by Arguedas) and in anthropology (the Inkarri Myth, spread among the Q’ero and many other Quechua groups), etc. In recent decades, the anticipation of the coming of the new Pachacutec era has become increasingly widespread. The indigenous people of the Andes see historical development as undergoing cyclical processes of “day” and “night”. With the discovery of America in 1492, a five-hundred-year dark age began, which would be replaced by the new light age of Pachacutec.[6] It is no coincidence that the indigenous party in Ecuador is called Pachacutec;[7] it is the name of one of the strong regional parties in Cuzco, etc. The anticipation of the dawn of a new era in which justice, equality and dignity of indigenous peoples will be restored is another very important factor that leads to further activization of indigenous people in the Andean region. Evo Morales in Bolivia, Yaku Perez in Ecuador, as well as Umala and then Castillo in Peru, certainly draw some of their support among indigenous voters adding this eschatological expectation of the dawning of a new golden age…

Working for the community – daily life for the indigenous person in the Andes

El Presidente and his familiy in the community of Ccopamaya, Acora

The last decades have repeatedly demonstrated the possibility of indigenous peoples in Latin America to organize themselves in mass popular movements. And if in Bolivia, Ecuador and Mexico this has happened around left-wing, even Marxist movements, then Peru shows that mobilization is possible both behind left-wing politicians (such as Castillo) and centrists (such as Toledo in 2000-2001 and Umala in 2011)[8]. In Nicaragua, the mobilization of indigenous peoples was behind a right-wing movement.[9] Visiting indigenous communities in southern Peru in October 2022, I’ve had the opportunity to see on the ground something that anthropologists describe at length, but political scientists only mention in between. Namely, that working for the community is a daily routine for the Quechua and Aymara peoples, as well as for other indigenous communities. For example, in villages (whether we are talking about scattered settlements high in the mountains or the reed islands of Titicaca), each local community elects a person who organizes community events and life for a year. This is done on a completely voluntary basis. Furthermore, the elected person is expected even to invest resources (at the very least, after the end of his or her one-year term, he or she must leave something left behind for the community). The choice is made by everyone in the village. Both, men and women can be candidates and have been elected. It is a truly democratic procedure where the person who has proven her/himself to be the most capable and most trusted by the community assumes responsibility. In Spanish he/she is called “Presidente”, and in Quechua and Aymara other names are given (jacha mallku, yapa yoj, etc.), as this is a practice that dates back centuries. The chosen one has the responsibility and obligation to organize certain community events, such as periodic meetings to discuss urgent problems, to help solve immediate problems (especially related to children’s education and health care). He is also an intermediary in contacts with local and national authorities. For those living in modern European or North American individualized societies, it seems strange and incomprehensible to be willing to work on a completely voluntary basis and to have it as a daily routine. For those living in traditional Quechua and Aymara communities, this is an immanent feature of community life. Since pre-Hispanic times, people in these communities have followed three principles in their individual lives: “munay” (“love”), “yachay” (“wisdom”) and “llankay” (“work”). As the main principle of interaction, both with other people and with nature and the universe, “ainyi” is perceived, i.e. reciprocity, the need to do for others what is necessary and expect support from them. These principles form not only an everyday ethic, they are also a social code that determines much of the behavior in the community and society. Of course, we must make it clear that not all Andean inhabitants live in traditional communities. But even in modern families, the attitude of working, including for the community, is part of everyday life.


The community structures described above, the attitude of living in reciprocity and working for the community, must be taken into account in explaining the activism of the Andean indigenous people. This debunks one of the widespread myths that has been circulating for generations among politicians, public figures and even many analysts, namely that indigenous communities do not understand the principles of democracy, that they are easily manipulated and ready to follow any populists and amateurs in politics. This inherently racist notion is far from the truth.

El Presidente of one of the Uros islands in the lake of Titicaca

Working for the community, delegating responsibilities and trust, as well as participating in election procedures, are everyday life for mountain communities, and from this point of view, their ability to mobilize around certain political causes should by no means be underestimated.

After December 2022

I would not dare to make any short-term predictions as to how events in Peru would develop following the detention of Pedro Castillo. Certainly, the discontent of the social and ethnic groups who saw him as an exponent of their ideas will not subside quickly. The lack of confidence in the Congress (according to the latest polls it already reaches 89%) makes it practically impossible for Castillo to complete a full mandate: the question is not if there would be early elections, but when. Extremely difficult would be the government of Dina Boluarte. Peru’s first female president is currently perceived by the protesters as a “traitor”. Being from the Andes, speaking Quechua, striving to push the ideas for a new agrarian reform, equality, etc. cannot “exonerate” her in the eyes of the protesters. In addition, she meets resistance from the right-wing Congress. Whether the new elections will be in December 2023 (as proposed by Boluarte) or in April 2024 (the proposal of the Congress), it is likely that the following months will be full of new political and social conflicts.

The tripartite division of Peru described above is currently the source of numerous social and political conflicts. It will probably be the same in the coming years. The big question the political class and the entire society face is how to turn this objective diversity into an engine for development instead of a generator of conflicts. How can ethno-cultural, regional and social diversity be recognized and developed in an appropriate political and legal framework?

The official national TV Peru with regular emissions in Quechua and Aymara

There is a very high probability that the drafting of a new Constitution will begin after the extraordinary elections. This, by the way, was one of Castillo’s main promises in 2021. The demand for a new Constitution could be often seen in political graffiti in the southern Andes in October, during the local elections and just before the events of December 2022. A new Constitution is definitely needed having in mind that the current one was prepared during the reign of Alberto Fujimori in a completely different era (1993). It is no coincidence that as part of overcoming the political crises in neighboring Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile, new constitutions were drawn up.

