Peru: Democracy under attack from right-wing forces

Issue 
President of Peru Pedro Castillo. Photo: Presidencia Peru/Flickr (CC By-NC-SA 2.0)
Pedro Castillo. Photo: Presidencia Peru/Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Pedro Castillo, leader of the left-wing Peru Libre party, was sworn in as president on July 28. Castillo’s campaign — centred around promises such as increased funding to health and education, the introduction of a national pension system and the eradication of illiteracy — saw him garner most of his support from Peru’s poorest and marginalised people.   

Castillo has promised a referendum for Peruvians to decide on a new constitution. The current constitution, introduced by Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s, is in many ways responsible for the entrenchment of neoliberalism in Peru, as it allows for the privatisation of public services, undermines democracy and concentrates power and wealth in the hands of the economic elite.

Any calls to replace it threaten the corporate interests that have made huge profits off the back of decades of neoliberal policy. Foreign corporate interests, as well as Peru’s business elite, are opposed to any change to the neoliberal status quo.   

It’s no surprise that since the beginning of Castillo’s presidential term, right-wing forces have sought to destabilise the democratically-elected, leftist government.  

Although Peru Libre has the highest number of representatives in Congress of any individual party, they are outnumbered by right-wing and far-right parties, such as Fuerza Popular and Acción Popular, who have allied together in their common goal of toppling Castillo.

The makings of a legislative coup

Congress passed a controversial law on October 19, which has opened the door for Castillo’s opponents to more readily stage a legislative coup against the newly formed government.  

Prior to the approval of the new law, the executive branch of the government was able to request a vote of confidence from Congress — essentially a formal request of support for a policy.

Under the constitution, if Congress denies a vote of confidence twice in a presidential term, the president is able to dissolve Congress and call new legislative elections. This is designed to maintain the balance of power between the legislative branch (Congress) and executive branch (Castillo’s government).

However, the new law modifies the constitution to restrict the executive branch from requesting a vote of confidence — Castillo is limited to requesting a vote of confidence on government policies and no longer on constitutional matters.

Having restricted the powers of the executive branch, Congress is now largely shielded from being dissolved. The new law passed with 79 in favour, 43 against and 3 abstentions, indicating the dominance of forces opposed to Castillo and Peru Libre in the Congress.

The right-wing opposition in Congress has openly declared its intentions to remove Castillo from office. Under the constitution, Congress can impeach the president on the grounds of “moral incapacity” — as it did to former president Martín Vizcarra last year, in what was widely condemned as a legislative coup. The move sparked massive protests.

The opposition needs 87 votes (two-thirds of congressional members) to impeach. Given that 79 members of Congress already voted in favour of weakening Castillo’s government, an attempt to impeach the president may not be far away.     

Right-wing Congress president María del Carmen Alva — supposedly responsible for helping maintain co-operation between the legislative and executive branches — supported the new legislation. Alva recently declared: “There is no request for a presidential vacancy here in Congress. The street is asking for a presidential vacancy”.

This baseless claim has not been evidenced by any popular uprisings against the Castillo government, and is reminiscent of the right-wing rhetoric used to try to justify a coup.

Pressure from right-wing forces in Congress has already forced several members of Castillo’s cabinet to resign. Newly-appointed Prime Minister, Guido Bellido, was forced to resign after he threatened to nationalise the Camisea gas fields — Peru’s largest natural gas project. The corporations and individuals who have generated huge profits from exploiting Peru’s natural gas have considerable influence through lobbying and corporate-owned media channels.

Former foreign minister Héctor Béjar resigned on August 17, following a targeted defamation campaign from corporate-owned media outlets. Castillo, both as a candidate and now as president, has been subjected to ongoing misinformation and smear campaigns from corporate media, aimed at creating fear and distrust.

ALBA Movimientos — an alliance of hundreds of social movements in Latin America — said on August 22 that Béjar’s resignation “is a clear example of the coup in progress in its political and military facets and expresses the link between the right-wing parties with fascist sectors that deny the human rights violations that occurred in Peru in past decades.”

The business elite are deeply embedded in Peru’s judiciary, which they have used to target ministers of the Peru Libre government. Peruvian National Police raided the homes of government ministers on August 28 under an alleged money laundering and corruption investigation, less than 24 hours after Castillo’s ministerial cabinet was confirmed.

Cofradia del pisco

Leaked messages from a WhatsApp group, named cofradia del pisco (the pisco brotherhood), reveal strategies used by Peru’s business elite to destabilise Castillo’s government and undermine democracy. Members of the group include the president and members of the National Society of Industries — an organisation of business elites and capitalists.

Members of the group openly discuss strategies to destabilise Castillo’s government and remove him from the presidency, such as bribing news outlets to publish anti-government articles. The group also plans to finance a “strike” of transport workers on November 8 — a clear attempt to manufacture opposition to the government.

The actions taken by the right-wing forces embedded in Peru’s judicial and legislative branches aim to destabilise the Peru Libre government and restrict their ability to introduce any policies that may threaten Peru’s business elite.

These attempts to destabilise and remove the democratically-elected government should be condemned. The stage is being set for an undemocratic seizure of power by right-wing and conservative forces.

Undoubtedly, any attempt to remove Castillo from office will be met with resistance in the streets from his supporters. It is crucial that the international community shows solidarity with those in Peru fighting for democracy and structural change.