LIMA – Grace Yarango is only 18 years old and has already helped overthrow a president. Now they – and many other Peruvian millennials and Generation Z youth – have bigger prizes in their sights: constitutional changes and reform of a widely maligned congress.
Peru’s younger generation – referred to as the “bicentenary” in connection with the 200th anniversary of Peruvian independence next year – has been at the center of recent protests that led to the resignation of the country’s interim president on Sunday.
The appointment of socially liberal lawmaker Francisco Sagasti on Tuesday – Peru’s third president in just over a week – restored calm, but the crisis has sparked greater anger among the country’s political classes and rampant corruption.
That could lead Peru to follow in the footsteps of Andean neighbor Chile, which is rewriting its constitution after fiery street demonstrations last year.
“We want to fix the mistakes of past generations,” said Yarango, who is expected to vote for the first time next year in the April elections. “I feel part of this 200-year-old generation, we want a better country.”
The protests were sparked by the sudden removal of popular, centrist leader Martin Vizcarra by an opposition-led congress in impeachment on November 9, many of whom were angry with Vizcarra’s anti-transplant measures. Young Peruvians railed against the legislature as corrupt and waved banners calling for an amendment to the constitution.
“There are no clean legislators,” said Angelica Guerra, 20, who went to protest in downtown Lima on Tuesday.
Peru’s bicentennial could be crucial in the April elections. According to official information, people between 20 and 34 years make up around 40% of the people of the mandatory voting age. They grew up in a rapidly changing Peru, which has experienced strong economic growth for years due to mine exports and which has given them access to communication tools and information their parents could never have imagined.
More than half of 18- to 24-year-olds said they took part in various anti-government protests this month, whether by marching or hitting the streets, according to a poll by the IEP think tank. That compared to a third of those over 40.
Around 90% of Peruvians surveyed said they rejected Congress and 65% did not identify with a political party, a potentially volatile mix as the economy struggled with a sharp decline following a severe pandonavirus pandemic.
“SPIRIT OF REBELLION”
Political leaders are starting to take notice.
“Today, the big citizens’ movement belongs to the youth,” said the 76-year-old Sagasti in his inaugural address after taking office.
“We have to call on the youth of all ages because there are adults who have a young spirit of rebellion, the youthful spirit of looking for a better country, and that’s what we need.”
Reuters spoke to over a dozen Peruvians, mostly in their twenties, who vowed to keep protesting until leaders agreed to real change. They gathered in Plaza San Martin in Lima earlier this week. They were wrapped in red and white flags and carried signs that read “Bicentennial”.
Many said they wanted Peru’s unicameral congress to be overhauled. Others wanted a new constitution to replace what they called the illegitimate Magna Carta, created in 1993 by former strong President Alberto Fujimori, before many of them were born.
Most did not fully witness the violence of the Fujimori government, but saw one president after another embroiled in corruption scandals.
“People expect not only presidents to change, but institutions to change,” said Cesar Landa, a senior constitutional lawyer. “This is a moment in which to find the constitution.”
But the challenges remain. The movement has no visible leaders yet, and anyone under 25 is too young to run for Congress by themselves.
The protests also met with fierce resistance from the security forces, who were often criticized by human rights organizations for using excessive force. There are ongoing investigations.
And none of the political parties has so far made it a cornerstone of their strategy to target young voters. But Peru’s youth have demographics on their side.
“Our generation has come together for this,” said 20-year-old Evelyn Borja. “This is the first time that I feel part of politics.”