LIMA, Peru (AP) — Congress ousted Peru’s president on Wednesday after he sought to dissolve the legislature and unilaterally take control of the government, triggering a serious constitutional crisis.
Vice President Dina Boulwart replaced Pedro Castillo and became the first female leader in the history of the republic after hours of argument between the legislature and the president, who tried to prevent a vote to impeach the president.
Boulwart, a 60-year-old lawyer, has called for a political truce and the installation of a national unity government.
“What I’m asking for is a place, a time to save the country,” she said.
Lawmakers voted 101-6 with 10 abstentions to remove Castillo from office on grounds of “permanent moral incapacity”.
He left the presidential palace in a car that drove him through the historic center of Lima. He entered the police station, where his condition was not immediately clear. In a photo posted to Twitter by the National Police before it was erased, Castillo is seen sitting inside the station, surrounded by officers.
Fluent in Spanish and Quechua, Boloarte was elected vice president on the presidential ticket that brought Castillo to power on July 28, 2021. During Castillo’s brief administration, Boloarte was Minister for Development and Social Inclusion.
Shortly before the impeachment vote, Castillo announced that he was forming a new emergency government and would rule by decree. He ordered a curfew every night, starting Wednesday night. Then the chief of the Peruvian army resigned along with four ministers, including the ministers of foreign affairs and economy.
The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent government institution, said before the congressional vote that Castillo should turn himself in to judicial authorities.
The statement said Peru, after years of democracy, is in the midst of a constitutional collapse that “cannot be described as anything but a coup d’état”.
The international reaction was sometimes outweighed by the events.
United States Lisa Kenna Castillo called on Twitter to reverse his decree dissolving Congress, saying the US government rejected any “unconstitutional” actions by the president to interfere with Congress.
A short time later, Congress voted to remove Castillo.
Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard said via Twitter that given the recent events in Peru, Mexico has decided to postpone the Pacific Alliance summit scheduled for December 14 in Lima. He regretted the recent developments and called for respect for democracy and human rights.
The administration of Chilean President Gabriel Boric expressed regret over the political situation in Peru and expressed confidence that the crisis would be resolved through democratic mechanisms. The Spanish government strongly condemned the breaking of the constitutional order and congratulated the country for correcting itself democratically.
Castillo had said in an extraordinary midnight address on state television before the vote that he would never tarnish “the good name of my honest and idealistic parents, who work every day like millions of Peruvians to honestly build a future for their families.”
The farmer-turned-chief said he was paying the price for mistakes made through inexperience. But he said that a certain section of Congress “has the only item on their agenda that removes me from office because they never accepted the election results that you, dear citizens of Peru, determined with your votes.”
Castillo denied the allegations of corruption against him, saying they were based on “hearsay statements made by people who, seeking to mitigate their sentences for supposed crimes by abuse of my trust, try to involve me without evidence.”
Federal prosecutors are investigating six cases against Castillo, most of them for alleged corruption, under the theory that he used his power to take advantage of public works.
The struggle for power continues in Peru’s capital as the Andes and its thousands of small farms struggle to survive the worst drought in half a century. Without the rain, farmers can’t grow potatoes, and the dying grass can no longer support herds of sheep, alpacas, vicuñas, and llamas. To make matters worse, bird flu has killed at least 18,000 seabirds and infected at least one poultry producer, endangering the chicken and turkey raised for traditional holiday meals.
The government also confirmed that last week, the country experienced a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 4.3 million Peruvians have been infected, and 217,000 of them have died.
The first president to come from a poor farming community in the country’s history, Castillo arrived at the presidential palace last year without any political experience. He changed his cabinet five times during his year and a half in office, filling 60 different cabinet officials, paralyzing many government agencies.
Although Castillo is the first president to be investigated while still in office, the investigations are not surprising in a country where nearly every former president in the past 40 years has been accused of corruption linked to multinational corporations, such as Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.
Since 2016, Peru has plunged into political crises, as congresses and presidents have tried to eliminate each other in turn. President Martín Vizcarra (2018-2020) dissolved Congress in 2019 and ordered new elections. This new legislature removed Vizcarra the following year. Then came President Manuel Merino, who lasted less than a week before a crackdown left two protesters dead and 200 injured. His successor, Francisco Sagasti, lasted nine months before Castillo took office.