Peru’s President Pedro Castillo toppled by Congress amid political crisis
LIMA, Peru — The Peruvian president was ousted by Congress on Wednesday and arrested for rebellion after he tried to dissolve the legislature and unilaterally seize control of the government, sparking a severe constitutional crisis.
Vice President Dina Boluarte succeeded Pedro Castillo and became the first female leader in the Republic’s history, after hours of arguments between the Legislature and the outgoing President, who had tried to avoid an impeachment trial.
Boluarte, a 60-year-old lawyer, called for a political ceasefire and the establishment of a national unity government.
“What I am asking is a space, a time, to save the country,” she said.
Legislature voted 101 to 6, with 10 abstentions, to remove Castillo from office for “permanent moral incompetence.”
He left the Presidential Palace in a car that carried him through historic downtown Lima. He entered a police station and hours later federal prosecutors announced that Castillo had been arrested on alleged violations of the constitutional order for rebellion. Witnesses saw some minor clashes between police and some protesters who had gathered near the train station.
“We condemn the violation of the constitutional order,” said the federal prosecutor. “Peru’s political constitution enshrines the separation of powers and establishes that Peru is a democratic and sovereign republic… No authority can supersede the constitution and must abide by constitutional mandates.”
Boluarte, who speaks fluent Spanish and Quechua, was elected vice president on the presidential bid that brought Castillo to power on July 28, 2021. During Castillo’s brief tenure, Boluarte served as Minister of Development and Social Inclusion.
Shortly before the impeachment vote, Castillo announced that he would set up a new emergency government and rule by decree. He ordered a night curfew from Wednesday evening. The head of the Peruvian army then resigned, along with four ministers, including those responsible for foreign affairs and the economy.
The Office of the Ombudsman, an autonomous government agency, said ahead of the congressional vote that Castillo should turn himself in to the judiciary.
After years of democracy, Peru is in the midst of a constitutional collapse “that can only be described as a coup d’etat,” the statement said.
International reaction was at times overtaken by events.
United States Amb. Lisa Kenna took to Twitter to urge Castillo to reverse his executive order dissolving Congress, saying the US government opposes any “extra-constitutional” actions by the president to interfere in Congress.
A short time later, Congress voted to remove Castillo.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said via Twitter that in light of recent events in Peru, Mexico has decided to postpone the Pacific Alliance summit scheduled for December 14 in Lima. He regretted the recent developments and called for respect for democracy and human rights.
The government of Chilean President Gabriel Boric complained about the political situation in Peru and was confident that the crisis would be resolved through democratic mechanisms. Spain’s government condemned the breach of the constitutional order in the strongest possible terms and congratulated the country on its democratic establishment.
Castillo had said in an unusual midnight speech on state television before the vote that he would never “tarnish the good name of my honest and exemplary parents who, like millions of Peruvians, work every day to sincerely build a future for their families.”
The farmer-turned-president said he was paying for mistakes made through inexperience. But he said a certain sector of Congress “removed me from office as a single item on the agenda because they never accepted the results of an election that you, my dear Peruvians, determined with your votes.”
Castillo has denied corruption allegations against him, saying they are based on “hearsay from people trying to involve me without evidence to mitigate their own sentences for alleged crimes by betraying my trust.”
Federal prosecutors are investigating Castillo on six counts, most of them for alleged corruption, on the suspicion that he used his power to profit from public works.
The power struggle in Peru’s capital continues as the Andes and their thousands of small farms struggle to survive the worst drought in half a century. Without rain, farmers cannot plant potatoes and the dying grass cannot support herds of sheep, alpacas, vicuñas and llamas. To make matters worse, avian flu has killed at least 18,000 seabirds and infected at least one poultry producer, threatening chickens and turkeys raised for traditional holiday meals.
The government also confirmed that the country has suffered a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections over the past week. Since the pandemic began, 4.3 million Peruvians have been infected, and 217,000 of them have died.
As the first president in the nation’s history to come from a poor farming community, Castillo entered the presidential palace last year without any political experience. During his year-and-a-half tenure, he changed cabinet five times, moving through 60 different cabinet officials and crippling various government agencies.
Though Castillo is the first president to be investigated while still in office, the investigation comes as no surprise in a country where nearly every former president over the past 40 years has been charged with corruption linked to multinationals like Brazil’s construction company Odebrecht .
Since 2016, Peru has been stuck in political crises, with congresses and presidents trying to eliminate each other. President Martín Vizcarra (2018-2020) dissolved Congress in 2019 and ordered new elections. This new legislature removed Vizcarra the next year. Then came President Manuel Merino, who lasted less than a week before a crackdown killed two protesters and injured 200 others. His successor, Francisco Sagasti, lasted nine months before Castillo took over.
Castillo on Wednesday became the second ex-president currently incarcerated in the country. A former Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimori, is serving a 25-year sentence on murder and corruption charges from his 1990-2000 tenure.