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Sixth Time's the Charm?

Why was Pedro Castillo impeached, and what are the implications for Peru/Latin America?

 

Just under two years ago in June 2021, Peru saw the unexpected rise of a political outsider running against a neoliberal economic system which had disproportionately favored the capital city, Lima. Through a coalition of voters from parts of Peru which had long been abandoned along with the historically marginalized indigenous populations, Castillo scraped a victory against his opponent, Keiko Fujimori (the daughter of a former dictator, Albert Fujimori)

Fast forward to the present, and Castillo not only has lost his already shaky mandate but the former elementary school teacher has been expelled from the presidency entirely. So why did this meteoric rise completely fall apart in just about 18 months, and what does the future hold for 33.72 million Peruvians and their neighbors?


To understand Castillo, it is equally important to understand the political context of his presidency. Peru’s congress is fairly strong in power, often seen as having far more than the executive branch. While not necessarily a bad thing, the opposition majority in the current congress has accused Castillo’s presidency of being caused by voter fraud, and has attempted to impeach him twice over moral character reasons (something which is permitted as a reason for impeachment in Peruvian law) Of course, Castillo has done himself few favors, with the numerous instances of alleged corruption having occurred throughout his tenure only muddying the situation. By December 2022, Peru’s government was evidently at a watershed moment. It was clear that the congress was going to make their third impeachment attempt on a politically-damaged Castillo. The country was still as divided, if not more so, than it was when Castillo was sworn in, now facing a cost of living crisis in addition to the existing tensions.


Just hours before Congress was expected to begin official procedures for impeachment, Castillo dissolved the body on December 7th and called for a national curfew, calling for new congressional elections and the establishment of an interim government in a move eerily similar to Albert Fujimori’s successful coup back in 1992. However, Castillo’s plan had one critical flaw; he did not have military support to enforce this declaration. Rather, Congress simply ignored his call for dissolution and proceeded to impeach Castillo, this time successfully, with his Vice President, Dina Blouarte, condemning the actions and taking the oath of office to replace her predecessor that same day. Castillo attempted to flee to the Mexican embassy, but was blocked by Peruvian national police and immediately arrested, triggering massive protests among his still fairly sizable rural support base. Since December these protests have been ongoing, with numerous instances of clashes between police and civilians along with 66 civilian protester deaths at the hands of Peruvian forces. These incidents, and the crackdown on civil liberties which immediately followed the first protests, have raised concern from human rights organizations, fearing a reversion to the country’s historical marginalization of indigenous communities (demographics whichmake up much of the protester).


So far, the policy impact of these reforms has not been successful, with Castillo still being detained and the same congress which impeached Castillo still in power. Additionally, despite being his VP, Dina Boluarte has taken a strong stance against these protests, even alleging foreign countries were propping these demonstrations up, a claim which still is unproven. Initially, Boluarte did call in Congress to push the next presidential elections up to 2024 from the original 2026 date due to the circumstances. Those calls have not been heeded, and legislation to move the Peruvian elections has essentially been left for dead.


Although still early, these protests have devastated the already shaky Peruvian economy, with major losses for the crucial mining and tourism sectors having been recorded as a result of these protests and their damage to infrastructure along with a drop in Peru’s Moody’s Credit Rating Outlook (which will likely only further hinder recovery).


The rest of the world has not watched these protests silently, rather, the Western Hemisphere has split into two sides regarding these developments. Backing Castillo and the protesters include Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Of these, Mexico has been Castillo's staunchest ally, with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) refusing to recognize Dina Boluarte’s presidency and creating a diplomatic standoff between the two.


Meanwhile, in support of the new government are Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, the U.S., and Uruguay. This is not to say these countries condone the actions of the Peruvian forces entirely, but they do see Boluarte as the legitimate ruler of Peru and have come out hoping to work with the new government. While these may just seem like random lists, a close observer of Latin American politics will notice two countries that stand out, Brazil and Chile.


It may seem odd to observers that Brazil and Chile have both stated that the mechanisms to remove Castillo were done legally and legitimately, but it is important to understand the tendency of Latin America in recent history to go through “waves” in elections. Much like the United States has political waves, Latin America has general waves as well, with the first being the “Pink Tide” of the 1990s and 2000s, in which many left-leaning parties took control across the region, transcending national borders in their reach. However, in the 2010s, the pendulum shifted, with the “Conservative Wave” sweeping the continent. However, since 2019, the winds have shifted once again, starting with President AMLO’s election in Mexico and most recently being demonstrated with the victory of Lula Da Silva in Brazil.


Political Ideology of Latin American executive leaders in 2011, 2018, and 2023 mapped:

(Red=Left leaning, Blue=Right leaning)


What stands out is that both the leaders of Brazil and Chile (Lula and Boric) have diverged from other left-leaning politicians of the new pink tide in that they have turned on Castillo. The diverse left-leaning coalition’s rise to power was stunning and came rapidly, but as the cracks between these political allies grow, it is certainly possible the downfall will be just as sudden.


Internally, the outlook for Peru does not give much room for optimism. The continuing urban-rural divide which has defined the country for centuries continues to sow instability in the nation, and these recent events may further scare off investors, possibly slowing down what economic growth was occurring before. Meanwhile, for Latin America, while this single event hopefully will not produce shock effects nor spiral into a greater crisis, at the very least, the cracks in the second pink tide are starting to show, possibly contributing to a shift in power and popular sentiment within the next few years across the continent.


Alex Yang is a junior International Studies major in the School of International Studies (SIS). He is a staff writer for the American Agora.


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