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Tourists are trapped in Lima as protesters block main roads

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The last time we talked with journalist Simeon Tegel from Lima, Peru's president had just been arrested. An emergency government had just been installed, a curfew imposed. That was December 7 - so less than two weeks ago. And in the intervening days, the chaos has continued. So have protests. So have power grabs. Well, Simeon Tegel is back. He's still in Lima. He's here to update us on the latest. Hey there.

SIMEON TEGEL: Hi.

KELLY: Hi. OK. Start with who is running things. The last time we talked to you, the country's vice president had just taken over. She had declared the state of emergency. Where do things stand?

TEGEL: So that's correct. Her name is Dina Boluarte. She was Pedro Castillo's vice president on the same ticket as him. Free Peru, the party is called. She is still president after a week, although there have been calls for her to resign. And she lost a couple of cabinet ministers over the weekend.

KELLY: She had to name a whole new cabinet, right? How is that going?

TEGEL: That's correct. She named a new cabinet. They're largely a technocratic cabinet. There's been a lot of criticism of the cabinet that it's not the right cabinet for this difficult moment in Peru. She needs a cabinet with political experience, people who are used to communicating the dialogue, to reacting rapidly and also to dealing with a Congress that is, frankly, very hard to deal with.

KELLY: What about the president who was just ousted, Pedro Castillo? When we spoke to you last, he had just been arrested. He was at a police station. Where is he now? What's his status?

TEGEL: So he now is behind bars still. He was initially given seven days of preliminary detention. Then he went before the judge, and the judge decided that he should be given 18 months of pre-trial detention. The reasoning for that is that there was thought to be a significant risk of flight. Pedro Castillo was actually arrested heading towards the Mexican embassy, where he was going to try and seek asylum. So it seems pretty well-founded the suspicion or the fear that he might try and then flee Peruvian jurisdiction. You know, he's gone literally three hours between leaving the presidential palace and ending up in police custody. So it really didn't take very long. And he did send out a series of tweets last week. He still regards himself as the official, constitutional president of Peru.

KELLY: What does daily life feel like where you are in the capital? I mean, you're describing political chaos. I'm also reading trains have been disrupted. Air travel has been disrupted because protesters have stormed the airports. Is the country working? Is it running?

TEGEL: So really, this is a tale of two Perus. Lima, which is where 10 million Peruvians - nearly one-third of the population - live, has been largely unaffected by the turmoil and the protests. There were some protests in downtown Lima near Congress, but those have fizzled out. There's been a heavy police presence. It has to be said. But most of the protests - and they are still going on - are in mountain areas, impoverished mountain areas that voted heavily for Pedro Castillo and regard his ouster as unconstitutional and really a slap in the face for them. Those are the people that Pedro Castillo appealed to when he was campaigning with a very populist campaign. And they're the people now who are protesting.

KELLY: The protests, as you mentioned, have been violent. People have died. I'm remembering something you told us on December 7, which is that most Peruvians, whatever their politics, just want a break from the chaos. They are over it. It sounds like there's no end in sight.

TEGEL: That's right. Arguably, at least since 2016, we've had this kind of perpetual war between various cohorts of Congress and various presidents. So there's partly a structural issue with the electoral system here that sets up an opposition Congress to the president. But also, there are these deep inequalities, which are, you know, not going to be resolved quickly. The overwhelming demand in the country is for new elections to elect a new president but also to get rid of the current Congress, which is even more disliked than Pedro Castillo. The polls show that between 8 and 9 out of every 10 Peruvians want new elections. I mean, the pressure on them to give in and allow new elections is huge.

KELLY: Journalist Simeon Tegel on the line from Lima, Peru. Thank you.

TEGEL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Fuller
Kai McNamee
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.