Peru’s lonely road on Boluarte’s shoulders: what’s next for the Pacific Alliance?

“The de facto president is only sustained by the support of the US. I dare say that Peru has never been so alone,” writes Maria Fe Celi Reyna

July 21, 2023 by Maria Fe Celi Reyna
Protesters march on July 19, 2023 as part of the the "Third Takeover of Lima". The banner reads "Castillo, freedom, restitution". Photo: Román Heli Paredes

Today’s coups d’état are no longer like those of the past. Gone are the images of tanks bursting into the seat of the executive to seize power. In the last decade, we have seen the use of the law to carry out coups. The case of Dilma Rousseff made this strategy clear. For this reason, the powers that be must be more careful.

Coups d’état are now more subtle. They involve the coordination of different actors, the press plays a stellar role, and they work one by one until they corner the ruler in power to force him to resign or to use a constitutional vacuum to vacate him and thus, to backfire on the popular will, as in Peru. My country’s lonely road began on December 7, 2022, although preparations started much earlier.

The day after the second round, the third round began. First, there was an accusation of non-existent fraud. After 13 months of government, the parliament had censured 70 ministers; the initiatives of the Executive were blocked, and Pedro Castillo had faced two attempts of vacancy thanks to the use of a figure of “moral incapacity” contemplated in the Constitution, but which is used whimsically by the opposition. What is moral incapacity? Whatever the opposition decides.

In order to remove the president it was necessary to invent charges and, for this, the role of the media and the Attorney General’s Office was key. The concentrated Peruvian press broadcast morning, noon and night (even in entertainment programs), negative news about the president. Many of them were false and quickly denied, but these media are not very devoted to rectifications.

Pedro Castillo was portrayed as a donkey, treated as an incapable person who did not know how to govern, but he was also a mafioso who, in a short time, had managed to set up a corruption network to steal from the State. Meanwhile, the prosecutor’s office opened investigations based on the denunciations and its actions fed the media. Thus we arrived at the third vacancy attempt.

This time, Pedro Castillo, in a metaphorical sense, “died killing”. Either because he believed he had the backing of the Armed Forces or because he made the decision on his own, on December 7, before the vacancy, to do what the country was clamoring for: dissolve the Congress, call for new elections, as well as fulfill one of his most important campaign promises, that of calling for a Constituent Assembly. With this act, he became the most consistent president, at least, of this century.

Castillo’s arrest aroused the ire of millions across the country, but to a lesser extent in racist Lima, which has historically lived with its back turned to the rest of Peru. Unfortunately, because of Peru’s chronic centralism, if something doesn’t happen in the capital, it’s as if it doesn’t exist. So the press had created the perfect narrative that was parroted by international media: Pedro Castillo is imprisoned for attempting a coup d’état and, except for a few supporters who came out to protest, the country agrees. Dina Boluarte is the legitimate president. End of story.

They did not count on the fact that the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and his Colombian counterpart, Gustavo Petro, almost in parallel, were going to denounce what had happened in Peru. They were not the only presidents to do so, but together with Bolivian leader Evo Morales, they were the people who most criticized what had happened and broke with the narrative that was being broadcast abroad by the powers that be.

In the following months, we witnessed innumerable diplomatic tensions. The greater the abuses against the Peruvian population, the stronger the denunciations of international leaders and political leaders that ended with the Peruvian de facto government calling the ambassadors of those countries for consultation.

Tension with Mexico reached another level when President Castillo’s wife and young children were granted asylum. Peru proceeded to declare the Mexican ambassador persona non grata and he left along with the presidential family. For every response from López Obrador, there was a diplomatic reaction from Lima.

This was followed by the recall of the Peruvian ambassador to Mexico and finally, the Peruvian parliament—which enjoys single-digit approval ratings—declared the Mexican president persona non grata. To which López Obrador responded that it was “a badge of honor” to be so declared by a political elite such as the Peruvian one.

The Pacific Alliance and the Peruvian crisis

In the midst of the crisis in the bilateral relationship, there was a pending issue: the pro tempore presidency of the Pacific Alliance (made up of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru). The position changes every year and goes in alphabetical order, so it was Peru’s turn.

