LIMA, Peru — Peru’s president was ousted by Congress and arrested on charges of rebellion on Wednesday after trying to dissolve the legislature and take unilateral control of the government, sparking a severe constitutional crisis.
Vice President Dina Boluarte succeeded Pedro Castillo and became the first female leader in the republic’s history after hours of wrangling between lawmakers and the outgoing president, who tried to prevent a vote on impeachment.
Boluarte, a 60-year-old lawyer, called for a political peace and a government of national unity.
“What I’m asking for is space, time to save the country,” he said.
Lawmakers voted 101-6, with 10 abstentions, to impeach Castillo for “persistent moral turpitude.”
He left the presidential palace in a car that took him through the historic center of Lima. He walked into the police station, and a few hours later federal prosecutors announced that Castillo had been arrested on charges of sedition, a constitutional violation. Witnesses saw a small-scale clash between the police and some protesters gathered near the station.
“We condemn the violation of the constitutional system,” the federal prosecutors said in a statement. â€œPeru’s political constitution reinforces the separation of powers and establishes that Peru is a democratic and sovereign republic… No authority can place itself above the Constitution and must comply with constitutional mandates.â€
Fluent in Spanish and Quechua, Boluarte was elected vice president on July 28, 2021, on the presidential ticket that brought the center-left Castillo to power. During Castillo’s brief administration, Boluarte was Minister of Development and Social Inclusion.
Shortly before the impeachment vote, Castillo announced that he was forming a new emergency government and would implement the decision by executive order. He ordered a night curfew that began on Wednesday evening. The head of Peru’s army then resigned, along with four ministers, including those for foreign affairs and the economy.
The Office of the Ombudsman, an autonomous government institution, said Castillo must turn himself in to judicial authorities before a vote in Congress.
After years of democracy, Peru is on the brink of a constitutional collapse – nothing more than a coup, the statement said.
International reaction was occasionally ahead of events.
United States Amb. Lisa Kenna took to Twitter to call on Castillo to rescind his order to dissolve Congress, saying the US government rejects any “unconstitutional” actions by the president to interfere with Congress.
A short time later, Congress voted to remove Castillo.
Mexico’s Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter that, in light of recent events in Peru, Mexico has decided to postpone the Pacific Alliance summit scheduled for December 14 in Lima. He regretted the recent events and called for respect for democracy and human rights.
The administration of Chilean President Gabriel Boric regretted the political situation in Peru and believed that the crisis would be resolved through democratic mechanisms. The Spanish government strongly condemned the violation of the constitutional order and congratulated the country on its democratic reform.
In an extraordinary speech on state television before the vote, Castillo said he would “never tarnish the good name of my honest and exemplary parents, who like millions of Peruvians, who work every day to build an honest future for their families.” â€
The farmer-turned-president said he would pay for mistakes made due to inexperience. But, he said, a certain sector of Congress “has the only thing on their agenda to remove me from office because they never accepted the election results that you, dear Peruvians, determined with your votes.”
Castillo denied the corruption charges against him, saying they were based on “hearsay from people who abused my trust and tried to implicate me without evidence, seeking to lighten their sentences for alleged crimes.”
Federal prosecutors are investigating six cases against Castillo, most of them alleging corruption, under the theory that he used his power to profit from public affairs.
The power struggle in the capital of Pera continued as the Andes and thousands of its small farms struggled to survive the worst drought in half a century. Without rain, farmers can’t plant potatoes, and withered grass can’t support herds of sheep, alpacas, vicuas, and llamas. To make matters worse, bird flu has killed at least 18,000 seabirds and infected at least one poultry producer, endangering chickens and turkeys raised for traditional holiday meals.
The government also confirmed the fifth wave of COVID-19 infections in the country last week. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 4.3 million Peruvians have been infected and 217,000 of them have died.
Castillo, the first president in the country’s history to come from a poor farming community, came to the presidential palace last year without any political experience. He reshuffled his cabinet five times in a year and a half, passing through 60 different cabinet officials and paralyzing various government departments.
While Castillo is the first president to be investigated while in office, the probes are not surprising in a country where almost every former president in the past 40 years has been accused of corruption involving multinational corporations such as Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.
Since 2016, Pera has been mired in political crises, with congressmen and presidents taking turns trying to destroy each other. President Martán Vizcarra (2018-2020) dissolved Congress in 2019 and ordered new elections. That new legislature removed Vizcarra the following year. Then came President Manuel Merino, who took office less than a week after killing two protesters and injuring more than 200. His successor, Francisco Sagasti, lasted nine months before succeeding Castillo.
On Wednesday, Castillo became the second former president currently in custody in the country. Former President of Peru, Alberto Fujimori, He is serving a 25-year prison sentence for murder and corruption during his rule in 1990-2000.