The president of Peru, Pedro Castillo, was arrested on Wednesday, three hours after he announced the dissolution of Congress, according to Peru’s National Police. In a televised address to the nation, Castillo had decreed a “government of exception” and issued an immediate nighttime curfew for the country. The president said legislative elections would be called to elect new members of Congress, who would approve a new Constitution. The message, described by his own supporters as a “coup d’état in progress,” was issued hours before Castillo was set to face his third impeachment vote.
After the televised speech, Castillo appeared before the prefecture – the body in charge of maintaining public order – to call for guarantees and was arrested. The image of Castillo reading a magazine while being held in a police station marks the end of his 18-month, chaotic mandate. Peru, however, remains in a state of political uncertainty.
Castillo, a rural elementary school teacher who was the surprise winner at the last elections, lost all support after making his announcement. The US ambassador to Peru, Lisa Kenna, responded quickly, writing on Twitter: “The United States categorically rejects any extraconstitutional act by President Castillo to prevent Congress from fulfilling its mandate.” And within the country, the Constitutional Court called on the Armed Forces to “restore the order.” Congress members continued with the impeachment vote despite the dissolution attempt, and voted to remove him from office. Dina Boluarte, the current vice president, will assume the presidency this afternoon.
Tension was running high in Peru following the announcement. Some stores closed their doors, while residents rushed home. Many parents were seen picking up their children early from school. On Tuesday, a day before Castillo announced the dissolution of Congress, Walter Córdova Alemán resigned from his position as Commander General of the Army for “strictly personal reasons.” He did not provide further details, but the decision would have left Castillo free to appoint a new commander.
The doors of Congress of the Republic, where Castillo was set to face his third impeachment vote, were closed on Wednesday, but members of Congress continued with the vote. The general committee of Congress voted to sack Castillo for being “morally unfit” – the same grounds used to remove former president Alberto Fujimori from office in 2000. Congress approved the move with 101 votes in favor, six against and 10 abstentions.
Peru Libre, the party that brought the president to power, called the president’s decision an attack on democracy. Vladimir Cerrón, the president of the party, said he would not support “the coup d’état in progress.” “We are against hyper-parliamentarism, the press in the country cannot be trusted, no testimony is corroborated, but neither are we willing to stick out our neck for the president,” he said.
Some ministers submitted their resignation, including Alejandro Salas (Labor) and Kurt Burneo, who served as the economy minister, as well as Manuel Rodríguez Cuadros, Peru’s ambassador to the UN. Meanwhile, former president Ollanta Humala expressed public rejection through social media, and called Pedro Castillo a dictator. “The Armed Forces owe honor and loyalty to the homeland and not to a dictator. That is what you are today, Pedro Castillo.”
In Wednesday’s address, Castillo said that new congressional elections would be held and that Peru would be governed by a new Constitution. “We will call for elections as soon as possible for a new Congress with constituent powers to create a new Constitution in a period of no longer than nine months. From that date until the new Congress is installed, we will govern by decree,” he added. The president argued that he decided to decree “a government of exception” in order to “reestablish the Rule of Law due to the citizens’ demands throughout the length and breadth of the country.” He ordered a nationwide curfew from 10pm to 4am, starting Thursday.
In his address, Castillo also declared that he would reorganize the justice system, from the judiciary to other institutions such as the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Constitutional Court and the National Justice Board, which appoints and removes judges and prosecutors. The president added that he would “scrupulously respect the economic model.” All these events are taking place in the wake of a recent visit by a high-level delegation from the Organization of American States (OAS), at Castillo’s request, to evaluate whether democracy is in danger in Peru.
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