The president of Peru tried to dissolve the Congress. At the end of the day, he was in custody.
LIMA, Peru — It was a day when much of Peru was focused on Congress, where a vacancy vote against the president on corruption charges was planned.
But shortly before noon, the Peruvian president addressed the country in a surprising televised speech. During his address, he announced the dissolution of Congress and the installation of an emergency government, shocking leaders across the political spectrum, including his own allies, by attempting to carry out what was widely condemned as an attempted coup. state in order to cling to power.
Government officials resigned en masse. The highest court declared the measure unconstitutional. And the country’s armed forces and national police issued a joint statement suggesting they would not support it.
By the end of the day, Pedro Castillo, 53, had been removed from power and was under arrest. His vice president was sworn in as president and she became the first woman to lead Peru.
It was a cinematic conclusion to the presidency of Castillo, the first leftist political leader to be elected president of Peru in more than a generation. This is a leader who was a peasant, teacher and union activist and who campaigned last year with the commitment to transform the economy in crisis and reverse the high rates of poverty among Peruvians in rural sectors, which had worsened during the pandemic. .
But his attempt to seize power was reminiscent of a similar strategy implemented by former President Alberto Fujimori 30 years ago. Like Castillo, Fujimori was an independent, populist leader who was democratically elected in 1990. Two years later, with the support of the military, he staged a coup to dissolve Congress and ruled as dictator until 2000. Now He is in prison on charges of corruption and human rights abuses.
But for years Peru has remained convulsed by high-level corruption scandals that have resulted in six presidents since 2016. During Castillo’s 16 months in power, Congress tried to oust him twice, but failed to garner enough votes. to start a political trial.
Castillo was one of several leftist leaders in Latin America who rose to power by votes of an electorate disillusioned with the political elite, fed up with decades of inequality, high unemployment and a ruling class tainted by years of corruption and infighting.
But the left-wing leader seemed uninterested in following through on his campaign promises and quickly ran into a series of obstacles that crippled his rule, including high-level corruption scandals, criminal investigations and cabinet changes.
Castillo has appointed more than 80 ministers and held many positions with political allies who lacked relevant experience, and some have faced investigations for corruption, domestic violence and murder.
Prosecutors accused him of leading a criminal organization with legislators and relatives to profit from government contracts and of repeatedly obstructing justice, sometimes in plain sight, such as when his daughter disappeared from the presidential palace while facing arrest and his office later claimed that the images that would have captured the moment disappeared.
The president’s approval rating plummeted to 19 percent in Lima, though in rural areas it remained at 45 percent, just four percentage points less than a year ago, according to surveys conducted by the Institute of Peruvian Studies last month. .
Congress scheduled a third impeachment vote last week after Castillo threatened to dissolve Congress last month.
It was only hours before that vote that Castillo announced the dissolution of Congress and the installation of an emergency government to rule by decree, while imposing an immediate national curfew.
“We made the decision to establish an emergency government, to restore the rule of law and democracy, for which purpose the following measures are issued: temporarily dissolve the Congress of the Republic and establish an emergency government, convene as soon as possible to elections for a new congress with constituent faculties to elaborate a new Constitution”, said Castillo.
Castillo’s declaration plunged Peru’s fragile democracy into its biggest political crisis in years. On two occasions, Congress had tried to oust Castillo from power, but failed to get the votes needed to initiate an impeachment trial.
Very soon, however, it became clear that his announcement had little support, prompting the mass resignation of much of his government and a joint statement by Peru’s armed forces and police implying that Castillo he did not have the legal authority to carry out his measures and they would not support him.
“We reject the breach of the constitutional order and we urge the population to respect the Political Constitution and remain calm. Likewise, trust in state institutions,” the police later said in another statement.
The US Embassy in the Peruvian capital also condemned Castillo. “The United States strongly urges President Castillo to reverse his attempt to shut down Congress and allow Peru’s democratic institutions to function according to the Constitution,” the embassy said in a statement. a tweet. “We encourage the Peruvian public to remain calm during this uncertain time.”
The president’s statement appeared to shock even Castillo’s closest allies.
“I am a defender of the democratic order, of the constitution and I am deeply convinced that. Politics cannot be above the law, ”Benji Espinoza, who was the president’s personal lawyer until his resignation on Wednesday, told RPP, a local radio station.
It appears that Castillo has been mulling that decision for some time. Last month, he publicly threatened to dissolve Congress and quietly tried to canvass military leaders about their support, according to local media.
After his defense minister resigned on Saturday, citing personal reasons, rumors of a military coup — for and against Castillo — went viral on social media, prompting some opposition lawmakers to stick around for Sunday night in Congress for fear of a violent attempt by the armed forces to shut down the legislative body. However, that did not happen. By Tuesday, Peru’s army chief had also resigned citing personal reasons.
On Wednesday, just two hours after Castillo’s announcement, Congress met and voted to remove him. Lawmakers voted 101-6 with 10 abstentions to remove him from power.
Castillo was then seen leaving the presidential palace in a car that then entered a police station and, on Wednesday night, prosecutors said they had ordered his arrest on charges of “rebellion.”
Shortly after the congressional vote, Vice President Dina Boluarte took office as Peru’s new president.
“It is up to us, ladies and gentlemen, to talk, dialogue, reach an agreement,” she said after being sworn in before legislators who applauded and cheered her. “I request a deadline, valuable time to rescue our country from corruption and misrule.”
Boluarte, 60, called for a truce between Peru’s political parties to restore national unity and return the country to the path of economic growth.
Boluarte, who had been a lawyer and a member of a Marxist political party until she was ousted last year for criticizing that movement’s leader, ran on Castillo’s candidacy last year. She served as his vice president and his development and social inclusion minister, but she resigned from the ministry after the president formed his last cabinet last month.
Boluarte is not well known and, in a recent poll, Peruvians preferred calling new general elections to having her replace Castillo in office, should he be ousted.
The former president Martin Vizcarrathe only Peruvian leader successfully removed before Castillo, left office after the 2020 vote but filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court, which refused to rule on its legality.
The next president lasted less than a week in office, and his successor ruled Peru for the next eight months, until Castillo took office.
Genevieve Glatsky collaborated with reporting from Bogota, Colombia and elda cantu from Mexico City.