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Peru's political stalemate and civil unrest show little signs of letting up

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Peru faced a weekend of protest in which at least one person died. The total death toll in confrontations in recent weeks is 58. Anti-government demonstrators want the president out and new elections. And the demands for political change are loudest in southern Peru, where the population is poor and largely Indigenous. Here's NPR's Carrie Kahn.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Spanish).

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Protesters shout insults about current President Dina Boluarte as they march around the stunning downtown plaza in Cusco, the colonial city perched 11,000-feet high in the Peruvian Andes.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Spanish).

KAHN: We're from here. We're not terrorists, they chant, as a steady rain soaks them and Cusco's cobblestone streets. Boluarte, who's been in power since her predecessor was arrested and impeached last month, is unmoved. She recently doubled down, calling protesters pawns of drug traffickers, illegal miners and terrorist groups bent on creating chaos in the country. Protesters have dug in, too. They're blocking roads and disrupting commerce from Cusco down to the Sacred Valley, all the way to the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, leaving the small towns along that usually bustling tourist trail desolate.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER FLOWING)

KAHN: Especially in Ollantaytambo. Here, water from the river of the same name rushes through town and stone-lined irrigation canals. Most of the more than a million visitors a year heading to Machu Picchu stop here to catch the train that takes them through the mountains to the 15th century citadel. But for the past 10 days, the station has been shuttered, only soldiers and police clad in riot gear allowed inside. Nearby shops and restaurants are empty.

LEONIDES FLORES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: It's sad. It's so quiet, says 35-year-old Leonides Flores. He says he and his wife, Yony, keep opening their small restaurant off the central square out of habit. They don't know what else to do.

YONY: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: But Yony says they're willing to muddle through this crisis if in the end they get a better government. Both say they weren't fans of former President Pedro Castillo, especially when he tried to dissolve congress and rule by decree. They did hope his rural Indigenous background would make him more sympathetic to their struggles. They're fed up with lawmakers like Boluarte and congress, who they say only care about Lima. Juan Yupanq says the same. He heads one of the largest peasant and Indigenous groups in Ollantaytambo.

JUAN YUPANQ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Wearing a wide-brimmed hat covered in long strips of pink and purple cloth, he says the government uses Indigenous traditional farmers like him to impress tourists but do little to help them prosper. Many along this route complain that the millions of annual tourist dollars don't go to them but to large agencies, bus companies and hotel owners.

YUPANQ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "They're not looking for solutions or listening to our needs." He says the blockades are hurting the local economy, so they've decided to take the fight to Lima. But bus fare, food, lodging is going to cost.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Those making the trip head to the town's central market. One calls out to the vendors to come listen to their appeal.

ROGELIO VALDEZ SOLIS: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We have a just cause, and we need to show our faces in Lima," says Rogelio Valdez Solis, another local Indigenous leader. Women dig into their well-worn aprons, handing over 10 and 20 soles notes - about 3 to $6.

SOLIS: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Thousands from cities all over the south are doing the same, ratcheting up the pressure on Boluarte to step down. Indeed, she did call for new elections to be held this year. Over the weekend, though, Congress rejected it.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Ollantaytambo, Peru.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEAVV'S "BLUE VIEW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.