Peru’s new president declares state of emergency in the south, proposes early elections

At least two people are dead and 30 injured following clashes between protesters and law enforcement across the country

Protests by Pedro Castillo supporters who demand the dissolution of Congress.
Juan Diego Quesada

The new president of Peru, Dina Boluarte, on Monday took steps to end the crisis stemming from Pedro Castillo’s failed self-coup last Wednesday, which ended with his arrest a few hours later.

Protests have been taking place since then across the country, with at least two people dead and 30 more injured, according to local media. Boluarte has declared a state of emergency in the south, where the deaths were reported, and said she will propose moving up general elections to April 2024 instead of serving out the full remaining three and a half years of her predecessor’s term.

Boluarte, 60, was forced to suggest a date for early elections due to the pressure on the streets. In downtown Lima, Castillo followers have been camping out daily and say they will not move until there is a new call for elections. They wear T-shirts that read: “Shut Down Corrupt Congress! Freedom for Pedro Castillo.” Every night they attempt to surround the legislative palace, and the police hold them back with tear gas.

Police fire tear gas at supporters of ousted president Pedro Castillo on Sunday.
Police fire tear gas at supporters of ousted president Pedro Castillo on Sunday.Martín Mejía (AP)

The protests are more intense in the south, where Boluarte has decreed a state of emergency. Two youths are reported dead in Andahuaylas, in the Apurímac region. The social leaders of that region have declared themselves in rebellion and say they do not recognize the new president, who was sworn in just hours after Castillo’s arrest. They have announced an indefinite strike for Monday that could extend to other areas of Peru.

Just a few days ago Boluarte had expressed her desire to remain in office until 2026, when her precedessor’s term expires. But protests by citizens demanding the dissolution of Congress – precisely what Castillo attempted to do last week in an authoritarian manner – have been growing in scope, along with citizen demands for an early vote.

It is unclear whether Congress and protesters will be appeased by Boluarte’s offer, which would entail her remaining in office for another year and three months. “I will send Congress a bill to move up the elections, to be agreed with the political forces represented in parliament,” she said on Monday.

Congress met on Sunday afternoon to discuss an inquiry by the attorney general’s office into charges that Castillo orchestrated a rebellion. But the session had to be suspended after one lawmaker attacked another from behind.

The Peruvian lawmakers Pasión Dávila and Juan Burgos fighting in Congress on December 11, 2022.Video: RR SS

The interim president also announced she will push for reform to give Peruvians a system that is “free from all types of corruption practices.” Peru has had six presidents in the last four years, and nearly all of them have been removed for lying, stealing or breaking the law. “I call on all parties and on the Peruvian people to participate in this process,” she said in an address to the nation at midnight on Sunday.

Castillo, a rural schoolteacher who came to power a year and a half ago after winning the elections, never managed to take the political initiative and spent his time in office struggling with a chaos that was partly of his own making. He was also at the mercy of the constant hurdles placed in his way by a fractious Congress, which had tried to oust him on two occasions and was gearing up for a third impeachment vote on the day of the attempted self-coup. Castillo was under investigation for allegedly corrupt practices involving the use of the presidency to benefit himself.

The embattled president’s attempt to dissolve Congress and declare an emergency government failed because he did not have the support of the military or the police, and he ended up under arrest.

Castillo’s supporters have been demonstrating since then, asking for his release and early elections. They believe that the current situation represents a victory for the members of Congress, who have achieved their goal of ousting Castillo and holding on to their seats. Congress has become an obstacle for Peruvian presidents, who usually come to power without large majorities and spend their time in office dealing with constant congressional attempts to impeach them.

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