'Our triumph isn’t far away': interview with Lourdes Huanca Atencio

Loudes Huanca Atencio (left) with FRFI's pamphlet Capitalism is extinction, socialism is survival

On 7 May 2023, FRFI interviewed Lourdes Huanca Atencio, a founder and the President of the National Federation of Peasant, Artisan, Indigenous, Native and Salaried Women of Peru (FENMUCARINAP) in London. Huanca is in forced exile for her role in resisting the December 2022 US-backed coup which removed Peru’s indigenous President Pedro Castillo and placed Dina Boluarte in power (see FRFI 292). Among other topics, we spoke of FENMUCARINAP’s long standing movement for indigenous life, dignity and democratic participation, the resistance to the coup in Peru, and the importance of education and literacy, following the example of socialist Cuba. She was invited to London by the 12th of October Platform.

FRFI: What are the key demands of the protests against the coup government? Is a central demand still to convoke a constituent assembly to replace the old fujimorista constitution?  What are the next steps? 

LHA: I believe that in making the participation of indigenous peoples visible, a qualitative and quantitative step was taken because it is a political struggle. It is a struggle against the centuries of exclusion of the native indigenous peoples, without schools, without hospitals, without a quality of life for us. But our immediate demands are not for roads, water, drainage. We firstly demand the resignation of Boluarte, that she leave and close down that useless Congress which is only dedicated to introducing laws against the peoples. We demand the liberty of Castillo and his restitution as President. We demand justice for our murdered, massacred heroes. We demand freedom for all detainees who are today unjustly imprisoned, persecuted.

To us as indigenous rural women our organisation calls for a constituent assembly that is popular, plurinational with gender parity, because if we leave it at ‘popular’, we indigenous peoples are always excluded. The participation of women is extremely important, and we must make it visible because if we do not make it visible we disappear from the map, which is why we say gender parity, because women have to participate.

This constituent assembly would consist of us working on a proposed constitution from the corners of our territories, not of some intellectuals typing it up on a computer and saying, ‘Very well, this is the proposal, now approve it’. No, the peoples must be able to put forward a proposal, beginning from the communities: farmers, teachers, young women, sexually diverse people – the entire population is a direct participant in this proposal. We are going to eradicate the constitution of Alberto Fujimori, because that constitution was put in place in 1993 to protect the large multimillion-dollar extractive mining companies. But I believe our triumph isn’t far away because once the population agrees to go to work to fight for a new constitution, there will be change.

In Chile they fought a lot for the new constitution and then it was stopped. So what we have to do, as FENMUCARINAP and the people, are international events to hear from each country what their experience is. For example, Chileans will have to tell us, what has failed? Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, all countries. I think it’s important also that this proposal for a popular, gender equal and plurinational constituent assembly is not only for Peru, but for all the countries of the world.

FRFI: What in your view are the most important developments in the struggle against the Boluarte government at the moment?

LHA: For starters, the will to interview and find out what’s happening from one such as myself. I believe that one of the important factors in our homeland is that the resistance of the native indigenous peoples continues to last. This was not expected by the government of Boluarte or the large multinational companies.

There have always been peaceful protests, so it was important to understand why Peru has nonetheless suffered political violence for many years, how protesters were neutralised by the threat of violence when accused of being terrorists. This has changed in the course of our struggle. During the 17 years of struggle our organisation, FENMUCARINAP has been training us, preparing us on how to understand the situation. What does it mean to be a citizen? It is exercising your rights, but also your duties, and those of indigenous women to also make decisions at the polls. To elect a president that we want is the step we have taken as the FENMUCARINAP, but like us there are other national organisations that have many years of experience. President Castillo has raised the strength of the peoples precisely because the racial discrimination against indigenous peoples by the Boluarte government has been clearly seen, and we have been counting on him. They’ve abused him, insulted him, they’ve said what they want, but every attack they dealt to the president, they dealt it to us. That is what has been heating up the population, so the right wing has foolishly been adding firewood into the fire until it has exploded.

FRFI: What interest do you think British multinational extractivists like Anglo American had in fomenting the coup? 

LHA: These big mining companies, oil companies, are responsible for the coup that has taken place in my homeland. They are responsible for the democratically elected president now being in prison. They were afraid because Castillo was going to recover the lands. He was going to get justice for our homeland and for the Pachamama [Mother Earth], which is being contaminated, the rivers are being poisoned; our children, our brothers, sisters, have lead in their blood. Castillo’s bluntness in saying he would review mining concessions drove the mining companies along with the current genocidal government to form alliances to overthrow the president.

