Peru swears in new leader after president ousted amid constitutional crisis

Peru’s Congress has removed President Pedro Castillo from office and replaced him with the vice president, shortly after Mr Castillo decreed the dissolution of the legislature ahead of a scheduled vote to oust him.

The national ombudsman’s office, the Constitutional Tribunal and the Supreme Court called his move to dissolve Congress a coup, although at least one expert disagreed.

Peru’s Congress has the ability to remove the president and the president has the ability to dissolve Congress, so “technically, it is not a coup”, said Eduardo Gamarra, a political science and international relations professor at Florida International University.

“The confusion is in the 15,000 interpretations that exist about who prevails, the Congress or the president,” he said. The one who wins will be the one with more power, he said.

Legislators voted 101-6 with 10 abstentions to remove Mr Castillo from office for reasons of “permanent moral incapacity”.

Mr Castillo left the presidential palace in a vehicle that carried him through central Lima and later entered a police station, where his status was not immediately clear. In a photograph circulated by the national police on Twitter, which was later deleted, Mr Castillo was seated inside the station surrounded by officers.

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Pedro Castillo, second left, inside a police station in Lima (Peru’s police administration office/AP)

He also announced that he would make changes in the leadership of the judiciary, the police and the constitutional court. The head of Peru’s army then resigned, along with four ministers, including those for foreign affairs and the economy.

Mr Castillo took action as his opponents in Congress moved towards a third attempt to remove him from office.

The Ombudsman’s Office, an autonomous government institution, said before the congressional vote that he should resign and turn himself in to judicial authorities. After years of democracy, Peru is in the midst of a constitutional collapse “that can’t be called anything but a coup”, the statement said.

“Mr Castillo must remember that he was not only elected president of the republic, but also that the people elected representatives for public service,” the statement said. “Castillo’s actions ignore the will of the people and are invalid.”

The congressional vote called for vice president Dina Boluarte to assume the presidency. She rejected Mr Castillo’s move, saying it “worsens the political and institutional crisis that Peruvian society will have to overcome with strict adherence to the law”.

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Dina Boluarte acknowledges lawmakers after being sworn in (Guadalupe Pardo/AP)

Peru’s Joint Chiefs and National Police rejected the constitutionality of Mr Castillo’s dissolution of Congress in a statement.

Mexico’s foreign affairs minister Marcelo Ebrard said Mexico had decided to postpone the Pacific Alliance summit scheduled for December 14 in Lima. He said he regretted the recent developments and called for democracy and human rights to be respected.

The administration of Chilean President Gabriel Boric lamented the situation in Peru and trusted that the crisis would be resolved through democratic mechanisms.

Spain’s government strongly condemned the break in constitutional order and congratulated the country on righting itself democratically.

Mr Castillo had said in an unusual midnight address on state television ahead of the vote that he would never stain “the good name of my honest and exemplary parents, who like millions of Peruvians, work every day to build honestly a future for their families”.

The peasant-turned-president said he is paying for mistakes made due to inexperience, but a certain sector of Congress “has as its only agenda item removing me from office because they never accepted the results of an election that you, my dear Peruvians, determined with your votes”.

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Legislators celebrate after voting to remove Pedro Castillo from office (Guadalupe Pardo/AP)

Federal prosecutors are investigating six cases against him, most for alleged corruption, under the theory that he has used his power to profit from public works.

The power struggle in Peru’s capital has continued as the Andes and its thousands of small farms struggle to survive the worst drought in half a century. Without rain, farmers cannot plant potatoes, and the dying grass can no longer sustain herds of sheep, alpacas, vicunas and llamas.

Making matters worse, avian flu has killed at least 18,000 sea birds and infected at least one poultry producer, endangering the chickens and turkeys raised for traditional holiday meals.

The government also confirmed that in the past week, the country had suffered a fifth wave of Covid-19 infections. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 4.3 million Peruvians have been infected, and 217,000 have died.

Mr Castillo has three times the popularity of Congress, according to opinion polls. A survey by the Institute of Peruvian Studies last month found 86% disapproval of Congress, and only 10% approval, while the president’s negative ratings were 61%, while 31% approved of his performance.

While a majority in Lima disapproves of Mr Castillo and wants him out, Peruvians in other cities and rural communities across the interior want him to complete his presidential term, and his promises. Many Peruvians want Congress closed instead.

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