Peru’s President Pedro Castillo has accused his opponents of undermining democracy as he faces the third impeachment effort of his embattled presidency.
Castillo, who began a five-year term in July 2021, is expected to appear in impeachment proceedings starting on December 7, to respond to accusations of “moral incapacity”. Peru’s Congress issued a summons for the sitting president last week.
Facing a congressional vote that may remove him from office, Castillo rejected the allegations of corruption in a speech on Tuesday, instead accusing his rivals of trying to “blow up democracy and disregard our people’s right to choose”.
A former teacher from a rural part of Peru, Castillo’s unexpected ascension to the presidency in 2021 has been followed by a tumultuous time in office.
He has already survived two impeachment attempts. The latest results from a constitutional complaint filed by the prosecutor’s office in October, alleging that Castillo was leading a “criminal organisation” that benefitted from state contracts and obstructed investigations.
Congress has also accused Castillo of incompetency. He has appointed five cabinets and at least 80 ministers during his tenure.
The controversy around Castillo takes place amid a larger context of political uncertainty in Peru, which has seen seven presidents and four ex-leaders detained or wanted for charges of corruption since 2011.
Castillo has characterised the impeachment efforts as backlash from powerful interests seeking to reclaim power that “the people took from them at the polls”.
But Attorney General Patricia Benavides said that her office has found “very serious indications of a criminal organisation that has taken roots in the government”.
While Peruvian presidents normally have immunity against criminal cases, a constitutional complaint allows Congress to carry out its own trial.
Peru’s 130-member legislature passed a motion to begin the impeachment process on December 1 with 73 votes in favour, many from right-wing parties.
But the threshold to remove a president from office is higher, requiring a two-thirds majority or 87 votes. Previous impeachment efforts in December 2021 and March 2022 have failed to clear that threshold.
Castillo and members of his family are facing six corruption investigations. The president has denied any wrongdoing.
In October, five of Castillo’s allies were detained on corruption charges. And in August, his sister-in-law, Yenifer Paredes, was given 30 months of pre-trial detention. Prosecutors alleged that Paredes was involved in a scheme to hand contracts to allies of the president in his home region. She has not been charged with a crime.
In November, Castillo accepted the resignation of former prime minister and strong ally Anibal Torres, marking the departure of the fourth prime minister of Castillo’s term. Torres had challenged Congress to hold a confidence vote and stepped down after the legislative body declined to do so.
While political turbulence has been a persistent feature of Peruvian politics for years, the country’s economy has grown at the fastest rate of any major economy in South America.
But according to the Reuters news agency, Colombia is expected to overtake Peru this year, partly because of the country’s uncertain political landscape. The region has struggled with the fallout of rising inflation, as well as food and energy shortages sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Castillo ran on a left-wing platform that promised a more fair economic system, but he has largely governed as a moderate and has not passed any meaningful economic reforms.
According to Reuters, Castillo’s government has seen relatively low levels of spending on social programmes, and Congress has shelved a proposal to increase taxes on the country’s mining industry.
It is unclear what effect, if any, Castillo’s impeachment would have on the economy, and Peru is expected to remain one of South America’s fastest-growing economies. The country’s political turmoil, however, has long been a source of concern for investors. In 2020, for example, the country went through three presidents in less than 10 days.
“I think that there is no other option but that the government is affecting [economic] expectations because companies are doing fine,” said Pedro Francke, a former finance minister in Castillo’s government who resigned earlier this year.
Castillo has called for dialogue and reiterated that he is “not corrupt”. But with a hostile opposition, numerous legal issues and protests demanding for his removal, it is far from certain that he will see his five-year presidential term to completion in 2026.
For his part, the president appears determined to hold on. In response to November’s protests, Castillo said, “They will have me until the last day of my term because my people have decided so.”