Harvard academics discussed recent political unrest in Peru and Brazil at a Weatherhead Center for International Affairs seminar on Tuesday.
Panelists Steven R. Levitsky, a professor of Latin American Studies and Government, and Fernando A. Bizzarro, a Ph.D. candidate in Government, reflected on public demonstrations and the political climate in Peru and Brazil. The panel was moderated by Frances Hagopian, the faculty chair of the Brazil Studies Program at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies.
During the event, Levitsky outlined the history of Peruvian politics that led up to the 2022 impeachment and imprisonment of Pedro Castillo, Peru’s former president.
The impeachment led to ongoing protests in Peru, though Levitsky said the demonstrations were “never really about Castillo.”
“Castillo’s fall was more of a catalyst, like the rise in metro fares in Chile,” Levitsky said. “People protested for a bunch of different reasons.”
Levitsky also offered his own solution on how to approach the current Peruvian political crisis.
“One thing that basically all the protesters shared in common was the demand for new elections,” Levitsky said. “The only possible exit under democracy is immediate election.”
The panelists also discussed recent political unrest in Brazil. On Jan. 8, 2023, a group in support of former Brazilian President Jair M. Bolsonaro raided government offices, including the Brazilian Congress, the Palácio da Alvorada, and the Supreme Court.
“From that day, those of us who were watching from abroad were in some way feeling the way which I believe the Americans felt on January 6,” Bizzarro said.
Bizzarro defended the Brazilian Supreme Court’s response to the unrest, though he acknowledged there is ongoing debate over whether the body is “overreaching.”
“The way I understand what’s going on right now is that it’s an exceptional response by the Brazilian democracy, or its democratic institutions, to the unprecedented situation of having the president and the military and its allies trying to overthrow the government,” Bizzarro said.
Bizzarro added that he believes international pressure will be integral to maintaining democracy in Brazil.
“I think the international community is playing a major role in Brazil in helping secure democracy,” he said.
Despite ongoing protests, Levitsky said he believes the potential for civil war in Peru and other countries in Latin America remains low, though not impossible.
“It’s not very likely that any state in South America will slide into civil war,” Levitsky said. “That said, if Peru slides into military rule and there continues to be a focus exclusively on repression, it’s hard to say.”
According to Levitsky, “tension of party, weakness, and fragmentation” contributed to Peru’s unique political crisis, but there is “evidence” that other Latin American countries may be destabilizing as well.
Hagopian concluded the talk by noting the potential consequences of political instability in Latin America.
“It is terrifying, for those of us who lived through the last long stretches of authoritarianism in Latin America. It’s really terrifying,” Hagopian said.
“I will leave it to all of you to decide whether you’re more depressed or more optimistic as you leave this room today,” she added.