Peru’s president ousted and arrested after he seeks to dissolve Congress in political crisis

United States Amb. Lisa Kenna called on Castillo via Twitter to reverse his decree to dissolve Congress, saying the U.S. government rejected any “extra-constitutional” actions by the president to interfere with Congress.

A short time later the Congress voted to remove Castillo.

Mexico Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said via Twitter that given recent events in Peru, Mexico had decided to postpone the Pacific Alliance summit scheduled for Dec. 14 in Lima. He said he regretted the recent developments and called for democracy and human rights to be respected.

The administration of Chilean President Gabriel Boric lamented the political situation in Peru and trusted that the crisis would be resolved through democratic mechanisms. Spain’s government strongly condemned the break in constitutional order and congratulated the country on righting itself democratically.

Castillo had said in an unusual midnight address on state television ahead of the vote that he would never stain “the good name of my honest and exemplary parents, who like millions of Peruvians, work every day to build honestly a future for their families.”

The peasant-turned-president said he’s paying for mistakes made due to inexperience. But he said a certain sector of Congress “has as its only agenda item removing me from office because they never accepted the results of an election that you, my dear Peruvians, determined with your votes.”

Castillo has denied allegations of corruption against him, saying they’re based on “hearsay statements by people who, seeking to lighten their own punishments for supposed crimes by abusing my confidence, are trying to involve me without evidence.”

Former Vice President Dina Boluarte addresses lawmakers after being sworn-in as the new president in Lima, Peru, on Dec. 7, 2022.
Former Vice President Dina Boluarte addresses lawmakers after being sworn-in as the new president on Wednesday in Lima. Guadalupe Pardo / AP

Federal prosecutors are investigating six cases against Castillo, most of them for alleged corruption, under the theory that he had used his power to profit from public works.

The power struggle in Perú’s capital has continued as the Andes and its thousands of small farms struggle to survive the worst drought in a half-century. Without rain, farmers can’t plant potatoes, and the dying grass can no longer sustain herds of sheep, alpacas, vicuñas and llamas. Making matters worse, avian flu has killed at least 18,000 sea birds and infected at least one poultry producer, endangering the chicken and turkeys raised for traditional holiday meals.

The government also confirmed that in the past week, the country has suffered a fifth wave of Covid-19 infections. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 4.3 million Peruvians have been infected, and 217,000 of them have died.

The first president to come from a poor farming community in the nation’s history, Castillo arrived in the presidential palace last year without any political experience. He changed his cabinet five times during his year and a half in office, running through 60 different cabinet officials, leaving various government agencies paralyzed.

Although Castillo is the first president to be investigated while still in office, the probes are no surprise in a country where nearly every former president in the last 40 years have been charged with corruption linked to multinational corporations, such as the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.

Since 2016, Perú has been entrenched in political crises, with congresses and presidents trying to eliminate each other in turn. President Martín Vizcarra (2018-2020) dissolved Congress in 2019 and ordered new elections. That new legislature removed Vizcarra the next year. Then came President Manuel Merino, who lasted less than a week before a crackdown killed two protesters and injured 200 more. His successor, Francisco Sagasti, lasted nine months before Castillo took over.

Castillo on Wednesday became the second ex-president currently in custody in the country. A former Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimori, is serving a 25-year sentence for murder and corruption charges dating to his 1990-2000 rule.

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