The president also was going to recover [mining companies’] taxes, he was going to give the indigenous peoples water, drainage, infrastructure of good schools that are falling into sinkholes, hospitals... How can we not say that the US is involved in some way when we raise the subject of white gold, which is lithium? We should be happy to say ‘there are minerals here’, but with a lot of strength our crying sisters say, ‘it is a disgrace when minerals are discovered, because that is why they banish us from our territories, that is why they kill our children’.

FRFI: How do we understand the weaknesses of Castillo’s administration, as supporters of the struggle against fujimoristas and Congress in solidarity with the anti-imperialist struggle in Peru and across Latin America?

LHA: I believe that as one of those in having elected Castillo, he did not imagine the level of determination, nor we have imagined the determination of the right wing not to allow him to govern. It wouldn’t let him rule. The right has joined forces with the mining companies, extractivists, the judiciary, the press, the church, the army, all have come together so that this government would not prosper. The president made mistakes, yes. Many times he chose ministers who had histories of violence. He would say ‘I would not doubt, if they are proposed to me, then they are the right person.’ And we said, ‘Mr President, you have to learn to distrust people. Not everyone walks in with good will, good faith. There are always malices.’ There has to be a filter. In Peru there is an Inca cigar, it is a cigar that has no filter. So they have called him ‘Inca cigar’.

We have also argued with Castillo’s family over our demands as women in struggle. For example, the legislature wanted to eliminate the right to therapeutic abortion and we said, ‘How can this law disappear if girls of 9, 10, 11 years old are raped and they have the right not to be mothers?’ But since the fundamentalists are in the legislature, and Castillo is a man of religion, we told him ‘You are president of Peru, you married Peru, so you have to govern for all, respecting us.’

FRFI: How do you see the struggle in Peru in connection with the struggle for socialism and indigenous rights across Latin America? How can this struggle, today, move beyond the confines of elections and consolidate itself?

LHA: I think it is extremely important to value the reactions of indigenous peoples in different countries, that we not only defend the rights of a person, but we defend the right of the Pachamama, the right of culture, of all we have in our worldview. We cannot say ‘only the indigenous people will come to power, and we forget the left and socialism.’ No, it would be crazy. We have to unlearn this individualism that neoliberal, capitalist imperialism has put in our heads. We have to learn how to enter into a dialogue to make a united front, respecting each other as equals. Now the socialist parties, on the left, have their positive side, but they also have a negative side. That has been very noticeable in Peru, it is always the one who lives in the city who has the last word, the one who knows more, the one who has a profession. And the peasant, the indigenous? ‘No, he does not have the knowledge, he is ignorant.’ Once we learn to respect each other, we can start working and coordinating.

A people who have education, who have health, who have food sovereignty, you become a homeland. Education is fundamental to progress. There are no ignorant people in Cuba. In Cuba everyone can write and read, that’s fundamental. So we have to work on the unity of the articulation, detaching ourselves from individualism, detaching ourselves from ‘me’-ism, detaching ourselves from saying ‘Hey, I have my career, I am professional, and you are worthless.’ Now they want to get a law out that to be congressional deputies, they have to be professionals. That is why we want constitutional changes, we want political cadres with principle and conscience.

FRFI: What can people in Britain do to support and strengthen our comrades in the indigenous struggles?

LHA: Very good question. There are organisations here in Britain, for example, the 12th of October Platform. We are preparing to come back here in October 2024, to return with at least 10 women from all our countries, to make a strong political impact. The mining company Anglo American is going to have its Annual General Meeting then; I have participated [in AGMs] when I have been invited. They are in my country, in my land. They are destroying my land. I ask you to be part of this campaign, to be a strong part.

FENMUCARINAP has many rebellious seeds. Here you see a Lourdes, but there are many compañeras: there are Margaritas, Juanas, Rosas. Rebellious even to the marrow because that is how we have formed: the native seeds; criollas with force. They may kill me, but tomorrow there are other leaders – that’s the important thing. Strengthening potential cadres. So, let’s make the effort to campaign, reach out to women, and if we can make an international meeting by inviting women from India, from African countries, hear what they suffer, as we are destroyed by mining companies. My dream, all the compañeras together, a mobilisation!