Why Was Peru’s President Impeached?
The impeachment of President Pedro Castillo Terrones marks Peru’s latest political crisis. As violent protests extend into their second week, what’s in store for the Andean nation?
Why was Peruvian President Pedro Castillo Terrones ousted?
On December 7, hours before a third attempt to impeach him, Castillo announced his plans to dissolve Congress and install an emergency government that would rule by decree. He also called for new legislative elections. The move, widely condemned as an attempted autogolpe (Spanish for “self-coup”), prompted a slew of resignations from cabinet members and top government officials. Peru’s military and police forces called his actions unconstitutional and refused to support them. After attempting to seek asylum at the Mexican embassy in Peru’s capital, Lima, Castillo was arrested on charges of conspiracy and rebellion before lawmakers successfully impeached him. He could face up to twenty years in jail.
He was succeeded by his vice president, Dina Boluarte Zegarra, making her Peru’s first female head of state and the country’s sixth president in as many years. A lawyer by trade, she was a member of Castillo’s Free Peru party until earlier this year and has criticized his attempt to consolidate power.
How did Peru get here?
Castillo’s impeachment just eighteen months after his inauguration marks Peru’s latest in a long string of political crises. A former rural schoolteacher and union leader, Castillo ran on a Marxist and nationalist platform, promising to raise taxes on the rich, nationalize Peru’s massive mining industry, and rewrite the country’s constitution. He has drawn most of his support from poor farmers and Indigenous communities who feel ignored by the political elite. “Around 30 percent of the population, mainly in the Andes and the south, have long felt disaffected and neglected, and they identify with Castillo and see him as a victim of ‘Lima’ and a ‘white elite,’” writes the Economist’s Michael Reid.
After taking office, Castillo faced accusations of corruption and opposition from the majority of lawmakers over his radical proposals. His Free Peru party, while the biggest single faction in Congress, holds only 37 of 130 total seats. This political fragmentation has made it difficult to pass legislation, and it led to the two previous failed impeachment attempts.
For many observers, Castillo’s latest actions are reminiscent of a long history of conflict between legislatures and presidents, both in Peru and across Latin America. Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, for instance, ruled as a dictator for nearly a decade after his 1992 autogolpe, which had the military’s support. Fujimori and several other former Peruvian presidents have likewise faced investigations or imprisonment for alleged corruption.
How have Castillo’s supporters reacted?
Since Castillo’s arrest, violent protests by his supporters have erupted across the country, leading to a rare national declaration of emergency. The demonstrators, who see Castillo’s removal as illegitimate, have set up blockades in and around major cities, including the capital. Some have set fires and staged attacks on police stations and television network operations. Backed by the country’s largest federation of labor unions and its largest association of Indigenous people, they are calling for Castillo’s release, the dissolution of Congress, and fresh elections. More than twenty people have been killed in the unrest, and human rights groups such as Amnesty International have urged police to refrain from using excessive force.
Boluarte’s thirty-day state of emergency curtails some constitutional rights, including the rights to assembly and freedom of movement across the country. The government has also deployed the military to protect strategic infrastructure, such as airports, hydroelectric plants, and judicial buildings, arguing that the ongoing disruption could cost certain sectors upward of tens of millions of dollars per day. Even before the current turmoil, international credit rating agency Fitch had downgraded Peru’s credit outlook over concerns that the country could default on its foreign currency debt payments.
Efforts are underway to defuse the situation, but they are slow-moving. The Supreme Court has denied Castillo’s appeal for release, and Congress has rejected Boluarte’s proposal to move forward general elections, originally scheduled for 2026, to December 2023. In addition to seeking a new election, Boluarte has said she also supports constitutional reform, though details are scarce. Meanwhile, international pressure is building: the presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, and Mexico, a grouping of left-wing leaders, have denounced Castillo’s removal and subsequent detention, citing violations of international human rights law.
But even if new elections are held, they may not appease Castillo’s supporters. “The fundamental problems driving the unrest will not go away: an abysmal gap remains between the powerful capital Lima and much of the rest of the country which identified with Castillo,” writes the Guardian’s Dan Collyns.