Political Crisis in Peru – Lima and the others

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Copyright © Giancarlo Granza

„Let’s close the congress and reinstate the president. New elections. No to dictatorship. (She’s a) criminal Fujimori and Montesinos supporter.“

The political crisis in Peru is very difficult and confusing to understand if you do not know much about Peruvian constitutional law. In summary, a badly worded and vague law in our constitution threatens the very base of our democracy, and has been used as a political instrument since Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s administration in 2016 and has pushed our political class to its limits. Since 2016, the Peruvian pueblo has been stuck in the middle of suffocating tensions of our political class. Peru has had 6 different presidents in the last 6 years, although a president’s term is meant to last 5 years. 

Pedro Castillo, who was democratically elected in 2021, attempted to dissolve Congress and rule by decree on December 7, 2022. He announced the dissolution of Congress shortly before his impeachment was put to the vote.  This move was not only illegal and unconstitutional, but completely absurd. If it was a dictatorship he was planning to establish, he would have needed the unconditional support of the armed forces, which he clearly did not have. He was impeached as well as arrested on the same day under accusations of rebellion. Citizens struggle to understand his motive behind a self-coup meant to fail.  However, his failed attempt to dissolve Congress has a background of political turmoil. The opposition had been threatening him to remove him from office since the beginning of his administration. The Peruvian Constitution gives Congress the faculty to remove a President from office if they have 87 votes in favor. Interestingly, Congress can determine if a President is “morally fit” to rule. The opposition used this instrument unsuccessfully twice, as they did not have the votes. It was shortly before the third impeachment vote when Castillo dissolved Congress. This coup attempt was not acknowledged by Congress, therefore they decided to impeach him anyway, successfully removing him from office and thus creating a power vacuum, which was then covered by the vice president, as it is the proper legal procedure for such a case. The argument for his removal was due to his “moral incapacity”—a causal of vacancy (the official name for this procedure) contemplated by the Constitution. This causal lacks a clear definition, leaving it open for interpretation, thus can be easily used as a political tool and has been used as such. However, Castillo’s corruption accusations and most importantly, his attempt to dissolve Congress gave Congress enough material to back up their case, both legally and morally. 

Castillo was not an exemplary president. He was rather disappointing for many who dreamed of a competent leftist President. He was plagued by corruption scandals, much like his predecessors. Besides that, he appointed 78 ministers in only 16 months and had an approval rate of 20%. In the political arena, he had no allies. He represented the populist conservative left that is strongly rejected by many progressives in the center-left. Although some coalitions were made at the beginning of his administration, they did not last long as the tensions between both interpretations of the left kept intensifying, which was just a reflection of the real existing tensions of the academic left from Lima and the left of the people from rural areas outside the capital, often referred as the real left.  However, after disagreements with the leader of his party Peru Libre, he was abandoned by a significant part of his own party as well. It seemed evident that he did not have any powerful allies, and that he would leave his position as president silently and shamefully, and would be remembered as the loneliest president Peru ever had. However, this was not the case. He had the support of the most unexpected but strongest ally of them all: the people.

Since his arrest, his supporters have taken over the streets in different parts of the country, mainly in those regions where Castillo has had the highest approval rates, for example, Ayacucho. They demand early elections as they claim that the current president, Dina Boluarte, who formerly served as Castillo’s vice president, is not who they voted for. In addition to this, they demand the shutdown of Congress and the drafting of a new constitution—a promise made by Castillo himself. Since the beginning of the confrontations between the government and the protestors, at least 25 people have lost their lives— many of them being underage. This should be outrageous news for everyone, but it is not. Several journalists and academics, as well as Twitter users, have rightfully pointed out the lack of coverage of the restlessness of the country in local media. Even when the protests are mentioned, it is usually with the intention of undermining the protestors, calling them criminals, vandals, or potential terrorists. 

It may be difficult to understand why people would support a President who illegally attempted to dissolve Congress and thus threatened the democratic order of the State. However, the current political crisis in Peru tells the story of a country built on tensions between the Limeño elite and the rural regions of the country. Castillo won the elections not only because of the lesser of two evils principle that dictates our democracy, and he was widely considered the lesser evil against Keiko Fujimori—daughter of the controversial ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori— but because he was a symbol for the marginalized. He came into power with the promise of tackling economic inequality and ending poverty, which rural areas disproportionately. As a former school teacher and union leader, he was the voice of the often ignored and underrepresented Peru. Moreover, the narrative supported by the media of the protests that alienates the protestors, as well as the brutality coming from the state that nearly strips them of their humanity, reflects the relations between the elite and rural Peru.

The protests have escalated significantly since their outburst. Protestors have occupied airports and blocked highways. On December 14th, the Defense Minister declared a state of emergency, allowing the military to face the protestors. International organizations such as the UN Child Rights Committee and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have expressed their concern about the ongoing violent confrontations. On Christmas Eve, Boluarte, who many accuse of being responsible for the deaths of the protestors, released an emotional statement asking for peace. Early elections have already been brought forward to 2024 instead of 2026 by the government, but it is being openly discussed if even earlier elections are possible in order to put an end to the country’s restlessness. Whatever the outcome is, many families mourn the deaths of their loved ones while the whole country is paralyzed in what seems to be a never-ending cycle of political instability. 

Note: the sources used for this article are in English, Spanish, and German. 

References: 

Abé, N. (2022) , ‚Wie eine Demokratie überlebt, weil ihre Politiker so schwach sind‘, Der Spiegel, https://www.spiegel.de/ausland/peru-regierungswechsel-proteste-moegliche-neuwahlen-was-ist-los-in-dem-land-a-9338a927-2f09-4d10-9a2f-e3e825c7604b 

Aspinwall, N. & Chen, A. ‘ Peru’s Failed Presidential Coup Sparks Democratic Crisis’, Foreign Policy, https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/12/20/peru-failed-presidential-coup-democratic-crisis/ 

Bubola, E (2020), ‚What is Behind the Political Turmoil in Peru‘, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/article/peru-president-castillo-boluarte.html 

‘Peru’s president urges Congress to bring forward general elections amid protests’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/dec/17/peru-president-general-election-protests-dina-boluarte 

Santaeulalia, I. ‘10 presidents of Peru, more than 20 years of instability’, El País, https://english.elpais.com/international/2022-12-21/10-presidents-of-peru-more-than-20-years-of-instability.html 

Turkewitz, J. (2022), ‘Protesters in Peru Demand Justice for Ousted President Pedro Castillo’, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/15/world/americas/peru-protests-pedro-castillo.html 

Tegel, S. (2021) , ‘Pedro Castillo finally declared winner of Peru’s presidential election’, The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/07/19/castillo-wins-peru-election/

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