As usually happens with illegal and/or illegitimate governments, the first thing they need is international recognition. In Peru, it is especially important because of its dependence on the international market. Ending up isolated could prove fatal for the already battered economy of the Andean country, so the rotating presidency was a necessary international endorsement.

It should be recalled that the crisis over the presidency of the Alliance began when Castillo was still president. The Peruvian parliament refused to give him any authorization to leave the country, so López Obrador decided to cancel the handover meeting until the Peruvian president could go to Mexico. However, he was first removed from office and imprisoned.

Months later, with Boluarte at the helm, Peru claimed the presidency. López Obrador said he could not give it to Lima because his administration did not recognize the government, but he was willing to give it to Colombia or Chile, so that they could make a decision.

Due to tensions with Bogota, from where Boluarte also withdrew the Peruvian ambassador, the only country left was Chile. And Gabriel Boric did not fail.

The Chilean president, always so loquacious when it comes to Cuba or Venezuela, kept silent in the face of Peru. His intervention at the CELAC summit to criticize Boluarte for the murders during the protests and the entry of tanks to the Universidad Mayor de San Marcos seemed to indicate that he would also take a critical position, but there was only more silence.

Finally, to unblock the diplomatic impasse, the Chilean government offered to receive the pro tempore presidency from Mexico and then hand it over to Peru, which coincidentally happened (note the sarcasm) when there was a crisis of migrants seeking to leave Chile, but the Boluarte government closed the border to them.

The ‘pro tempore’ presidency that will be coming to Peru has been sold as a great national triumph and a defeat to the “interfering” López Obrador. It will probably only make Peru’s lonely road a little longer.

For this it is necessary to understand a bit of history and the composition of the Alliance. It was created in 2011 on the initiative of a fanatic, this time to the right, Alan Garcia, in the face of the advance of ALBA and CELAC. It was created for a political purpose disguised with an economic and technocratic discourse. It was an Alliance conceived to stop the much needed integration of the region, which at that time, was promoted by leftist leaders.

Today, the Alliance boasts spectacular numbers. According to its website, as of 2019, the bloc accounted for 41% of GDP and 38% of direct investment in Latin America and the Caribbean. The four countries have a population of 230 million and have a GDP per capita, on average, of USD 19,050. What many seem to forget is that these numbers are only possible because Mexico is part of the Alliance. Without Mexico, it becomes totally irrelevant.

If Boluarte’s de facto government continues, it will be interesting to see the discursive juggling she will have to do to justify that the president of the most important economy of the Alliance will not be able to attend the meeting because he is not welcome in Peru and, also, how he invites the Colombian president after having withdrawn the Peruvian ambassador in that country. It could end up being a bilateral meeting between Boric and Boluarte.

It looks more like López Obrador has taken a weight off his mind. Mexico has more serious problems to deal with than its northern neighbor. In addition, an election year is coming and he will be more involved in domestic politics. In Colombia, where they are applying the same script as with Castillo, Petro will be more focused on avoiding a vacancy. As for Chile, Chileans will go to the polls to vote between Pinochet’s Constitution and one written by the extreme right. The Alianza will not be anyone’s priority.

Peru will have the ‘pro tempore’ presidency, but nothing more. It has isolated Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, Argentina and Honduras, reacting hysterically to criticisms and denunciations of human rights abuses by Peruvian police and military forces, clearly on record.

Brazil has recognized Boluarte, but remains distant and Chile does not seem very proactive in its relationship with Peru. The de facto president is only sustained by the support of the US. I dare say that Peru has never been so alone.

For now, Boluarte is, in practice, isolated, but as time goes by, sooner or later, she will have to deal with Peru. Next year, the Andean nation will host the APEC meeting and the Asian countries are dealing with very different rationales. The longer it takes for the depoliticized and divided Peruvian society to remove this government, the more governments will recognize it, however uncomfortable it may be.

This article was translated from Spanish from an opinion piece originally published in RT.