The "Marcha a Lima" against the Denial of Modern Political Rights: Introduction

From the Series: The "Marcha a Lima" against the Denial of Modern Political Rights

Adelma Quispe Condori, Presidenta de la Asociación Provincial de Mujeres de Melgar (Puno). Photo by Vladimir Velazquez.

Pedro Castillo became President of Peru on July 28th, 2021. His election was incontrovertible: the highlands had overwhelmingly chosen him as their representative in a massive electoral turnout—the largest since “the illiterate” were granted the right to vote in 1979. But his election was also forcefully disputed: a broad right-wing coalition loudly cried “electoral fraud” and demanded the recount of ballots. Sustained for at least two months, the recount process seemed to mimic Trumpism in 2020, but it was also distinctively local in its motivations: accepting a rural school teacher, also half-time peasant born in the Andean highlands, as president of the country was not something they were willing to accept.

Ideological accusations were added to claims of fraud: Castillo, a radical leftist, was dangerously close to remnants of the terrorist Shining Path.[1] Other allegations mounted: he was everything from a participant in violent peasant vigilante groups, the rondas campesinas, to a member of a fanatic Evangelical Christian group. His wife did not even speak proper Spanish! Pedro Castillo was impossible as President of Peru—or so it appeared to the right-wing coalition that decried fraud.

These apparently irrational and ridiculous arguments have a historical foundation, which the late Aníbal Quijano, Peruvian sociologist, conceptualized as “the coloniality of power” or the organization of a world-system through hierarchies stemming from modern notions of race-class-geography-gender (Quijano 2000). In Latin America “the lettered city”—a term coined by Angel Rama, Uruguayan literary critic—was epicentral to the distribution of these hierarchies. In the Peruvian imaginary, the further from the city, the less literate, and also the less white (or the more Indian) the population. This overlapped with the official geography of the country; accordingly, greater degrees of literacy existed in coastal cities, lesser in the highlands, and less even in the Amazonian region.

Unsurprisingly, distance from literacy amounted to capacity to reason, and indeed to reason politically, also measured geographically. Within this logic, Lima has always been the center of modern politics—including corruption and state terror. Thus, Pedro Castillo alone—the racial antagonistic anxiety he provoked among hegemonic politicians—sufficed as reason for his impossibility. Yet, paradoxically, accruing to his impossibility (in the dominant imaginary) was what had made him possible: his voters were overwhelmingly Indigenous, dwelling in remote highland villages.

Sustained by historical habits of the lettered city, highland villages were the predictable focus of electoral impeachment efforts: “those people” were ignorant, easily manipulated, illiterate, their votes had been bought, or simply forged so unaware of modern practices “those people” are. Succinctly: “those people” are impossible as political subjects; if anything, they are the lucky object of policies (of development, for example). Alas, during his short mandate, Pedro Castillo—one of “those people”—contributed to the imaginary of this impossibility, including his own. The evidence of clientelism, corruption, and political ineptitude at every scale of his government was more obvious than during the many previous incompetent presidencies. Making this evident, Pedro Castillo terminated his mandate with an unconstitutional attempt to cancel the Congress; a clumsily calculated self-coup for which—unlike the currently incarcerated ex-president, Alberto Fujimori in 1992—he had absolutely no political support. Pedro Castillo’s prompt imprisonment, which was televised and went viral in social media, in turn ignited protests among his supporters—those who in the 2021 election had achieved the (until then) impossible. Their right to elect one of their own as their representative was seemingly denied by Castillo’s enemies and eventually, alas, by Castillo himself: his governmental ineptitude and self- coup recklessly betrayed those who trusted him as their representative.

If Castillo’s supporters can perhaps—and with difficulty—separate themselves from the failed ex-President, his enemies cannot uncouple them from Castillo. Invoked through race, the coloniality of state power may enact an antagonistic relation: the modern political expression and continuity of a war inaugurated with the extirpation of idolatries in the sixteenth century, which became silent throughout the republican period in step with a nation-building mandate “to educate the Indigenous population”—a war of eradication through other means.

Be that as it may, when Castillo’s supporters protested against what they saw as the wrongful imprisonment of their elected representative, the state met them as it would meet enemies: with the violence of bullets. The number of deaths is almost sixty, the wounded exceed nine hundred. The majority are Aymara and Quechua speaking men and women, inhabitants of the highland villages that had elected Pedro Castillo; as massively as they voted, they walked and converged in provincial cities where the protests began and most deaths occurred.

Now protestors continue to walk. Their goal is Lima, the capital of the country and “lettered city” par excellence, where some have already arrived. The demands now include the resignation of former vice-president Dina Boluarte, Castillo’s constitutional successor, as being responsible for more than sixty deaths (and growing) cancels any constitutional mandate and strips her legitimacy. Walking against violence and in solidarity with those whom it killed, the caminantes (those who walk) now demand the right to protest in peace. Those who travel from the Andes to Lima, do so “to be seen” as in a recent declaration to the New York Times; this is a claim to the right to be subjects of politics—not its objects.

The short pieces that follow draw on the authors’ earlier work to think the estallido social—or marcha a Lima, as the current juncture is being called—is an event that, while perhaps not reversing history, will make a “before and after” marked by at least the awareness of the way in which Peruvian modern politics is drenched in racism.


[1] The Shining Path was a Maoist guerrilla group whose conflict with the Peruvian government lasted from 1980 to 1992, often referred to as the “internal conflict.”


Quijano, Anibal. 2000. “Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America.Nepantla: Views from South 1, no. 3: 533–580.