Defiant Castillo insists he remains Peru’s leader from prison cell

Arrested following a failed coup attempt, the former president is convinced he is a victim of political persecution and will be reinstated despite facing up to 50 years in jail

Pedro Castillo Peru
Pedro Castillo, on October 11 of this year.El Comercio (Europa Press)

Those who saw Pedro Castillo following his arrest say that he appeared confused and disoriented. In just a few hours, he had passed from the seat of power as the president of Peru to being detained in a bare room containing a table and six chairs. It was not the outcome Castillo had envisaged when he staged an attempted coup, dissolving Congress and decreeing a “government of exception” hours before he was due to face the third impeachment vote of his 18-month presidency. Peruvians have been attempting to understand what pushed him to take such a drastic decision, but nobody has provided a convincing answer. Castillo failed to garner support from the military, the business community or the media. The general consensus seems to be that it was one of clumsiest attempts ever made by an aspiring autocrat.

The first few days of Castillo’s detention were the most difficult. He was irascible. He complained that he was being denied the right to speak to his wife and children, according to a member of his inner circle. Former president Alberto Fujimori is being held in the same facility, although he is in the prison wings while Castillo bunks down in the remand area. There is no communication permitted between the two zones. Fujimori, who dissolved Congress and governed for eight years as he saw fit has not crossed paths with the former elementary school teacher who tried unsuccessfully to do the same thing.

In the days following Castillo’s coup attempt, there was speculation that he had been drugged. One of his lawyers suggested something had been added to the water he was drinking to quell the dryness in his mouth caused by the moment. The president’s recital of his announcement was nervous and flat, as if he didn’t want to place the weight of the state on his own shoulders, the legal argument was made. But Castillo himself has elected not to follow that defense strategy. Last Sunday, he delivered a letter to a political ally in which he stated that a group of “camouflaged” doctors and a “faceless” prosecutor had forced him to provide a blood sample without his consent. According to judicial sources, it was a toxicological test.

The incident sparked Castillo’s paranoia: “I do not rule out this Machiavellian plan has been directed by the Attorney General of the Nation, the President of Congress and Mrs. Dina Boluarte [his successor],” he said. From there, it has been reported, Castillo entered a state of euphoria. He feels he has the backing of regional leaders including Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Colombian President Gustavo Petro. He has convinced himself that he is a political prisoner being persecuted by powerful factions that have prevented him from governing since he first donned the presidential sash in July, 2021.

carta escrita presuntamente por Pedro Castillo y dirigida al pueblo peruano
Photographs of a letter by Castillo posted on social networks on Monday.@PedroCatilloTe (RR. SS.)

On Monday, Castillo published a letter in this vein. He said that he is being held hostage at the headquarters of the Special Operations Division and that Boluarte, who served as his vice president, is nothing more than a usurper. “Dear great and patient Peruvian people,” the note begins. “I, Pedro Castillo, the same who 16 months ago was elected by all of you to serve as constitutional president of the Republic, speak to you in the most difficult moment of my government, humiliated, incommunicado, mistreated and kidnapped, still clothed with your struggle, with the majesty of the sovereign people, but also infused by the glorious spirit of our ancestors.”

In other words, Castillo still considers himself the president of Peru. “I speak to you to reiterate that I am unconditionally faithful to the popular and constitutional mandate that I hold as president, and I will not resign or abandon my high and sacred functions,” the note concluded. However, the reality is somewhat different. Legally, Castillo has been impeached by Congress and removed from office and the charges against him as laid out by prosecutors add up to 50 years in jail: 30 years for rebellion, 10 years for conspiracy to rebellion, six years for disturbing the public peace and four years for abuse of power.

Castillo’s change of tack has scared off some of his lawyers, who have chosen not to defend him. The former president faces others charges of corruption – there are 54 open investigations against him – which hypothetically total several centuries in prison is he is found guilty. Castillo has brushed it off as political persecution. In his state of exaltation, he remains convinced that the world will open its eyes and view the situation from his point of view and that will be reinstated as the president of Peru, even if the facts are stacked against him.

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