Peru’s Pedro Castillo to remain in pretrial detention for another 18 months

The death toll from street protests continued to rise while a judge granted prosecutors’ request to extend jail time for the impeached president

Protesters clashed with law enforcement again on Thursday.

Pedro Castillo sealed his own fate when, for reasons that are still a mystery, he attempted an improvised self-coup that ended with his arrest that same day. It will be some time before the rural school teacher and union leader is free to return home to the Andes mountains, where he says he was happy surrounded by cows and green grass. A judge on Thursday extended his seven-day pretrial detention by another 18 months while prosecutors pursue their investigation into alleged acts of conspiracy and rebellion.

If ultimately found guilty, the former president of Peru could be facing no less than 10 years of prison time. Thursday’s ruling also ends Castillo’s idea of fleeing to Mexico as a political refugee. This had been his original escape plan last Wednesday, when he realized that his attempt at dissolving Congress and “temporarily” ruling by decree was leading nowhere. He attempted to reach the Mexican embassy in Lima, but his own security guards escorted him to a police station instead.

Castillo is being held in the same penitentiary as former president Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s last autocrat. On Thursday, dozens of Castillo followers gathered around the prison to show their support. To them, the impeached president is simply a victim of a fractious legislature that never allowed him to do his job and had already attempted to impeach him twice before. As the judge read out the court’s decision to extend his detention time, supporters continued to demand Castillo’s release.

His arrest and detention have triggered street unrest. Caravans of protesters have been arriving in the capital from southern Andean regions for days to express their rejection of the new government, headed by Castillo’s former vice-president Dina Boluarte. The protesters want early elections and are not satisfied with Boluarte’s latest offer. Earlier, she had expressed a wish to serve out the remaining three and a half years of Castillo’s term, then offered to hold elections in April 2024.

At least 18 people have died so far in clashes between the police and demonstrators, according to Health Ministry reports. Of these, 12 died in direct confrontation with law enforcement officers, while six more fatalities were reported at roadblocks. On Wednesday, Boluarte declared a state of emergency across the entire country in a bid to quell the unrest.

All alone

Clashes between demonstrators and police during protests in Lima on Monday.
Clashes between demonstrators and police during protests in Lima on Monday.picture alliance (Getty Images)

Castillo has been completely alone since Wednesday of last week, so much so that not even his lawyers showed up for the court hearing on Thursday. Instead, he was assigned a court-appointed attorney. The judge accepted the prosecution’s argument that Castillo is a flight risk and extended his pretrial detention by 18 months – longer than his time in office, a fleeting 17-month period during which Castillo was unable to form a stable government. During that time, he named five cabinets and never took the political initiative. His mandate had no clear goals. The leftist teacher who won the presidency on a promise of change and a pledge to work for the poor ended up shooting himself in the foot with a clumsy coup that had no support.

The judge did not order pretrial detention for Aníbal Torres, the only person who remained faithful to the president to the end. Torres was the person who was seen at all times by Castillo’s side following his arrest, in his capacity as a lawyer. He had served as Castillo’s fourth prime minister, but resigned when corruption was already flooding the hallways of the presidential palace. Prosecutors have accused Torres of drafting the message that Castillo read out to the nation last week, but his defense claims that he was unaware of what was about to happen. According to Torres’ version of events, he arrived at the presidential palace and Castillo informed him that he was going to address the nation; Torres then withdrew elsewhere “to meditate” while Castillo read out his message.

In the last four years, Peru has had six different presidents.

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