“They messed with the wrong generation”: Peruvian Youth are breaking their silence

8 mins read

In a series of progressing political turmoil in Peru following the impeachment of Martin Vizcarra earlier this month, the youth no longer remained silent. With a powerful message “They Messed With The Wrong Generation” held in banners and trended in hashtags on social media, they were out to warn that they are no longer afraid of the system and corruption will no longer be tolerated. 

What is happening in Peru?

Thousands of young Peruvians have been actively flooding the streets in protest against the impeachment of Vizcarra denouncing the impeachment as a “legislative coup” with banners of “No to the impeachment” and “Congress go home” during the daily protests. 

In a poll published by the Institute of Peruvian Studies (IEP) last November 18, data showed that 91% disapproved of Vizcarra’s removal with also 83% who believed that the decision of the Congress was entirely a selfish act to advance their own political interests. 

“There are no parties that channel ideologies, instead we have groups who push for their personal interests,” says Hernán Chaparro, a Professor of media and public opinion at University of Lima. This in response to the IEP poll which showed that 65% of the participants expressed that they don’t feel represented by any current political party in Peru. 

Vizcarra who had clashed against the Congress during his presidency on a number of issues including educational, political, and judicial reforms has recently stepped down from his office due to allegations of corruption during his time as governor of the Moquegua region. Although he denied the allegations, he accepted the decision of the Congress without a legal fight. 

Under the Constitution, he was succeeded by head of Congress, Manuel Merino, which the masses of demonstrators vowed not to recognize according to Claudia Rebazza of CNN. This has escalated to a raucous and violent clash between protesters and the police which lasted for several days leaving Peru’s capital, Lima, in havoc. 

Daniel Lock, 24, was a victim of tear gas for the first time on November 14 amidst protests against the succession of Merino. He said, “We were walking and suddenly we heard the noise first and then the tear gas was coming, we tried to stay calm.” 

The Political Awakening

Rebazza noted in her analysis that “there is no question among most ordinary Peruvians that corruption is endemic in politics.” 

Peru who ranks 101 out of the 198 countries in Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perception Index is backed by an inglorious tradition of corruption allegations that tarnished Peru’s highest office with Vizcarra’s predecessors either imprisoned or under investigation such as former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski who served in office from 2016 to 2018. Kuczynski is currently under house arrest facing accusations of receiving over $4 million in Bribes from Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction firm which he reportedly denied.

Katia Castañeda, a 23-year-old communications student from the city of Cajamarca, said, “They removed [Vizcarra] five months before the election, in the middle of a pandemic causing awful instability for the country’s governability.” She, like many others, believed that the impeachment was “an irresponsible political caper.”

This has brought upon political awakening among Peruvians and surprisingly most among the young generation of Castañeda. Some were even first-time protesters like 26 year-old freelance photographer Victor Vílchez. In an interview with CNN, Vílchez said that he was not very interested in politics until he saw friends and colleagues protesting the impeachment. On that note, he felt a “social responsibility” to join the huge movement of citizens that want change. 

The Role of Social Media in the Political Awakening 

The fight against political corruption was not just on the street but has also extended its reach on different social media platforms. The hashtags #semetieronconlageneracionequivocada (They messed with the wrong generation) and  #Merinonomerepresenta (Merino does not represent me) have flooded Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tik Tok and has allowed young Peruvians to organize protests, create support groups, as well as share their own version of events. 

Chaparro noted that “social media had empowered disillusioned citizens by giving them a voice that could not be ignored.” He also added the influence and power of Tik Tok during this time.”They produce their own videos, they tell their own stories, this is what I think has uplifted them. Mobile screens have been become [have become] a social mirror,” he says. “Tik Tok has allowed them to see their own reality.” 

As of writing, the hashtag  #semetieronconlageneracionequivocada has already reached 14.9 million views on Tik Tok while #Merinonomerepresenta has 37 million views. 

One of the most viewed Tik Tok videos under the hashtag with over 4.3 million views was posted by user Adrian Espino and has since been then liked by 274,000 people and generated almost 4000 interactions. 

What Now?

Last November 15, under the pressure of mass demonstrations Merino resigned as President and was replaced by Francisco Sagasti, a 76-year-old centrist and member of the political party that voted as a bloc against Vizcarra’s impeachment. 

In his speech in Congress after his oath last November 17, he acknowledged the outrage and activism of the youth. He said, “The young have become the main actors, they demand representation and a space for political involvement.” He also added, “If the political class has any capacity to rectify the situation, the sacrifice of these young people should be a milestone for us to change the harmful way in which we have been practicing politics.”

Sagasti also admitted that Peru was due for a political reset.  

While there is no likelihood that the political narrative in Peru will truly advocate and implement a sweeping change under the Presidency of Sagasti, Peru’s youth already know the power that they hold seeing the changes that their voices can achieve. In the upcoming April elections, their vote will play a crucial role in the next years of government. 

With a more politically engaged youth, Chaparro said that “Politicians know now that they can’t do whatever they want, which is the best tool for political scrutiny.” 

“They messed with the wrong generation. This is a generation that carries the frustration of previous generations,” Castañeda said.

Thomas Lake

Resident tech nerd for the SF Times.