Peruvian President Pedro Castillo has been impeached by right-wing forces in Congress, the final act in a 17-month-long destabilisation campaign.
Following his impeachment, the national police — with the support of the army — arrested Castillo. He is being held at a police station in the capital, Lima.
The anti-democratic right-wing forces, which dominate the Congress, laid the groundwork for the legislative coup against Castillo. They failed to impeach him in two previous attempts.
Former president Martín Vizcarra was impeached in 2020, in a legislative coup, sparking massive protests.
Parties from across the right-wing spectrum allied together in their openly expressed aim of toppling Castillo. Their campaign started immediately after the presidential elections, when they refused to respect the results, making baseless claims of “electoral fraud”.
Jacqueline Fowks wrote in Resumen Latinoamericano on November 18: “It is clear that, in his 15 months in office, Castillo has been besieged by the political opposition, in a process well known in Peru.”
Although Castillo controlled the executive branch of government, the wealthy capitalist elite still maintained control of the country’s judicial, legislative and military institutions.
“In the face of persistent attacks, those who lead the country are unable to manage the state apparatus because of the pressures imposed by their opponents in Congress,” Fowks wrote.
Pressure from right-wing forces in Congress and smear campaigns from corporate-owned media outlets forced several of Castillo’s cabinet to resign. He changed his cabinet three times and reshuffled more than 80 ministers over the course of his tenure.
Castillo’s entire cabinet, including Prime Minister Aníbal Torres, resigned on November 24 after Congress rejected a vote of confidence motion — a formal request of support for a policy — around a motion to repeal an earlier law requiring that any referendum to reform the constitution be passed by Congress first.
In addition, Congress blocked more than 30 bills presented by Castillo and his cabinet in the past year. These bills aimed to: eliminate immunity from criminal prosecution for high-ranking state officials; introduce a referendum on a new constitution and Constituent Assembly; increase taxes on mining companies; and implement moderate agrarian reform.
Congress — serving powerful interests vested in maintaining the neoliberal status quo — predictably blocked the Executive’s proposed bill to establish a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution.
The current constitution, introduced by former President Alberto Fujimori in 1993, helped entrench the neoliberal economic model. It allowed for the privatisation of public services, undermined democracy and concentrated power and wealth in the hands of the economic elite.
Laura Arroyo, writing in Wayka on December 2, said “the [right-wing controlled] Congress is already a de facto Constituent Assembly that tries to change articles [of the constitution] without taking into account our voice, nor having been elected to do so”.
In addition, Peru’s constitutional commission — chaired by Fujimorist Patricia Juárez and dominated by legislators from right-wing anti-Castillo parties — has already modified or is proposing to modify 53 of the 206 articles in the constitution.
The commission approved a proposed law that reduces the number of votes in Congress needed to suspend presidential powers from 87 to 66. The proposed law will now be returned to Congress for final approval.
The commission approved a constitutional reform bill on December 2 that shortens the presidential term, allowing for elections to be brought forward from 2026 to next year.
Congress President José Williams Zapata is a retired army general who served under Fujimori’s violent and repressive regime in the 1990s. He was involved in the Accomarca massacre in 1985 — where the military killed 69 people in Ayacucho during a so-called “anti-terrorism” operation.
Neoliberal status quo
While the political crisis has continued, the material conditions for most Peruvians have worsened.
Peru is the most food-insecure country in South America, according to a United Nations report released last month. More than half of Peru’s 32 million people do not have regular access to enough nutritious food.
Widespread drought in central and southern regions of the country has exacerbated food insecurity and access to water.
Peru experienced the highest COVID-19 death rate per capita in the world and is currently grappling with its fifth wave.
Right-wing groups have exploited genuine discontent about the cost of living and toward the government in order to prosecute their coup against Castillo.
“The political crisis, the confrontation between Parliament and the Executive, the instability, the absence of a clear path to overcome this situation,” the Communist Party of Peru warned in a November 7 statement, “[is] the breeding ground in which coup positions, authoritarian, adventurist and fascist positions of various origins are gaining strength”.
“The right-wing strategy is not limited to Castillo’s impeachment; its real objective is to strike and defeat the left and the popular movements that are raising the banners of real change for the country.”
The endless news cycle, dominated by a small number of corporate media conglomerates like El Comercio, has drowned out the voices of people demanding change.
“We read, hear and see the debate on the impeachment, the question of confidence, the electoral advance, the suspension etc. every day and every hour,” Arroyo said. “Of the agenda and the demands of the people, of the specific mobilisations that exist, of the requests of diverse communities — [we hear] nothing.”
Corporate-owned media relentlessly smeared Castillo, his family and government figures for 17 months. Many campaigns were laden with racist connotations — Castillo is from one of Peru’s poorest rural regions called Cajamarca — typical of the mainstream media’s portrayal of people from rural regions.
In the lead-up to the impeachment vote, media outlets amplified fake news and baseless corruption allegations against Castillo. The latest accusations, without proof, included that Castillo extorted a businessperson to give money to a former member of his government so that he could buy votes in the impeachment process.
Despite claims that Castillo would have established a “communist dictatorship”, Arroyo argues that the very same right-wing forces have implemented a “parliamentary dictatorship”. Congress has already modified the constitution without oversight or accountability, Arroyo said.
Women for a New Constitution, a grassroots alliance demanding a gender-equal, diverse Constituent Assembly, released a statement on December 5 condemning the third impeachment attempt and reiterating calls for a new constitution. “Once again, coup sectors are putting the country in a situation of instability and seeking to seize power without winning the elections.
“The democratic way out of this crisis includes a comprehensive reform, through a new constitution written by the people.
“The current constitution lacks democratic value for two fundamental reasons: it was born out of a coup and is being undemocratically transformed by a congress without the abilities or the legitimacy to do so.”
The National Organisation of Andean and Amazonian Women in Peru (ONAMIAP) condemned the actions of the right-wing “congressional dictatorship” in a December 7 statement: “In this short period of Pedro Castillo’s presidency, the right wing and its allies showed their power by violating human rights, especially the collective rights of indigenous peoples and women.”
“The congressional dictatorship achieved the goal they had set themselves since they took office.”
“The solution to the political crisis will not be possible with this congressional dictatorship, regardless of who occupies the presidential chair,” ONAMIAP said. “Nor will it be possible with electoral laws designed to allow the same ones as always to occupy representative positions. It will only be the continuity of structural racism and discrimination.”
“The way out of the systemic crisis is to build a true democracy. For this, it is more urgent than ever to call for a plurinational, sovereign, popular and gender-equal Constituent Assembly. It should not be in the hands of political parties, but with the full and effective participation of social movement organisations.”
Each impeachment attempt was met with mobilisations condemning the anti-democratic manoeuvres and demanding change. Following the legislative coup and Castillo’s arrest, Indigenous people, workers, campesinos (poor rural farmers) and students converged on the capital, Lima.
The protest denounced the legislative coup and demanded a democratic Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution and the closure of Congress.