SÃO PAULO, Brazil – Amid a rising poverty rate and popular dissatisfaction with the government, Peru has been facing a new political crisis in the country over the past couple of weeks, with an ongoing investigation on President Dina Boluarte’s supposed illicit enrichment. The South American country’s episcopate couldn’t avoid mentioning it in its Easter message to Catholics.

The crisis erupted after an edition of on-line news show La Encerrona exhibited footage of Boluarte’s Rolex watches and other luxury items, which she wore in public appearances – and whose ownership she hadn’t declared to the authorities, failing to comply with the Peruvian legislation.

Boluarte also failed to provide evidence of the legal ownership of the watches to State prosecutors, who she refused to meet last week. At the first hour of Mar. 30, police agents and prosecutors raided the President’s house and the government’s palace. The investigators found around 10 luxury watches, according to Boluarte’s lawyer.

Elected as President Pedro Castillo’s Vice President, Boluarte took office after he tried to deal with an overwhelming political crisis and announced he would shut down the Congress, something that led to his impeachment and detention in December of 2022.

Massive protests followed, especially in the southern Andean regions, from where Castillo himself came. Boluarte’s administration met the demonstrations with violence and at least 60 protestors were killed during the December and January unrest, 23 of them in Puno.

Pressure from local organizations – including Church groups – and national human rights advocates led to the opening of an investigation against Boluarte, other authorities, and police agents for crimes like genocide and homicide.

Now, the Rolex affair further complicates Boluarte’s situation, which had already been suffering. She’s currently the Latin American leader with the lowest support, with only 9 percent of approval.

In his Easter message released on Mar. 31, Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos contrasted the “Easter joyfulness” and the “worrisome situations that affect our country, which apparently do not encounter ways to light and hope.”

“The recent events related to prosecutors’ investigations and judicial decisions, which caused commotion in the nation, represent an opportunity to seriously reflect over the fundamental values that sustain our society, which should illuminate us towards the true path for truth,” the letter read.

Cabrejos called for a “sincere dialogue” and balance between the different state powers, something necessary to ensure “governance and social and political stability.”

Over the past few years, Peruvians have been facing continuous political turmoil, with six different presidents in six years. Despite the country’s success in reducing poverty in the past decade, the COVID-19 pandemic and the institutional instability led hundreds of thousands of people back to poverty over the past couple of years.

Boluarte’s Rolex scandal was especially offensive for many because she wore a $18,000 watch during an event about poverty and vulnerable social groups in February.

According to Edwin Poirè Huanca, a lay Catholic who has lived and worked in a parish in Juliaca for 23 years and heads a local civic organization called Fe y Derechos Humanos (faith and human rights), the Rolex affair may be Boluarte’s last straw.

“We hope justice is served for so many victims of last year’s protests. But Boluarte may end up being caught for her luxury watches,” Poirè told Crux.

In Juliaca alone, 19 demonstrators were killed in January of 2023. Poirè and other human rights advocates said police agents from Lima and other coastal cities were especially sent to the region – and other Andean areas – to react violently to the manifestations.

“Only poor, working people died. Dozens of survivors still carry bullets in their bodies, which the local doctors don’t want to remove because that would require them to send a report to the prosecutor’s office and so on,” Poirè said.

In February, a nationwide committee was formed by the victims’ relatives and human rights activists. The organization complains about the fact that the prosecutors in charge of their case were changed five times last year, something that delayed the process, according to Poirè.

“We hope that Boluarte and other authorities are duly held responsible for their actions, as well as the policemen who deliberately killed the demonstrators,” he said.

The organizations also demand that the survivors are adequately treated by the State and receive some form of compensation for their damages, as well as the victims’ relatives.

“Many people were so terribly injured that they can’t work anymore. Some of the murdered demonstrators left children and babies unassisted,” he said.

Poirè said the activists also demand the state to ensure that those events are not forgotten by the people, with the creation of official memory programs.

“If Dina Boluarte is impeached, we have to ensure that new elections will be held. Otherwise the Congress will keep exerting a disproportionate power in Peru,” he said.

Cabrejos concluded his Easter statement by saying that “only with truth and justice democracy can be strengthened and a more united and hopeful Peru can be built, with the pursuit of well-being for everybody.”