On Wednesday, Dina Boluarte became Peru’s first female president, closing off a historic day that saw her predecessor imprisoned for accused insurrection and ousted by lawmakers.
Boluarte, the country’s previous vice president, was sworn in as Peru’s sixth President in less than five years before Congress.
The ceremony came just hours after a majority of 101 members of the 130-member legislative assembly decided to impeach former President Pedro Castillo.
The dramatic day began when then-President Castillo declared plans to dissolve Congress and form an emergency administration in advance of a planned impeachment vote by MPs, which Peru’s Ombudsman called an “attempted coup d’état.”
He also advocated for legislative elections in order to begin work on a new constitution.
The decision resulted in a slew of cabinet resignations, furious reactions from top officials, and criticism from regional neighbors — but it ultimately failed to prevent his impeachment in Congress.
Castillo’s move to sideline lawmakers was deemed an “infringement of the constitution” by Peruvian armed forces.
On Twitter, Boluarte slammed Castillo’s dissolution plan, calling it “a coup that aggravates the political and institutional crisis that Peruvian society will have to overcome with a rigorous devotion to the law.”
International officials have joined the chorus of condemnation of Castillo, with the US pushing him to “reverse” the move and “enable Peru’s democratic institutions to work according to the Constitution,” according to US Ambassador in Peru Lisa Kenna on Twitter.
The U.S. Ambassador in Peru is Lisa Kenna, a long-time CIA officer and State Department senior official. pic.twitter.com/xSnAC4tK32
— Kawsachun News (@KawsachunNews) June 13, 2021
“We will continue to oppose and absolutely reject any conduct that contradicts Peru’s constitution or undermines democracy in that country,” said US State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a statement.
Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs voiced “great worry” over Peru’s political situation on Twitter, and Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Castillo’s actions were “incompatible with that country’s constitutional framework, [and] represent a violation of democracy and the rule of law.”
Castillo was held by police in Lima, Peru’s capital city after MPs impeached him in Congress.
Images released by the prefecture showed the former President, dressed in a blue jacket, sitting around a table while officials signed documents.
Castillo was arrested, according to the office of Peru’s Attorney General, for the alleged crime of insurrection, “for breaking the constitutional order.”
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“We deplore the violation of constitutional order,” said Peruvian Attorney General Patricia Benavides in a statement.
“Peru’s Political Constitution enshrines the principle of separation of powers and establishes Peru as a democratic and sovereign republic… No power can elevate itself above the Constitution and must abide by its demands.”
Castillo’s brief tenure in power has ended in humiliation. The former schoolteacher and union leader came from obscurity to be elected by a tiny margin in a runoff in July 2021, and was seen as part of Latin America’s “pink tide” of emerging left-wing leaders.
He campaigned on a platform of rewriting the constitution and increasing wealth redistribution by granting states greater control over markets and natural resources, promises he has struggled to keep despite rising inflation in Peru, his lack of political experience, and strong conservative opposition in Congress.
Since his inauguration, the socialist leader’s cabinet has been in disarray, with scores of ministers appointed, changed, dismissed, or resigning in less than a year, adding to the strain on him.
Castillo has lashed out at the opposition for attempting to depose him from the start. He has accused Benavides of plotting a new type of “coup d’état” against him through the investigations of her office.
Benavides filed a constitutional complaint against Castillo in October, citing three of the six investigations her office had launched. The complaint authorizes Congress to conduct its own investigation of the former President.
A series of Investigations
Castillo has faced a slew of investigations into whether he used his position to enrich himself, his family, and his closest allies, among other things, by peddling influence to acquire favor or special treatment.
Castillo has refuted all charges and has stated his willingness to cooperate with any investigation.
He claims the allegations are the product of a witch-hunt launched against him and his family by groups that refused to recognize his election victory.
On allegations of masterminding corruption schemes while in government, the former President is facing five preliminary criminal investigations.
Prosecutors allege that he was the leader of a “criminal network” that interfered with public institutions such as the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Ministry of Housing, and Peru’s state-run oil company in order to control public bidding processes and benefit specific companies and close allies.
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Prosecutors are also looking into whether the former President directed efforts to buy influence in the promotion of officers in both the armed forces and the national police.
Castillo’s family is also being investigated, including his wife and sister-in-law. Lilia Paredes, the former first lady, is being investigated on suspicion of allegedly orchestrating the criminal network.
Benji Espinoza, her attorney, has emphasized her innocence and claims the probe into the former first lady has “a number of problems and omissions.”
Yenifer Paredes, her sister-in-law, is being investigated for allegedly being a member of a criminal organization, money laundering, and aggravated collaboration.
She was detained for 30 months before a judge ordered her release. She has also denied all wrongdoing.
“My daughter, my wife, my entire family have been assaulted with the sole intention of destroying me because they don’t want me to finish my term,” Castillo said during a live speech from the Presidential Palace on October 20.
In the same address, Castillo acknowledged that some of his closest allies should face prosecution on corruption charges, adding, “If they abused my confidence, let justice take care of them.”
President Boluarte’s reputation has also been harmed by Congress’s dismissal of her own constitutional investigation on December 5.
Her rise may not necessarily improve Peru’s caustic and fractious political situation, since she would need cross-party support to govern.
Meanwhile, many Peruvians have called for a complete restart. According to a poll conducted by the Institute of Peruvian Studies in September 2022, 60% of Peruvians favor early elections to freshen both the presidency and Congress (IEP).