What led to the downfall of Peru’s Pedro Castillo?

Before being detained by authorities, the Peruvian president announced that he was dissolving the Congress and ordering a curfew, as part of plan to rule by decree

Pedro Castillo
Pedro Castillo – the recently-impeached president of Peru – during a televised address to the nation on Wednesday, December 7, 2022AFP

On the morning of Wednesday, December 7, Peruvian President Pedro Castillo announced five measures in a televised address. The first was that he was going to “temporarily dissolve” his country’s Congress and install an “emergency government.”

Shortly afterwards, Castillo’s cabinet resigned and he was denounced by the country’s judiciary. He is currently under arrest.

The same day he announced his plans, a vote was set to be held in Congress over whether or not the president should be impeached. This was the third attempt by the legislative branch to remove the highly unpopular Castillo since he began his term in July 2021.

In his address to the country – just hours before the vote – Castillo accused the parliamentarians of “destroying the rule of law” and trying to “establish a congressional dictatorship.”

Over the past 16 months, the political tensions in the Andean country have been running high. After winning the 2021 presidential elections by a margin of less than half a percentage point, Castillo – a former union leader – has constantly clashed with Congress, which is dominated by centrist and center-right parties who oppose his Marxist “Free Peru” party. This has led to political gridlock, with hardly any legislation being passed.

During his Wednesday address, Castillo claimed that, because of the Peruvian Congress – which has an approval rating of about 20%, almost as low as his – the situation in the country had become “intolerable” and that the people were demanding exceptional measures to preserve democracy and the rule of law.

In addition to announcing the closure of the Congress, Castillo said he intended to hold new legislative elections “as soon as possible.” This constituent assembly, he explained, would be responsible for drafting a new federal constitution within a period of no more than nine months.

“From today onwards, until the inauguration of a new national Congress, [I] will govern by decree,” he added.

Castillo also announced a curfew across the country, which would have come into effect at 10pm and lasted until 4am.

“Everyone who possesses illegal weapons should turn them over to the National Police within a period of 72 hours. Whoever doesn’t comply will be subject to punishment consisting of prison time – a measure which will be established by decree,” he added, in a nod to the country’s high crime rates. This was in an attempt to get popular support for his shuttering of the legislature.

Another measure mentioned was in relation to the total reorganization of the justice system, the judiciary, the Attorney General’s office, the National Board of Justice and the Constitutional Court. However, Castillo did not offer further details on the scope of this planned unilateral reform, which caused widespread fear among much of the population.

Castillo called on the National Police – with the help of the Armed Forces – to dedicate all their efforts to a “real and effective fight” against crime, corruption and drug trafficking. Within this same point, he stressed that private property and freedom of commerce would be guaranteed and respected within the framework of a social market economy. Given that most of Castillo’s family is under investigation for corruption, while his party leadership expresses support for nationalization policies, none of these promises generated public confidence.

During his address, Castillo also asked civil society institutions and associations to support his decisions to “set Peru on course.” He specifically mentioned the “rondas campesinas” – the lightly-armed rural peasant militias that have been in existence since the war against the Shining Path terrorist group (1980-92). Although Castillo was once a rondero, these groups also broke with Castillo, refusing to endorse his attempt to rule by decree and demanding that new elections be held immediately.

Castillo said that he had informed the Organization of American States (OAS) about his decision, bizarrely linking it to the American Convention on Human Rights. The document mentions that “in case of war, public danger or other emergencies that threaten the independence or security of the state, [the executive] may adopt measures that, for the time strictly limited to the exigencies of the situation, suspend the obligations contracted by virtue of this Convention.” As Peru is facing no public emergency, this justification was rejected unanimously by all ministers, congresspeople and judges – including those from Castillo’s political bloc – who were supported by the police and army.

Castillo was arrested by the Peruvian National Police in the afternoon following his address, while en route to the Mexican Embassy to seek asylum, according to several sources.

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