LIMA – Two people have been hospitalized with gunshot wounds after police intervened to quell the latest round of nationwide protests in Peru following the controversial ouster this week of President Martin Vizcarra.
The reports of injuries were issued on Friday by the EsSalud public healthcare service, which said there were no reports of fatalities from the violent incidents that began Thursday night.
The person most seriously wounded was 27-year-old Percy Perez, who was shot in the abdomen and underwent emergency surgery at Guillermo Almenara Irigoyen Hospital in Lima.
Luis Alejandro Aguilar, 26, who also suffered a gunshot wound and was admitted to the same hospital, is reportedly in stable condition.
Peru’s National Coordinator for Human Rights said for its part that a third person, 27-year-old Ruben Guevara, was struck with a pellet that disfigured his face and may have caused a permanent eye injury.
Daniel Olivares, a lawmaker from the centrist Purple Party, the only faction in Congress to oppose the removal of Vizcarra as a bloc, also said two other people suffered injuries and were admitted to hospitals in Lima.
But it is unclear whether or not Guevara was one of those individuals.
The confirmation of gunshot victims comes after a night in which numerous video recordings were shared via Internet of questionable police actions, including the use of firearms by apparent undercover agents.
The presence of those agents – members of a police unit known as Grupo Terna – during the first days of protest after Vizcarra’s removal from office by Congress was harshly criticized by rights organizations in Peru and abroad.
Gaston Rodriguez, sworn in on Thursday as interior minister by new President Manuel Merino, denied the presence of Grupo Terna in remarks to reporters during Thursday night’s protests.
He also denied that pellets had been fired despite numerous reports to the contrary from demonstrators and several journalists covering the protests.
Tens of thousands of people in Lima and many thousands more in other cities nationwide demonstrated Thursday night against Merino, who was elevated from congressional speaker to the presidency; his Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Antero Flores-Araoz; and Congress, which voted overwhelmingly on Monday to oust Vizcarra.
The protest in Lima unfolded peacefully over several hours in a festive atmosphere, with large numbers of young people on the streets.
It was only as the demonstrations were winding down that there were any violent incidents, which many people said had been instigated by the police.
Rodriguez, however, blamed the protesters for the violence, saying they threw rocks at police after being barred from advancing toward the Legislative Palace in Lima.
Two months after an earlier attempt to impeach Vizcarra fizzled out, 105 of 130 members voted Monday night to oust him for “moral incapacity” based on unproven accusations of corruption during his 2011-2014 tenure as governor of the Moquegua region.
The impeachment bid in September collapsed when several parties withdrew their support after Vizcarra revealed that Merino had approached the military brass to secure their backing for a move against the president.
Vizcarra took office in March 2018 after his predecessor resigned to avoid being impeached. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was forced out on suspicion he received some of the $30 million in bribes Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht paid to officials to obtain lucrative public works contracts.
Despite his having no party behind him, Vizcarra has had some success in reforming Peru’s judiciary and forcing an early congressional election and enjoys an approval rating of around 50%.
Media outlets, along with 2021 presidential hopefuls George Forsyth and Julio Guzman, have suggested the removal of Vizcarra is tantamount to a coup.
Peru’s Constitutional Tribunal is currently reviewing the validity of “moral incapacity” as a reason to impeach a president. The mechanism was created in the 19th century to address a situation in which the head of state is mentally impaired.