Peru’s president ousted after motion to dissolve Congress

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 29, 2022, Peru’s President Pedro Castillo speaks during a news conference with his Chilean counterpart Gabriel Boric at La Moneda Presidential Palace in Santiago November 29, 2022 during his visit to Chile. (Photo by JAVIER TORRES / AFP)

by Carlos MANDUJANO / Luis Jaime CISNEROS
Agence France-Presse

LIMA, Peru (AFP) – Peru’s left-wing leader Pedro Castillo was impeached and replaced as president on Wednesday in a dizzying series of events in the country long prone to political upheaval.

Dina Boluarte, a 60-year-old lawyer, was sworn in as Peru’s first female president just hours after Castillo attempted to seize control of the legislature, in what has been criticized as an attempted coup.

The day of big drama began with Castillo facing his third attempt at impeachment since the former rural schoolteacher unexpectedly seized power from Peru’s traditional political elite 18 months ago.

In a televised address to the nation, the 53-year-old announced he would dissolve the opposition-dominated Congress, impose a curfew and rule by decree.

As criticism of the address hit, lawmakers defiantly gathered ahead of schedule to debate the impeachment motion and approved it by 101 votes out of a total of 130 lawmakers.

Castillo was charged with his “moral inability to exercise power” after a litany of crises including six investigations against him, five cabinet reshuffles and major protests.

The constitutional provision allows impeachment proceedings against a president to be initiated on the subjective premise of political, rather than legal, wrongdoing, and has made impeachments commonplace in Peru.

Castillo was the third president since 2018 to be sacked under the constitution’s “moral incompetence.”

Within two hours, Boluarte was sworn in before Congress to serve out the remainder of Castillo’s term through July 2026.

Peru is no stranger to political instability: it had three different presidents in five days in 2020 and is now its sixth president since 2016.

– Political outsider –
After the impeachment vote, Castillo left the presidential palace with a bodyguard and went to Lima Police Headquarters, where he stayed.

Images released by the Peruvian prosecutor’s office showed Castillo in a room surrounded by prosecutors and police without clarifying his legal situation.

His followers criticized the overthrow of their leader.

“I want to denounce the fact that our President was kidnapped by the national police, that he was arrested by Congress with intent and treason,” said retired soldier Manuel Gaviria, 59,

Seemingly out of nowhere, Castillo won 50.12 percent of the vote in a June 2021 runoff against right-wing Keiko Fujimori, the corruption-charged daughter of ex-President Alberto Fujimori, who was convicted of bribery.

Born in a tiny village where he worked as a teacher for 24 years, he was largely unknown until he led a nationwide strike in 2017 that forced the then-government to agree to a pay rise.

Trying to portray himself as a humble servant of the people, Castillo traveled on horseback for much of his presidential campaign and vowed to end corruption.

But allegations against him quickly mounted.

The investigations he faces range from alleged bribery and obstruction of justice to plagiarism of his university work.

In addition, Peru’s Attorney General filed a constitutional complaint in October accusing Castillo of leading a criminal organization involving his family and allies.

Castillo and his lawyers have long argued that the investigation against him was part of a conspiracy to depose him.

“This intolerable situation cannot continue,” he said earlier Wednesday when he announced he would convene a new Congress to draft a new constitution within nine months.

– ‘Now Former President’ –
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Congress ahead of the vote.

“We are fed up with this corrupt government that has been stealing from day one,” said 51-year-old Johana Salazar.

Ricardo Palomino, 50, a systems engineer, said Castillo’s attempt to dissolve parliament was “completely unacceptable and unconstitutional. It went against everything and these are the consequences.”

Before impeachment, the United States asked Castillo to “reverse his decision” before declaring that it no longer considered him president.

“My understanding is that given the actions of Congress, he is now former President Castillo,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, saying lawmakers have taken “corrective action” consistent with Democratic rules.

Castillo’s failed attempt to stave off impeachment comes more than 30 years after then-President Alberto Fujimori suspended the constitution and dissolved Congress in April 1992.

“Peru wants to live in a democracy. This coup has no legal basis,” Constitutional Court President Francisco Morales said of Castillo’s actions.

© Agence France-Presse