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Travels Through El Perú Profundo

Above Photo: “New Constitution, Close Congress” Juliaca, Puno, Peru. Clau O’Brien Moscoso.

The people of Peru continue to protest the coup which ousted President Pedro Castillo Terrones.

Clau O’Brien Moscoso reports from Peru. 

National Strike, Day 61

I embark at 5pm from the center of Lima headed to Juliaca, Puno. The lady working at the bus depot assures me it will only be 21 hours, but the bloqueos (roadblocks) in Puno have made it nearly impossible to travel through the southernmost region. At the end of the day, I can only admire the resistance of Puno that saw its bloodiest day on January 9th, with 18 murdered in the city of Juliaca. Puno also has what is slated to be one of the largest lithium reserves in the world, in the town of Macusani. Puneños will be the first to tell you that’s exactly why the Peruvian coup regime has been so violent in that province – “they want our lithium.” Puno also borders Bolivia and has seen what is possible when the people govern – state nationalization and industrialization of resources to subsidize things like education, healthcare, and pensions, for the people. This is something the Peruvian state has yet to accomplish even before becoming a republic. The feeling on the ground is that this fight for justice is 500 years in the making since Europeans made contact.

We get to Arequipa about 17 hours later, but are forced to stay put for another 4 hours because the bloqueos won’t let up until early evening. It seems Puno has negotiated a partial lifting of the roadblocks after a certain time, and it’s the job of transport workers to know. The southern province of Arequipa saw horrific scenes on January 19th, with one dead and at least 10 severely injured. Many families throughout Perú remember the days of the Fujimori dictatorship when massacres happened regularly, disappearances were the norm, student and social movement leaders were assassinated and hundreds of thousands of predominantly indigenous campesina women were forcibly sterilized. Nearly 35 years later, not much has changed.

Back on the bus, we go from coastal driving through central Perú to deeper up the Andes. The natural beauty is breathtaking, but you also see in real time the conditions of the majority indigenous populations that live in deep Perú. From few maintained roads and highways to only a handful of high schools for towns expanding 5 hours travel, it is plain to see exactly what the divide is between the centralist capital city and the countryside that thecapital extracts its resources to power its glutinous lifestyle. After 25 hours, we finally arrived in Juliaca. Dead tired from the drive, I enter the nearest hotel to pass out as I know it will be a packed schedule the next few days. My intention is to travel to various parts of Puno to document the brutal state repression in the provinces and the militant resistance to 500 years of oppression.

The next morning, I found one of the few restaurants open in the Plaza de Armas in Juliaca. The paro nacional (general strike) is felt strongest in Puno. Only a handful of businesses are open and those that are try not to appear open. From inside the restaurant, I can hear chants growing louder. I peak outside from the half open gates and witness a sea of wiphalas – the multi colored flag that represents not just the 4 suyos (corners) of the pre-Hispanic Andean civilization of Tawantinsuyu, but also signifies Andean philosophy that constitutes time, space, energy and our planet.

I leave the restaurant to join the protest, but not before the waitress tells me the protesters don’t want to be filmed- they have been persecuted by state officials after being filmed by Limeña press. I assure her I am with the prensa alternativa (alternative press) and supportive of the protests, but the risk people here take are much greater than I can imagine. I cross the street into the Plaza de Armas where the protesters are now congregated. I am able to film for about 15 minutes until I am asked to identify myself and answer why I am filming. I take out my vest that says “International Press” and show my articles to the compañero, the brief moment of tension subsides as he thanks me for covering the human rights abuses. I stay filming and speaking to people for another 20 minutes before I have to find my way to the city of Puno and then hope to get to Desaguadero on the border with Bolivia that has been completely shut down for months.

After speaking to several of the motorcyclists that have been keeping track of the bloqueos and what possible routes might be open for me, I get on the back of one of their bikes and ask the young transport worker to take me as far as possible in the direction of Puno. He says typically it’s a half hour drive but that could be longer now. Roughly 10 minutes into our scenic drive, we come across a giant bloqueo of tires, trees, bricks, and dozens of protesters reinforcing the roadblock – nobody in, nobody out. I speak to one of the elder compañeras with a bright fuschia pollera (traditional Andean skirt) on. She tells me I can walk ahead and that soon enough they will start letting bikes through again. It’s also Carnaval season and the festivities have been political this year, but the traditions persist and I dodge a water balloon a young boy throws in my direction.

Finally after several hours and a boat ride through Lake Titicaca, I made it to Kasani on the border with Perú and Bolivia. Bolivia is celebrating Carnaval while the Peruvian side is observing the strike – Aymaras on both sides mourning and celebrating. I walk across the border from Bolivia back into Perú (the boat had to drop us off at the Bolivian side as part of a negotiation to respect the strike) and witness a town fully abandoned by the state. The centralized government in Lima pulled back its armed forces from many parts of Puno, including here in Yunguyo where the police department, migration office, Customs and Border Control, and other government offices have been burnt down. Once again I am able to film for a short time before I am asked to identify myself. The trust for the national press has been completely decimated as they carry out daily attacks on the protesters and indigenous Andean and Amazonian communities calling everyone a terrorist while justifying crimes against humanity on their daily broadcasts. And it’s not hard to understand why there would be little trust in anyone from Lima. I ask the compañeros if they think I can get to Desaguadero from Yunguyo and they assure me I won’t make it there for at least another few days. The further south in Puno, the stronger the strike.

I ended up staying across the border for a couple of days before making the long trip back to Lima. Overall it takes me 3 days and transportation by land, air and sea but eventually I end up getting back to the capital city. This time with a deeper knowledge of the acute divide and inequality that has persisted for 5 centuries that provincial compañeros traveled to Lima to overthrow, by any means necessary.

Clau O’Brien Moscoso is an organizer with the Black Alliance for Peace in the Haiti/Americas Team. Originally from Barrios Altos, Lima, she grew up in New Jersey and now lives between both countries.

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