Coup in Peru: President Pedro Castillo overthrown by conservative Congress

Peru’s opposition-controlled Congress approved the impeachment motion against Pedro Castillo after he decreed its temporary dissolution and called for fresh parliamentary elections. Hours later, he was arrested

December 08, 2022 by Tanya Wadhwa
Peruvian President Pedro Castillo was taken out of office through a parliamentary coup. Photo: Twitter/ Pedro Castillo

On Wednesday, December 7, Peru witnessed the removal and arrest of its constitutional president, Pedro Castillo. After two failed impeachment motions over the past year, the far-right Congress approved the impeachment request against him for “permanent moral incapacity” to continue in office with 101 votes in favor, six against and 11 abstentions. They called for another plenary session hours later to swear in Castillo’s Vice President Dina Boluarte as Peru’s new president.

The vote in Congress took place hours after an attempt by now ousted president, Pedro Castillo, to prevent it from taking place. Castillo had decreed the temporary dissolution of Congress, called for fresh parliamentary elections in nine months, and installed an “emergency government” to rule the country until the legislative powers were renewed. He also called for the reorganization of the Judiciary, the Public Ministry, the National Board of Justice and the Constitutional Court. Additionally, he ordered a night-time curfew (10:00 p.m to 4:00 am) throughout the country.

“I call for elections for a new Congress with constituent powers to prepare a new Constitution in a period not exceeding nine months,” said Castillo in a televised message to the nation.

However, Castillo’s attempt to protect himself from the vote of the far-right congress backfired. Immediately after his announcement, almost his entire cabinet resigned and the conservative opposition sectors began accusing him of having attempted a coup d’état to seize power illegally. The left-wing Free Peru party, which sponsored Castillo’s presidential candidacy in 2021, also rejected the move.

The heads of the Armed Forces and the National Police of Peru, also spoke out and rejected Castillo’s invoking of article 134 of the Constitution which establishes that the president is empowered to make this decision if he has been denied two confidence votes.

In the afternoon, Boluarte, who also described Castillo’s move as a coup attempt, was sworn in as the new president, becoming the first female head of state in Peru’s history.

At the same time, Castillo was detained by the national police on charges of “rebellion.” In the following hours, the prosecutor’s office confirmed that Castillo had been arrested and charged with allegedly “breaching constitutional order.”

OAS backs another coup

The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) also held a special meeting in relation to the events in Peru. Following the meeting, the OAS secretary general, Luis Almagro, said that “the constitutional order was altered in Peru” and expressed the OAS support for the Boluarte government.

“Today in Peru the constitutional order was altered. We welcome President of Peru Dina Boluarte and her call for national unity. We reaffirm to Dina Boluarte our support for democracy, peace, institutionality and the urgent need to rebuild the democratic path in the country, with an inclusive, open, frank and respectful dialogue,” said Almagro.

The long coup

The political turmoil led to disorder in the streets across Peru. Protests as well as clashes were registered in several Peruvian cities by and between the defenders and opponents of the ousted president. Castillo’s supporters, who hit the streets in large numbers, rejected his dismissal, while his adversaries celebrated his removal from office.

Castillo’s supporters argued that he was not a perpetrator of a coup, but rather a victim of one, perpetrated by Peru’s right-wing forces. Many said that it was unfair that the man who was elected by the majority of Peruvians had been stripped of the presidency.

It is worth noting that in his past 16 months in office, Castillo was forced to reshuffle his cabinet four times. He changed over six dozen ministers over disputes and disagreements with Congress, in an attempt to maintain unity across the political spectrum. He had six investigations opened against him, accusing him of the alleged crimes of corruption, criminal organization, influence peddling, accomplice to collusion, personal concealment against the administration of justice, as well as plagiarism of his master’s thesis.

