Peru’s new president under pressure after predecessor’s arrest

Published December 9, 2022, 7:57 AM

by Agence-France-Presse

LIMA, Peru — 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.

Peru’s new President Dina Boluarte speaks to the press in Lima, on December 8, 2022, a day after being sworn by Congress as Peru’s first-ever woman President following the impeachment of Pedro Castillo. Peruvian Pedro Castillo was impeached and replaced as president by his deputy on Wednesday in a dizzying series of events in the country that has long been prone to political upheaval. Dina Boluarte, a 60-year-old lawyer, was sworn in as Peru’s first female president just hours after Castillo tried to wrest control of the legislature in a move criticised as an attempted coup. melina Mejia / Peruvian Presidency / AFP

Hundreds of protesters demanded early elections in two southern cities, as doubt hangs over Boluarte’s ability to survive the firestorm ignited by Pedro Castillo.

Asked by reporters if she would consider calling an early election, Peru’s first woman leader said that, going forward, she would “look at alternatives to best re-orient” the country.

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 taken over.

In another twist, Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador revealed 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.

Looking visibly nervous and disheveled, Castillo appeared before the Supreme Court via videoconference on Thursday as the prosecutor’s office requested he be detained for seven days. A judge later granted the request.

“It is clear that the crime of rebellion was not committed” because it did not materialize, argued one of Castillo’s lawyers, Victor Perez.

‘She is alone’

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

However protesters in the southern Andean cities of Ayacucho and Puno where Castillo has a lot of support, demanded early elections be held.

On Wednesday night similar demonstrations took place in Lima, and police fired teargas to disperse Castillo’s supporters.

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.

However, 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,” Peru’s 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.

The United States praised Peru for ensuring “democratic stability,” and the European Union expressed its support for the “political, democratic and peaceful solution adopted by the Peruvian institutions.”

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 the Barbadillo police penitentiary in east Lima, where graft-convicted former president Alberto Fujimori — himself removed by Congress in 2000 — is serving out his sentence.