Written by: Kate Roglieri
On December 7th, Peruvian legislators began their 7th presidential impeachment proceeding since 2017. This latest attempt to quell corruption in the South American country came after President Pedro Castillo attempted to dissolve the current Congress and rule by decree– characterized by many as a failed coup attempt. While Peru has experienced a tremendous amount of political turmoil in the past 30 years, the most recent crisis has led to violent protests and widespread debate over the relationship between elected officials and their constituents.
Pedro Castillo was elected president of Peru in July of 2021 and his campaign was largely centered upon his identity as a man of the people, as he had spent most of his career working as a primary school teacher in the rural areas of Peru. He was frequently pictured on the campaign trail sporting traditional clothing from his native region of Cajamarca, and his platform was largely focused on addressing poverty and income inequality. The 2021 election was controversial and riddled with charges of fraud, with Castillo’s opponent Keiko Fujimori refusing to concede. Eventually, Castillo was declared the proper winner of the election, and in his inaugural address, he lamented the legacy of Peru’s colonial history and proclaimed his presidency to symbolize the return of power to the peasant class.
Although he emerged victorious in the 2021 election, Castillo’s political battle was far from over. The party of his political rivals held a majority in Congress in 2021, and they swiftly launched impeachment efforts against Castillo in December 2021 and March 2022. Both attempts were grounded in accusations of corruption and ties to organized crime. The political instability of late 2021 and early 2022 was only worsened by a series of crises that struck the general public. Peruvian farmers faced a severe drought coupled with the spread of avian flu amongst livestock, and the entire country faced a vicious fifth wave of COVID-19 infections. This resulted in further political dissatisfaction, and the third impeachment trial against Castillo began in early December 2022.
On December 7th, Castillo stated his intent to dissolve the current legislature in order to install an emergency government with the intention of both moving up the next election cycle and drafting a new constitution. He called for the installation of a nationwide curfew and declared that he would be ruling by decree. Later that same day, Castillo was formally removed from power and subsequently detained by authorities. Members of Congress stated that Castillo’s removal from office was grounded in his “permanent moral incapacity”, and he soon became the subject of federal fraud investigations. Castillo is now being accused of using his power to profit off of government contracts while also allowing a criminal organization to infiltrate the Peruvian Ministry of Transport and Communications. Following Castillo’s removal, Peru’s Vice President Dina Boluarte was sworn in as the nation’s first female president.
Just like her predecessor, Boluarte would be faced with political challenges immediately after taking office. Castillo’s arrest and self proclaimed innocence sparked nationwide protests that quickly turned violent. Protests in rural areas of Peru were especially violent, with the military killing seven protestors in the city of Ayacucho. Boluarte’s new government declared a 30 day state of emergency across the country, giving the military control of important infrastructure while restricting citizens’ rights to freedom of movement and assembly.
The volatility of the political situation and the wave of protest reflects a deep dissatisfaction with elected officials across Peru. According to political scientist Paula Távara Pineda, “political parties nowadays [in Peru] are very distanced from the people, barely passing laws amid their vacancy votes and not for the most pressing concern”. Távara Pineda went on to describe a general distaste amongst the Peruvian people for the executive branch in particular, as it has become “so dedicated to its own survival against vacancies that it’s left by the wayside programs and policies key for this post-pandemic period”. While media coverage surrounding the current protests is centered around Castillo’s removal, it is important to recognize the disconnect between Peruvian politicians and their people that has persisted for the past 30 years and has only exacerbated social and political crises.