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LATIN AMERICA | 08-12-2022 15:14

Peru's new president under pressure after arrest of predecessor Castillo

Peru's Pedro Castillo was impeached and replaced as president by his deputy on Wednesday in a dizzying series of events in a country that has long been prone to political upheaval.

Peru's new President Dina Boluarte was under pressure Thursday to quell the political turmoil rocking the country, a day after the dramatic arrest of her predecessor, who stands accused of attempting a coup.

The South American country's first-ever woman leader asked the opposition for a truce as she prepared to form a government, as doubt hung over her ability to survive the firestorm ignited by Pedro Castillo.

The prosecutor's office said it had carried out a dawn raid on the presidency and some ministerial offices in Lima, in search of evidence against Castillo, who is being investigated for "rebellion and conspiracy" a day after he tried to dissolve Congress and rule by decree.

Castillo's efforts were quickly stamped out by lawmakers who voted him out of office in a dizzying day of high drama, by the end of which he was in jail and his former vice-president Boluarte had emerged as the new head of state.

In another twist, Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador revealed Thursday that Castillo had called his office to request asylum in his country's embassy, which he planned to grant, but the leftist was arrested before he could arrive there.

Boluarte took the oath of office shortly after the impeachment vote, vowing to serve out the rest of Castillo's term, until July 2026.

She called for "national unity" and urged lawmakers to put aside their ideological differences, in a tacit reference to the confrontation between Castillo's leftist government and the right-wing dominated Congress.

The 60-year-old lawyer must now form her first ministerial cabinet, which will be an early indication of whether she is likely to survive in office. Her initial appointments will signal the support she can muster for her government. If she is unable to rule, calls will grow for her resignation or the calling of early elections.

The United States praised Peru for ensuring "democratic stability" despite the tumult. A US State Department spokesperson said the country would "continue to support Peru under the unity government President Boluarte pledged to form." 

 

Dizzying hours

The dramatic events in Peru are the latest in a long line of political crises for the country, where impeachment proceedings are common, and which is now on its sixth president since 2016.

Castillo's 17-month rule was overshadowed by multiple cabinet reshuffles, six investigations against him and his family, mass protests demanding his removal, and a power struggle with the opposition-backed Congress.

The current crisis began as the former rural school teacher on Wednesday faced his third impeachment attempt since unexpectedly wresting power from Peru's traditional political elite.

In a televised address, the 53-year-old announced he was dissolving the opposition-dominated Congress, imposing a curfew and would rule by decree for at least nine months.

As criticism poured in over the speech, lawmakers defiantly gathered to approve the impeachment motion.

By Wednesday night, Castillo had been transferred to a police facility in east Lima, where graft-convicted former president Alberto Fujimori – himself removed by Congress in 2000 – is serving out his sentence.

Hundreds of Castillo's supporters protested outside the Lima police headquarters after his impeachment, clashing with police who fired tear gas to quash the demonstrations.

"Shut Congress, nest of rats," read one of their signs.

Meanwhile, those opposed to the former president burned t-shirts bearing his image.

The European Union expressed its support for the "political, democratic and peaceful solution adopted by the Peruvian institutions."

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on all parties to "uphold the rule of law, as well as to remain calm and refrain from inflaming tensions."

Without her own political party in Congress, Boluarte faces an uphill battle to stay in power.

"She has no party in Congress, she is alone, former president Ollanta Humala told local television Wednesday night.

"She does not have the tools to govern, she should call for an early election," added Humala, who served from 2011 to 2016.  

"Today's truce will last a month or maybe more, but then the country's big problems will come to the fore."

But right-wing political heavyweight Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of ex-president Fujimori, said her party would support the new president.   

"Let's hope that the president appoints a broad-based cabinet, a very good cabinet and we must all do everything possible to make it work well," she tweeted.

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by Carlos Andujano & Luis Jaime Cisneros, APF

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