Peru imposes then lifts curfew to quell price protests

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Peru’s president on Tuesday lifted the curfew he had imposed less than a day earlier on the country’s capital and main port in a bid to quell sometimes violent protests against rising fuel and food prices.

President Pedro Castillo had announced the surprise curfew and emergency measures shortly before midnight and ended them on Tuesday afternoon after more than 1,000 people protested the stay-at-home order in Lima and in the middle of a meeting with congressional leaders. Opposition lawmakers had called the emergency measures illegal.

“It is up to the executive right now to reverse the measure limiting mobility,” Castillo said when meeting with lawmakers to discuss the political crisis.

The curfew and emergency measures marked the first time since the government of now-imprisoned strongman Alberto Fujimori that Peruvian authorities ordered people to stay at home to control protests. On April 5, 1992, Fujimori shut down Peru’s congress and judiciary and sent tanks to the streets amid social and economic unrest.

On Tuesday, major highways and markets in Lima were nearly deserted, and major bus and public transit lines were out of service. The empty streets resembled the strictest closures of the COVID-19 pandemic which has hit Peru hard, killing more than 212,000 people.

“It’s a shame. We are living in a terrible economic situation, my brother,” said Juan Gutiérrez, 45, a father of four, who had been waiting in vain for a bus for more than an hour to go to a tailoring workshop. where he is. paid by the piece.

“Do you know what it means to waste a day? We have to work to eat,” he said.

The state of emergency ordered people to stay at home and restricted the rights of movement and assembly. It also relaxed rules limiting arbitrary searches.

The government said people could only leave their homes in the event of a medical emergency or to buy medicine or food. The curfew exempted essential services such as food markets, pharmacies, clinics and garbage collection. But there were no buses to take the workers to their jobs.

Truckers and other transport workers have been protesting and striking over fuel and food prices, blocking some key highways. Protests over the past week have left four dead, the burning of toll booths and small-scale looting.

In response, the government temporarily scrapped a tax on Sunday that raises petrol and diesel prices by 28% to 30%.

This would have lowered the price of diesel to 47 cents per liter, or about $3.68 per gallon. But many protesters said stations have not embraced the lower prices.

Castillo said the unrest caused “the concern of workers, mothers and the general population” and imposed the curfew to “restore peace and internal order”.

Defense Minister Jose Gavidia told reporters on Tuesday that the curfew was prompted by intelligence that there were plans for wider violence, particularly in central Lima.

Armed soldiers have been deployed at strategic points in the Peruvian capital and the port of Callao, including the airport, gas stations and shopping malls. Officers were seen detaining several passengers on a bus taking people to a protest in southern Lima.

“I don’t think things will get better overnight because (Castillo) has closed everything,” said Elena Gamboa, 40, who managed to open her street stall despite the curfew.

In Lima’s wealthier neighborhoods, people banged pots and pans in protest. A 75-year-old man, who identified himself only as Oscar, said he was marching against “the communist government of Castillo”.

Castillo has acknowledged in recent weeks that the country is facing an economic crisis which he attributes to the pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine.