Zoe Alexandra

'They shot them down like animals': Massacre at Peru's Ayacucho

On December 15, 2022, while helicopters flew overhead, members of Peru’s national army shot down civilians with live bullets in the outskirts of the city of Ayacucho. This action was in response to a national strike and mobilization to protest the coup d’état that deposed President Pedro Castillo on December 7.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

On December 15, hundreds of university students, shopkeepers, street vendors, agricultural workers, and activists gathered at the center of Ayacucho to express their discontent over the removal of Castillo and continued their mobilization toward the airport. Similar action was witnessed in several other cities across the southern Andean region of the country.

As protesters approached the airport, members of the armed forces opened fire and shot tear gas canisters directly at them. The firing by the army from the helicopters proved to be the most lethal. As the hundreds of unarmed people ran for their lives, the shooting continued.

Ten people were killed as a result of this violence inflicted by the army, and dozens more were injured, according to official numbers provided by the ombudsman’s office. At least six people are still fighting for their lives in hospitals in Peru’s capital Lima and in Ayacucho. Autopsies of 10 of those who died in Ayacucho show that six of the victims died from gunshot wounds to the chest. The youngest was just 15 years old.

On December 27, Reuters reported how one of these fatal victims in Ayacucho, 51-year-old Edgar Prado, was shot and killed while attempting to help someone else who had been shot down during the protests.

The exceedingly violent response of the security forces to the anti-coup protests across Peru was widely condemned. A delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) visited the country from December 20 to 22 to receive testimonies from local human rights organizations and victims about the violent repression suffered by protesters and also spoke to families of the 28 fatal victims. The delegation traveled to Ayacucho on December 22.

More than a dozen other family members, Ayacucho inhabitants, organizers, and a couple of independent journalists, including myself, waited on the sidewalk of one of the city’s narrow and colorful streets as the meeting was underway. As people came and went, much of the events and tragedies of December 15 were recounted.

The Massacre

“They won’t show you this on the news here,” Carmen (name changed) told me as she showed me a video on her phone of a young boy with blood all over his shirt being dragged to safety by fellow protesters. “That’s her nephew,” she said, pointing to a woman sitting on the ground.

Pedro Huamani, a 70-year-old man who is a member of the Front in Defense of the People of Ayacucho (FREDEPA), was accompanying the victims waiting outside the IACHR meeting. “We have suffered a terrible loss,” he told me, “I was present that day in a peaceful march toward the airport.”

“When they began to shoot tear gas grenades and bullets at us, I started to choke, I almost died there,” Huamani said. “I escaped and went down to the cemetery, but it was the same, we were trying to enter and they started to shoot at us from behind. Helicopters were flying overhead and from there they shot tear gas grenades at us, trying to kill us.”

Carmen brought over some of her friends and one of them, who was wearing a gray sweatsuit, told me, “We all live near the airport, and saw everything happen. You should’ve seen how they shot them down like animals. We tried to help some of the injured, but it was hard.”

The massacre in Ayacucho, as well as the violent repression across the country, has only intensified people’s demand that Dina Boluarte step down. Boluarte was sworn in on December 7 immediately following the coup against Castillo. In interviews and public addresses, she has justified the use of force by police against protesters calling their actions as acts of “terrorism” and “vandalism.”

Huamani, while shaking and holding back tears, said: “She is a murderous president and in Huamanga, we do not want her, nor do we recognize her as president because this woman ordered the police and the army to shoot at us Peruvians. And these bullets, these weapons, are really bought by us, not by the army, nor the soldiers, but by the people. And for them to kill us is really horrible.”

The anger felt by Ayacucho residents is also linked to the historical undermining of Peruvian democracy and the economic exclusion suffered by the regions outside of Lima. Huamani explained: “They took out our president [Castillo] so this is not a democracy. We are not a democracy, we are in [state of] war, but not just in Ayacucho and Huamanga, but also in Arequipa, Apurímac, Cusco. In these regions, we are suffering from poverty, we can no longer survive, we are dying of hunger… and these right-wingers want to make us their slaves, but we won’t permit this because we are responding and resisting.”

Old Wounds Ripped Open

December 15 was not the first time civilians in Ayacucho were massacred by the Peruvian armed forces. Many who were present on December 15 said that the warlike treatment received by the peaceful protesters was reminiscent of the days of the two-decades-long internal armed conflict that Peruvians suffered through more than 20 years ago.

“They still treat us as if we were all terrorists,” a family member of one of the victims of the protests pointed out.

As part of the state’s campaign against the guerrilla insurgency, it tortured, detained, disappeared, and murdered tens of thousands of innocent peasants and Indigenous people, accusing them of supporting or being part of the insurgency.

The population of Ayacucho was one of the hardest hit. According to reports by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was set up to look into the human rights violations, of the estimated 69,280 fatal victims of the internal armed conflict in Peru from 1980-2000, 26,000 were killed or disappeared by state actors or insurgent groups in Ayacucho. Thousands of people that fled their towns for the city of Ayacucho during the conflict continue to search for their loved ones and demand justice.

One of them is Paula Aguilar Yucra, who I met outside the IACHR meeting. Like more than 60 percent of people in Ayacucho, Indigenous Quechua is her first language. The 63-year-old is a member of the Ayacucho-based National Association of Relatives of Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared of Peru (ANFASEP). She fled her rural community in Usmay for Ayacucho in 1984 after her mother was killed and her brother was taken by soldiers and never seen again.

Nearly 40 years later, she mourns again. Her grandson, 20-year-old José Luis Aguilar Yucra, father of a two-year-old boy, was killed on December 15 by a bullet to the head as he attempted to make his way home from work.

In a vigil held on the afternoon of December 22, Paula stood tall with the other members of ANFASEP and held a sign reading: “Fighting today does not mean dying tomorrow.”

Author Bio: Zoe Alexandra is a journalist and co-editor of Peoples Dispatch.

South Africans are fighting for crumbs: A conversation with trade union leader Irvin Jim

In mid-December, the African National Congress (ANC) held its national conference where South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa was reelected as leader of his party, which means that he will lead the ANC into the 2024 general elections. A few delegates at the Johannesburg Expo Center in Nasrec, Gauteng—where the party conference was held—shouted at Ramaphosa asking him to resign because of a scandal called Farmgate (Ramaphosa survived a parliamentary vote against his impeachment following the scandal).

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Irvin Jim, the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), told us that his country “is sitting on a tinderbox.” A series of crises are wracking South Africa presently: an unemployment crisis, an electricity crisis, and a crisis of xenophobia. The context behind the ANC national conference is stark. “The situation is brutal and harsh,” Irvin Jim said. “The social illness that people experience each day is terrible. The rate of crime has become very high. The gender-based violence experienced by women is very high. The statistics show us that basically people are fighting for crumbs.”

At the ANC conference, five of the top seven posts—from the president to treasurer general—went to Ramaphosa’s supporters. With the Ramaphosa team in place, and with Ramaphosa himself to be the presidential candidate in 2024, it is unlikely that the ANC will propose dramatic changes to its policy orientation or provide a new outlook for the country’s future to the South African people. The ANC has governed the country for almost 30 years beginning in 1994 after apartheid ended, and the party has won a commanding 62.65 percent of the total vote share since then before the 2014 general elections. In the last general election in 2019, Ramaphosa won with 57.5 percent of the vote, still ahead of any of its opponents. This grip on electoral power has created a sense of complacency in the upper ranks of the ANC. However, at the grassroots, there is anxiety. In the municipal elections of 2021, the ANC support fell below 50 percent for the first time. A national opinion poll in August 2022 showed that the ANC would get 42 percent of the vote in the 2024 elections if they were held then.

Negotiated Settlement

Irvin Jim is no stranger to the ANC. Born in South Africa’s Eastern Cape in 1968, Jim threw himself into the anti-apartheid movement as a young man. Forced by poverty to leave his education, he worked at Firestone Tire in Port Elizabeth. In 1991, Jim became a NUMSA union shop steward. As part of the communist movement and the ANC, Jim observed that the new government led by former South African President Nelson Mandela agreed to a “negotiated settlement” with the old apartheid elite. This “settlement,” Irvin Jim argued, “left intact the structure of white monopoly capital,” which included their private ownership of the country’s minerals and energy as well as finance. The South African Reserve Bank committed itself, he told us, “to protect the value of white wealth.” In the new South Africa, he said, “Africans can go to the beach. They can take their children to the school of their choice. They can choose where to live. But access to these rights is determined by their economic position in society. If you have no access to economic power, then you have none of these liberties.”

In 1996, the ANC did make changes to the economic structure, but without harming the “negotiated settlement.” The policy known as GEAR (Growth, Employment, and Redistribution) created growth for the owners of wealth, but failed to create a long-term process of employment and redistribution. Due to the ANC’s failure to address the problem of unemployment—catastrophically the unemployment rate was 63.9 percent during the first quarter of 2022 for those between the ages of 15 and 24—the social distress being faced by South Africans has further been aggravated. The ANC, Irvin Jim said, “has exposed the country to serious vulnerability.”

Solidarity Not Hate

Even if the ANC wins less than 50 percent of the vote in the next general elections, it will still be able to form a government since no other party will attract even comparable support (in the 2019 elections, the Democratic Alliance won merely 20.77 percent of the vote). Irvin Jim told us that there is a need for progressive forces in South Africa to fight and “revisit the negotiated settlement” and create a new policy outline for South Africa. The 2013 National Development Plan 2030 is a pale shadow of the kind of policy required to define South Africa’s future. “It barely talked about jobs,” Jim said. “The only jobs it talked about were window office cleaning and hairdressing. There was no drive to champion manufacturing and industrialization.”

A new program—which would revitalize the freedom agenda in South Africa—must seek “economic power alongside political power,” said Jim. This means that “there is a genuine need to take ownership and control of all the commanding heights of the economy.” South Africa’s non-energy mineral reserves are estimated to be worth $2.4 trillion to $3 trillion. The country is the world’s largest producer of chrome, manganese, platinum, vanadium, and vermiculite, as well as one of the largest producers of gold, iron ore, and uranium. How a country with so much wealth can be so poor is answered by the lack of public control South Africa has over its metals and minerals. “South Africa needs to take public ownership of these minerals and metals, develop the processing of these through industrialization, and provide the benefits to the marginalized, landless, and dispossessed South Africans, most of whom are Black,” said Jim.

No program like this will be taken seriously if the working class and the urban poor remain fragmented and powerless. Jim told us that his union—NUMSA—is working with others to link “shop floor struggles with community struggles,” the “employed with the unemployed,” and are building an atmosphere of “solidarity rather than the spirit of hate.” The answers for South Africa will have to come from these struggles, says the veteran trade union leader. “The people,” he said, “have to lead the leaders.”

Author Bio: Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

Zoe Alexandra is a journalist and co-editor of Peoples Dispatch.

Lula must save Brazil from savage capitalism, says Federal Deputy Juliana Cardoso

Juliana Cardoso is sitting in her office in front of a lavender, orange, and yellow mandala that was made for her. She has been a member of São Paulo’s city council since 2008. On October 2, 2022, as a candidate for the Workers Party (PT), Cardoso won a seat in Brazil’s lower house, the Federal Chamber of Deputies.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

She is wearing a t-shirt that bears the powerful slogan: O Brasil é terra indígena (Brazil is Indigenous land). The slogan echoes her brave campaign against the disregard shown by Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s 38th president defeated on October 30, towards the Indigenous populations of his country. In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, Bolsonaro vetoed Law no. 14021 which would have provided drinking water and basic medical materials to Indigenous communities. Several organizations took Bolsonaro to the International Criminal Court for this action.

In April 2022, Cardoso wrote that the rights of the Indigenous “did not come from the kindness of those in power, but from the struggles of Indigenous people over the centuries. Though guaranteed in the [1988] Constitution, these rights are threatened daily.” Her political work has been defined by her commitment to her own Indigenous heritage but also by her deep antipathy to the “savage capitalism” that has cannibalized her country.

