At the beginning of the month, Peru experienced an auto-coup attempt performed by today’s former President Castillo. To understand the reasons that led him to this decision, it is important to start with a small background and the country’s economy.
Peru has a long political history, but to understand this situation, we can go back to 1990 with the election of Alberto Fujimori. Two years into his mandate, he proclaimed an auto coup, changed the constitution in 1993, and ruled the country until 2000, when he resigned from the role while in Japan. Seven years later, he was extradited and judged in the country.
In 2001, after a short presidency of Valentín Paniagua, it was the turn of Alejandro Toledo, who ran the country until 2006, ending his mandate. But in 2017, the Odebrecht scandal exploded, and the President was accused of receiving over 20 million dollars in bribery. Since then, Toledo has flown away to the US, and his extradition process is open. President Alan Garcia Perez (President from 2006-2011) was also accused of bribery, and while declining any wrongdoing, in 2019, after being surrounded by the local police, he committed suicide.
Ollanta Humalla was the last President that completed the mandate ruling from 2011-2016. But Humalla was the third president involved in the Obedrecht case, and he and his wife were in prevented prison between 2017-2018, but their case is still open. After him, a long succession of failed presidencies ruled the country, including Pedro Kuczynski (ruled from 2016-2018, and quit because of his role in the Lava Jato during Toledo Presidency), Martin Vizcarra Cornejo (2018-2020, quit due to a scandal with COVID-19 vaccines), Manuel Merino (President for five days) and Francisco Sagasti (President for eight months).
All of these scandals produced a trust crisis in Peru. The Latino barometer survey shows a constant decline in the citizens’ trust in Democracy as the best type of government (from 67.4% in 2010 to 53% in 2020). And over 80% were not satisfied with the way Democracy is working in the country. And while the people do not trust most institutions, Congress has been increasing its mistrust of the citizens. Over 64% do not trust the legislative body, and another 27% have little trust.
This brings us to the election of Pedro Castillo. He was a rural teacher in a poor area in the country’s north. He was a local syndicate leader for over two decades in his region before turning to national politics as the head of the Leftist party of Peru Libre in 2021. Among his promises were the cancellation of the 1993 constitution and, if not approved, the dissolution of the Constitutional Tribunal. Castillo won first place with 19% of the votes in the first round and won the second round by a tiny margin of 50.125 against 49.875%.
Credit:Galería del Ministerio de Defensa del Perú, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
His Presidency was, in a word, a mess. In over one and a half years, over 78 ministers in over 495 days, an average of a ministry every six days. At the end of 2021, Congress held a vote to do a political jury to the President, but it was not approved by achieving 46 of the requested 52 congress members. The second attempt was on March 14, 2022, but only 41 positive votes were recorded.
On November 29, 2022, a third attempt succeeded. Over 70 positive votes were recorded, and President Castillo was called to Congress to testify on December 7. The reason, in all cases, was moral incapacity.
That morning, President Castillo announced that he was dissolving the Congress and the Constitutional Court and establishing a curfew between 22:00-04:00 to avoid manifestations. The response of the political elite was very fast and strong. The ministers started publishing their opposition to the measure and quitting the government. The Armed Forces, and the police established that the measure was not constitutional and declined to follow the President’s Order.
In Congress, the removal process was approved with 101 votes (of 87 needed), and the President was removed. The police detained the now-former President on his way to the Mexican Embassy to seek asylum. Nowadays, he is in jail, but his family received Mexican asylum and are in that country.
Emergency Situation Today
A survey by Ipsos, shows that over 60% of the Peruvian population was against the Castillo steps, but still, there are differences between the capital and rural areas. In the capital, the support was only 20%, with almost 80% of disapproval, while in the rural areas, the support was double. In some areas, especially in rural zones and the country’s south, the support for Castillo was very strong.
After the removal, Ms. Dina Bonuarte (Castillo’s VP) has become the first woman to preside over the country with an original mandate up to 2026. However, the rural areas started with the wide protests that blocked the main routes and airport paralyzing the country, and requesting to call for elections soon. But also, some of the protestors are against the President and want the restitution of Castillo to the Presidency and to close the Congress.
Credit:Mayimbú, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The President has declined this request but stated that it will rule up to 2024. The protests continued, and Ms. Bonuarte called for a 30-day State of Emergency. However, over 80% of Peruvians believe that some reforms should be made and new elections called as soon as possible.
The next steps are not easy to predict. Still, some reforms to the constitution and the country’s social-political situation should be done to restore the institutions’ credibility and avoid a fracture between the rural and city populations. To finish the article, the Peruvian economy has not been hurt during the last years of political instability. Still, the significant concentration of capital, together with this reality, can easily change this reality.