Peruvian President Pedro Castillo ousted by Congress amid political crisis

LIMA, Peru — The President of Peru was ousted by Congress and arrested on Wednesday for rebellion after he tried to dissolve the legislature and seize unilateral control of the government, triggering a serious constitutional crisis.

Vice President Dina Boluarte replaced Pedro Castillo and became the first female leader in the republic’s history after hours of wrangling between the legislature and the incumbent, who had tried to prevent an impeachment vote.

Boluarte, a 60-year-old lawyer, called for a political truce and the installation of a government of national unity.

“What I’m asking for is a space, a time to save the country,” she said.

Lawmakers voted 101 to 6 with 10 abstentions to remove Castillo from office on grounds of “permanent moral incapacity”.

Former Peruvian President Pedro Castillo is seen inside a police car as he leaves the Lima prefecture, where he was being held, in Lima on December 7, 2022.
AFP via Getty Images

He left the presidential palace in an automobile that carried him through historic downtown Lima. He walked into a police station and hours later federal prosecutors announced that Castillo had been arrested on rebellion charges for allegedly violating the constitutional order. Witnesses saw small-scale clashes between police and some protesters who had gathered near the station.

“We condemn the violation of the constitutional order,” federal prosecutors said in a statement. “The Political Constitution of Peru enshrines the separation of powers and establishes that Peru is a democratic and sovereign Republic… No authority can place itself above the Constitution and must comply with constitutional mandates.

Fluent in Spanish and Quechua, Boluarte was elected vice president on the presidential slate that brought the center-left Castillo to power on July 28, 2021. During Castillo’s brief administration, Boluarte served as minister of development and social inclusion.

Vice-president Dina Boluarte
Vice President Dina Boluarte replaced Pedro Castillo and became the first female leader in the history of the republic.
AP//Guadalupe Pardo

Shortly before the impeachment vote, Castillo announced that he was installing a new emergency government and that he would rule by decree. He ordered a night curfew from Wednesday evening. The head of the Peruvian army then resigned, as well as four ministers, including those of foreign affairs and the economy.

The Office of the Ombudsman, an autonomous government institution, said before the congressional vote that Castillo should turn himself in to legal authorities.

After years of democracy, Peru is in the midst of a constitutional collapse “which can only be called a coup”, the statement said.

International reaction has sometimes been overtaken by events.

Peruvian lawmakers voted 101 to 6 with 10 abstentions to impeach former Peruvian President Pedro Castillo due to
Peruvian lawmakers voted 101 to 6 with 10 abstentions to impeach former Peruvian President Pedro Castillo due to “permanent moral incapacity”.
Fotoholica Press/LightRocket via

Amb. the United States. Lisa Kenna called on Castillo via Twitter to rescind his executive order dissolving Congress, saying the US government rejects any “extra-constitutional” actions by the president to interfere with Congress.

Shortly thereafter, Congress voted to remove Castillo from office.

Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said via Twitter that given recent events in Peru, Mexico has decided to postpone the Pacific Alliance summit scheduled for December 14 in Lima. He said he regretted recent developments and called for respect for democracy and human rights.

The administration of Chilean President Gabriel Boric has deplored the political situation in Peru and hopes that the crisis will be resolved through democratic mechanisms. The Spanish government strongly condemned the breakdown of the constitutional order and congratulated the country on its democratic recovery.

Opponents of Peruvian President Pedro Castillo
Boluarte called for a political truce and the installation of a government of national unity.
AP/Martin Mejia

Castillo had said in an unusual midnight speech on state television ahead of 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 honestly build a future for their families.

The peasant-turned-president said he was paying for mistakes made due to his inexperience. But he said that a certain sector of Congress “has the only item on the agenda to remove me from office because they have never accepted the results of an election that you, my dear Peruvians, determined with your votes”.

Castillo denied the bribery allegations against him, saying they were based on “hearsay statements from people who, seeking to alleviate their own sentences for alleged crimes by abusing my trust, are trying to implicate me without evidence”.

Federal prosecutors are investigating six cases against Castillo, most of them for alleged bribery on the theory that he used his power to profit from public works.

The power struggle in Peru’s capital continues as the Andes and its thousands of small farms struggle to survive the worst drought in half a century. Without rain, farmers cannot plant potatoes and the dying grass can no longer feed the herds of sheep, alpacas, vicunas and llamas. Worse still, bird flu has killed at least 18,000 seabirds and infected at least one poultry farmer, putting chickens and turkeys raised for traditional holiday meals at risk.

Former Vice-President Dina Boluarte
La Salle signs the national anthem after the swearing in of a new president in Lima, Peru, on December 7, 2022.
AP/Guadalupe Pardo

The government also confirmed that over the past week the country has suffered a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections. Since the start of the pandemic, 4.3 million Peruvians have been infected and 217,000 of them have died.

The first president from a poor farming community in the country’s history, Castillo arrived at the presidential palace last year with no political experience. He changed cabinets five times during his year and a half in office, going through 60 different cabinet members, leaving various government agencies crippled.

Although Castillo is the first president to be investigated while still in office, the investigations come as no surprise in a country where almost every former president in the past 40 years has been accused of corruption. linked to multinational companies, such as the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

Since 2016, Peru has been plagued by political crises, with congresses and presidents taking turns trying to eliminate each other. President Martín Vizcarra (2018-2020) dissolved Congress in 2019 and ordered new elections. This new legislature removed Vizcarra the following 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 detained in the country. A former Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimori, is serving a 25-year sentence for murder and bribery charges from his 1990-2000 rule.

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