Peruvian President Pedro Castillo rejects latest attacks from opposition

The opposition-controlled Peruvian Congress approved the admission of a vacancy motion against leftist president Pedro Castillo, accusing him of alleged corruption

March 17, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Peruvian President Pedro Castillo rejected the opposition’s accusations of alleged corruption before the Congress on March 15. Photo: Peruvian Presidency/Twitter

On March 15, Peruvian President Pedro Castillo went to the Congress to give an address, a day after legislators voted to begin impeachment proceedings against him. In an hour-long speech, after presenting his administration’s achievements during his less than eight months in office, and sharing plans for the future, the socialist president categorically rejected the opposition’s accusations of alleged corruption.

Castillo strongly denied involvement in corruption or that he favored private interests, and claimed that his government had been targeted by the media and political sectors who seek to mislead the Peruvian people.

“My government has been the target of accusations from the media and political sectors. An attempt has been made to build a cloak of darkness over our administration. They want to make the population believe that we are immersed in acts of corruption, a situation that I strongly reject. Time will prove me right.” Castillo added, “With my head held high, as I always speak to the people, today I categorically reaffirm that I have not committed any act of corruption, least participated in any situation that has sought to favor personal interests.”

While the president conceded that mistakes were made during his administration, he made it clear that accepting mistakes does not mean accepting involvement in criminal acts.

“I must recognize the errors and mistakes that we have incurred. I express to the parliament and the country my spirit of amendment and correction. Accepting the mistakes of my government does not imply under any circumstances accepting my participation in the alleged criminal acts that the Public Ministry has been investigating,” he said. “Management errors are one thing and the alleged crimes in which they intend to involve me for political reasons are another. I want to tell you with absolute sincerity that I have never been involved in corruption issues in my life, and much less now in my capacity as president of the Republic,” he added.

Castillo also said that he would not shield any corrupt person. He stressed that if an official, friend, or family member was involved in corruption, authorities must act immediately, in accordance with their powers.

“Let the full weight of the law fall on them and let them answer for their actions,” he emphasized.

He recalled that during his election campaign, he vowed to fight the corruption of large companies and high-ranking officials who plunged Peru into poverty and underdevelopment, and stressed that he had remained true to his promise.

“Don’t try to put us in the same bag, we have come to work for the country and serve the people, not to tarnish our honor. Not for a dime. Public resources, which belong to all Peruvians, must be aimed at meeting pressing, inherited needs in education, health, infrastructure, feeding our children, modernization of agriculture, and citizen security,” he said.

Referring to the political instability in the country and the impeachment of two presidents in the last four years, Castillo said that “polarization and unbridled political confrontation, for more than five years, has been affecting governance and our fragile democratic institutions that harms citizens, mainly the poorest.”

He then presented a chronology of the opposition-controlled Congress’ actions against his government. These include the forced dismissal of several of his ministers following media smear campaigns prompted by far-right legislators, four cabinet reshuffles, two vacancy motions against him (one currently underway), an accusation against him for alleged treason against the country and the constant questioning of his legitimacy.

“Since my inauguration as president, the political sector has not accepted the electoral victory that the Peruvian people gave us,” he reiterated. “I understand the power of Congress to exercise oversight and political control, however, these mechanisms cannot be exercised by mediating the abuse of the right, proscribed in the constitution, ignoring the popular will expressed at the polls,” he stressed.

Nevertheless, Castillo called on Congress to fight corruption and work together with his government, and proposed agreeing on an institutional political reform, which he offered to lead for the benefit of the country.

“As president, I am committed to leading the great reform of the State. That is why, soon, we will send to the Congress of the Republic a set of reforms that will allow us to overcome this structural crisis,” he said.

Vacancy motion against Castillo

On March 14, with 76 votes in favor, 41 against, one abstention and 12 absent, Peru’s unicameral parliament approved to debate a vacancy motion against Castillo for “moral incapacity” to govern. The motion was presented by deputy Jorge Montoya of the opposition Popular Renewal party on March 8, and received the support of 49 parliamentarians of the Popular Force, Popular Renewal, and Go on Country, among other conservative parties.

The motion pertains to recent accusations by businesswoman Karelim López, who alleged that former transport minister Juan Silva accepted bribes in exchange for public works with Castillo’s authorization. López is currently being investigated for money laundering, yet her statement led to the resignation of one of the few ministers who had remained in office since Castillo began his tenure in July 2021.

Regarding the case, Castillo said that “Some time ago, it was repeated in the media that I would have met and would have had links with Mrs. Karelim López. However, her defense says the opposite, that they have never met,” and emphasized that these contradictory statements are an example of “the lies that are built against this government and that, with the passage of time, are falling away.”

The motion also alleges influence peddling in police and military bids and promotions, and the existence of a shadow cabinet. Castillo has denied the allegations multiple times.

The opposition deputies accused Castillo of the serious crime of “treason against the country,” because he allegedly offered to hand over Peruvian territories to Bolivia so that it could have access to the sea.

During his speech, Castillo recalled that “We must remember that Peru granted Bolivia access to the sea when Alberto Fujimori’s regime signed said agreement in 1992, which was extended by former President Alan García in his second government.” Castillo pointed out that “I never said that Bolivia has access to the sea with sovereignty through our territory and it never would either. The marine, land and air sovereignty of the Peruvian State is respected and is unalterable! This is a settled issue.”

This is the second attempt to remove the leftist president from office. The first one failed to garner enough votes to be admitted in the Congress in December 2021. The procedure is scheduled to begin on March 28, and either Castillo or his defense lawyer will have to appear before the legislature to respond to the accusations. It will require 87 votes to oust Castillo, which seems unlikely, since the ruling Free Peru party and its allies Together for Peru and Democratic Peru hold 44 of the 130 seats. Additionally, various legislators of the We Are Peru and Purple Party have expressed opposition to the president’s removal.

Early elections?

For the past couple of days, there have been rumors that Castillo would present a bill to parliament to move the general elections from the first quarter of 2026 to mid-2023.

In a press conference on March 15, after Castillo delivered his speech, Prime Minister Anibal Torres confirmed that early elections were indeed a possibility. Torres said that the president refrained from announcing the measure: “At the last minute, the president decided not to make the announcement, because he told me: ‘Doctor, we are going to make one last attempt to negotiate in Congress.’ To correct this political instability that exists, it is necessary that we agree to face the great problems that the country has,” Torres told the media.