One of the main challenges that a possible new constitution would face would be the recognition of the objective fact that Peru is a multicultural/intercultural and multinational country. In addition, the creation of prerequisites for a comprehensive legal framework that will turn diversity into an engine for the further development of Peruvian society and country is needed. Neighboring Ecuador and Bolivia, which in many ways have similar ethno-cultural and social characteristics, have already walked this path in previous decades. Their constitutions (respectively from 2008 and 2009) recognize and develop the multicultural and multinational character of these Andean countries.[10]

As the World Bank report Indigenous Latin America in the 21st Century: the First Decade points out, one of the main achievements in recent decades is the development of a progressive political framework recognizing collective rights and the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples in almost all Latin American countries. Peru has also taken many steps in this direction, but they relate primarily to the indigenous peoples of Amazonia and to a lesser extent to the Quechua and Aymara. A persistent trend since the second half of the 20th century has been considering indigenous people of the Peruvian Andes only as campesinos, and not as ethnic communities. The development of a comprehensive multicultural and multinational framework, including indigenous peoples from all three parts of Peru, is an important challenge that should be met by a possible new constitution and by numerous laws, regulations and policies.

The expansion of bilingual intercultural education should be part of this process. At this moment, it is applied primarily in the basic stage of education, with the state investing serious resources in this direction. Pilot initiatives by UNESCO prove that it is applicable and gives equally good results in secondary education. Some Peruvian universities already have a very good experience in implementing bilingual and intercultural education. It is necessary to expand state support for this important segment of educational policies.

Bilingual education in the school of Yanahuara, Sacred Valey, Cusco

In addition, a serious challenge is the introduction of bilingual education in Lima and the other cities of the Coast. In the second half of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands, even millions of indigenous people from the Andes settled in the capital, so that it is currently the city with the largest Quechua-speaking population. However, Quechua or Aymara schooling is not implemented in coastal schools, despite the financial incentives offered by the state. It is necessary to expand intercultural education, as well as a comprehensive investment in the development of Andeans in Lima, so that the processes of assimilation and loss of identity are stopped, and they develop their full potential and thus become an intercultural bridge.

Of course, many other steps are likely to be required as well. The report of the World Bank mentioned above gives examples of several steps related to changes in the methods of electoral representation, the administrative-territorial division and a number of others. Many of these successful examples are derived from neighboring countries which are close in ethno-cultural aspect such as Bolivia and Ecuador. Exactly what action would be taken in Peru is hardly possible to predict. It is important to seek a new public and political consensus for these changes. This would give an impetus not only to calm down the current crisis situation, but also to an overall accelerated development of Peru in its diverse face.


Deyan Kolev graduated in philosophy at the University of Veliko Turnovo and a master’s degree in Roma history at the Central European University – Budapest. For ten years, he was a teacher of philosophical disciplines at “Dr. Vasil Beron” Professional School of Tourism,  Veliko Turnovo. He has a postgraduate qualification in political management and public administration. Deyan Kolev is the founder and chairman of the Center “Amalipe” since 2002. Center “Amalipe” is a leading Roma organization that works for equal integration of Roma in Bulgarian society. The organization plays a central role in organizing the Roma civil movement. He is the author of a program for intercultural education in the Bulgarian school – “Roma Culture Classes”, which is implemented in over 250 schools in the country. It includes more than 5,000 students of Bulgarian, Roma and Turkish origin. He is the author of numerous publications on Roma history and culture, education, Roma integration policies, etc.


[1] The term “Indigenous” usually refers to “pueblos indigenas”, that is, “indigenous peoples”. Especially in Peru, the latter is used above all for the peoples of Amazonia. Those in the Andes are called “pueblos andinos” and traditionally “campesinos”, which in turn refers to their “dissolution” into a social group and to the attempts for assimilation in previous decades. However, in this article the term “indigenous” refers both, to indigenous people from Amazonia and from the Andes. Nevertheless, to be more precise, the ethnonyms “Quechua” and “Aymara” are the terms that should be used. In fact, it would take pages to explain which name is the correct one…

[2] The coincidence of the surname with that of Alberto Fujimori, who ruled in the nineties, is not accidental – she is the daughter of the dictator, who is currently in prison due to a conviction for corruption.

[3] Whether a presidential republic can bring stability to a divided society is a topic for an entirely different conversation. In Bulgaria, after four and looming fifth parliamentary elections in two years, some believe that the parliamentary republic does not bring stability, unlike the presidential one that does. Peru, as a presidential republic, appears to prove that argument wrong…

[4] Unlike Evo Morales in Bolivia, who had the support of the largest party – Movement for Socialism, Castillo never set up his own political group.

[5] World Bank Group. Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-First Century: the First Decade. Washington, 2015

[6] The name of the new era should not be confused with the name of the Inca reformer Pachacutec, although there is a connection – namely, the idea of transformation of the world

[7] After the 2021 elections, it became the second political force in the Andean country

[8] In 2006, the Andes also voted predominantly for Umala, whose platform, however, was then left-wing

[9] In the 1980s MISURASATA emerged as allies of the Sandinistas but later became the basis of the anti-Sandinista counters

[10] A process of drafting a new constitution is currently underway in Chile as well. A significant part of the debate is the legitimization of the multi-ethnic nature of the state and society, although indigenous peoples make up a significantly smaller percentage of Chile’s population than other Andean countries.