Castillo had himself condemned on several occasions that since his inauguration in late July 2021, his government had been constantly attacked by the right-wing oligarchy that controls public agencies in the country, such as the prosecutor’s office. The far-right sectors, whom he alleged never accepted his electoral victory, had been running smear campaigns in mainstream media against him and his ministers with the aim to oust them. The opposition majority Congress, taking advantage of these campaigns, had been regularly promoting impeachment motions against Castillo and his cabinet ministers. The country’s so-called independent judiciary had been supporting their baseless accusations unconstitutionally.

In October, Castillo tried to resolve the long-standing crisis and requested the OAS to activate the Democratic Charter and initiate a consultation process in the country with all the political forces and state powers to find a way out of the political conflict. and put an end to the repeated impeachment attempts against him.

Regional shockwave

The crisis in Peru prompted concerns and reactions from leaders across Latin America.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in a thread on Twitter, said that “non-intervention and self-determination of the people is a fundamental principle of our foreign policy. That is what we stick to in the case of what happened in Peru. However, we consider it unfortunate that, due to the interests of the economic and political elites, since the beginning of Pedro Castillo’s legitimate presidency, an environment of confrontation and hostility has been maintained against him until it led him to make decisions that have served his adversaries to consummate his dismissal with the sui generis precept of “moral incapacity.” Hopefully human rights are respected and there is democratic stability for the benefit of the people,”

Bolivian President Luis Arce also condemned Castillo’s dismissal. “From the beginning, the Peruvian right tried to overthrow a government, democratically elected by the people, the humble classes, which seeks more inclusion and social justice. We regret what happened in the sister Republic of Peru, and send all our solidarity,” tweeted Arce.

“The constant harassment of anti-democratic elites against progressive, popular and legitimately constituted governments must be condemned by all. We advocate that democracy, peace and respect for Human Rights prevail for the benefit of the Peruvian people,” he added in another tweet.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Honduras, in a statement, expressed the country’s “strong condemnation of the coup d’état in Peru, which is the result of a series of events to erode the democracy and sovereign will of the people represented by President Pedro Castillo, for whom his physical integrity and human rights are required to be respected. The Government of Honduras hopes that the democratic order and electoral sovereignty of Peru will regain the rule of law and guarantee its rights in the face of this serious constitutional breach. Coups must not be perpetrated.”

“I followed with great concern the events that led to the constitutional removal of the president of Peru, Pedro Castillo. It is always regrettable that a democratically elected president has this fate, but I understand that everything was forwarded in the constitutional framework. What Peru and South America need right now is dialogue, tolerance and democratic coexistence, to solve the real problems we all face. I hope that President Dina Boluarte succeeds in her task of reconciling the country and leading it on the path of development and social peace. I hope that all Peruvian political forces work together, within a constructive democratic coexistence, the only way capable of bringing peace and prosperity to the dear and fraternal people of Peru,” said Lula in a statement.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro denounced the parliamentary coup against him and stressed that “anti-democracy cannot be fought with anti-democracy.”

“Pedro Castillo, for being a teacher in the mountains and president of the popular election, was cornered from the first day. He did not achieve the mobilization of the people who elected him, he allowed himself to be led to political and democratic suicide. I hope Peru finds the path of dialogue in its society. When I met Pedro Castillo, they were trying to break into the government palace to arrest his wife and daughter. Troubled, he received me. A parliamentary coup against them was already taking place. I was surprised that they remained locked up in the Palace, isolated from the people who elected them. Undoubtedly, Pedro Castillo was wrong when trying to use the article of the Peruvian constitution that allows the dissolution of the Congress that had already decided to remove him without respecting the popular will. Anti-democracy cannot be fought with anti-democracy. It will be up to the people of Peru, and no one else, to resolve the institutional crisis raised and the absence of true representation. My greetings and respect to the great Peruvian people, the people of the mountains and the desert,” wrote Petro in a series of tweets.

Petro later called for the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) to apply the American Convention on Human Rights and expedite protective measures in favor of Peruvian President Pedro Castillo. “The right to elect and be elected and the right to an independent court of law have been violated,” he wrote in a post on Twitter.