Savage Capitalism

Bolsonaro had accelerated a project that Cardoso told us was an “avalanche of savage capitalism. It is a capitalism that kills, that destroys, that makes a lot of money for a few people.” The current beneficiaries of this capitalism refuse to recognize that the days of their unlimited profits are nearly over. These people—most of whom supported Bolsonaro—“live in a bubble of their own, with lots of money, with swimming pools.” Lula’s election victory on October 30 will not immediately halt their “politics of death,” but it has certainly opened a new possibility.

New studies about poverty in Brazil reveal startling facts. An FGV Social study from July 2022 found that almost 63 million Brazilians—30% of the country’s population—live below the poverty line (10 million Brazilians slipped below that line to join those in poverty between 2019 and 2021). The World Bank documented the spatial and racial divides of Brazil’s poverty: three in ten of Brazil’s poor are Afro-Brazilian women in urban areas, while three-quarters of children in poverty live in rural areas. President Bolsonaro’s policies of upward redistribution of wealth during the pandemic and after contributed to the overall poverty in the country and exacerbated the deep social inequalities of race and region that already existed. This, Cardoso says, is evidence of the “savage capitalism” that has gripped her country and left tens of millions of Brazilians in a “hole, with no hope of living.”

To Sow Hope

“I was born and raised within the PT,” she tells us, in the Sapopemba area of São Paulo. Surrounded by the struggles against “savage capitalism,” Cardoso was raised by parents who were active in the PT. “As a girl, I walked amongst those who built the PT, such as José Dirceu, José Genoino, President Lula himself,” as well as her mother—Ana Cardoso, who was one of the founders of the PT. Her parents—Ana Cardoso and Jonas “Juruna” Cardoso—were active in the struggles of the metalworkers and for public housing in the Fazenda da Juta area of Sapopemba. A few days after he led a protest in 1985, Juruna was shot to death by mysterious gunmen. Juliana had been sitting in his lap outside their modest home in the COHAB Teotônio Vilela. Her mother was told not to insist on an investigation, since this would “bring more deaths.” This history of struggle defines Juliana.

“We are not bureaucrats,” she told us. “We are militants.” People like her who will be in the Congress will “use the instrument of the mandate to move an agenda” to better the conditions of everyday life. Pointing to the mandala in her office, Juliana says, “I think this lilac part is my shyness.” Her active life in politics, she says, “kind of changed me from being shy to being much firmer.” There is only one reason “why I am here,” she says, and that is “to sow, to have hope for seeds that will fight with me for the working class, for women, during this difficult class struggle.”

Politics in Brazil is Violent

Lula will be sworn into office on January 1, 2023. He will face a Chamber of Deputies and a Senate that are in the grip of the right-wing. This is not a new phenomenon, although the centrão (centre), the opportunistic bloc in the parliament that has run things, will now have to work alongside far-right members of Bolsonaro’s movement. Juliana and her left allies will be in a minority. The right, she says, enters politics with no desire to open a dialogue about the future of Brazil. Many right-wing politicians are harsh, formed by fake news and a suffocating attitude to money and religion. “Hate, weapons, death”—these are the words that seem to define the right-wing in Brazil. It is because of them that politics “is very violent.”

Juliana entered politics through struggles developed by the Base Ecclesiastical Communities (CEBs) of the Catholic Church, learning her ethics through Liberation Theology through the work of Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns and Paulo Freire. “You have to engage people in their struggles, dialogue with them about their struggles,” she told us. This attitude to building struggles and dialoguing with anyone defines Juliana as she prepares to go to Brasilia and take her seat in the right-wing-dominated National Congress.

Lula, Juliana says, “is an ace.” Few politicians have his capacity to dialogue with and convince others about the correctness of his positions. The left is weak in the National Congress, but it has the advantage of Lula. “President Lula will need to be the big star,” said Juliana. He will have to lead the charge to save Brazil from savage capitalism.

Author Bio: Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

Zoe Alexandra is a journalist and co-editor of Peoples Dispatch. She covers social movements and leftist politics in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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