The coup in Peru

Image: Juan Carlos Garcés Castro
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By FRANCISCO DOMINGUEZ*

What was not expected with the impeachment of Pedro Castillo was the vigorous outbreak of social mobilization across Peru.

It finally happened. On December 7, 2022, the ruling parliamentary dictatorship in Peru managed to achieve its top priority, removing democratically elected President Pedro Castillo Terrones. Castillo, a rural primary school teacher, elected to the highest office in Peru in July 2021, from day one faced the relentless hostility of the Peruvian oligarchy. The Peruvian elite is heavily entrenched in Congress and controls all major state institutions (the judiciary, army, police), highly influential business organizations (mainly the Confederation of Private Entrepreneurs – CONFIEP), and, crucially, the entirety of the main media.

Regardless of the obvious flaws and mistakes of Pedro Castillo's presidency, his overthrow represents a serious setback for democracy in Peru and Latin America as a whole. His election last year took place at the expense of an enormous crisis of credibility and legitimacy of a political system endowed with corruption and venality, in which presidents were forced to resign on accusations of corruption (some ended up in prison), with one of them committing suicide. before being arrested on corruption charges. In the last six years, Peru has had six presidents.

The rot was so advanced that no political party or prominent politician could muster enough electoral support to win the presidency in 2021 (the main right-wing party, the candidate of the Popular Force won less than 14% of the votes in the first round). It goes a long way toward explaining why an unknown rural primary school teacher from the remote Andean indigenous zone of Cajamarca, Pedro Castillo, would become Peru's 63rd president. In Cajamarca, Castillo won up to 72% of the popular vote.

Pedro Castillo's election offered a historic opportunity to bury Peruvian neoliberalism. Myself I wrote an article with this prognosis, in which I started from Pedro Castillo's commitment to democratize Peruvian politics through a Constituent Assembly charged with writing a new constitution, from which to refound the nation on an anti-neoliberal basis. A proposal that, in the light of the recent experience in Latin America, is perfectly feasible, but the precondition for this, as other experiences in the region have demonstrated, is the vigorous mobilization of the mass of the people, the working class, the peasants, the urban poor and all other subordinate strata of society. This did not happen in Peru under the presidency of Pedro Castillo.

The mass mobilizations that broke out in the Andean regions and in many other areas and cities in Peru when they learned of Pedro Castillo's impeachment solidly confirm that this was the only possible way to implement his program of change. Mass mobilizations across the nation (including Lima) demand a Constituent Assembly, the closure of the current Congress, the release and restoration of Pedro Castillo to the presidency, and the holding of immediate general elections.

This would explain the paradox that the right's hostility towards President Pedro Castillo, unlike other left governments in Latin America, was not stopped because Pedro Castillo was carrying out any radical governmental action. Indeed, opposition to his government was so blindingly intense that nearly every initiative, however trivial or uncontroversial it turned out to be, was met with a ferocious rejection by the Peruvian right-wing-dominated Congress.

The main right-wing party in Congress is the Popular Force, led by Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori. In the 130-seat Peruvian Congress, Pedro Castillo had an originally solid 15 votes from the free turkey, and 5 votes, not very solid, from Together for Peru. In the absence of mass government mobilization, the oligarchy knew that Pedro Castillo posed no threat, so their intense hostility was to treat his government as an abominable abnormality sending a message to the nation that this should never have happened and would never happen again.

An example of the obtuse obstructionism of Parliament was the impeachment of its foreign minister, Hector Béjar, a reputed left-wing academic and intellectual on August 17, 2021, who, just 15 days after his appointment and less than a month after taking office de Castillo (July 28, 2021), was forced to resign. Béjar’s “offense”, a statement made at a public conference in February 2020 during the elections – before his ministerial appointment – ​​in which he stated a historical fact: terrorism was initiated by the Peruvian Navy in 1974, long before the appearance of the Sendero Luminoso [1980]. Hector Béjar was the prime minister among many to be arbitrarily impeached by Congress.

O Sendero Luminoso, an extreme guerrilla group, was active in substantial parts of the countryside in the 1980s and 1990s and whose confrontation with state military forces led to a generalized situation of conflict. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission which, after the collapse of the Fujimori dictatorship, investigated the atrocities perpetrated during the state's war against the Sendero Luminoso, reported that 69.280 people died or went missing between 1980 and 2000.

Congressional harassment aimed at preventing Pedro Castillo's government from functioning can be verified with numbers: in the 495 days that his mandate lasted, Pedro Castillo was forced to appoint a total of 78 ministers. Invariably, appointed ministers, as in the case of Hector Béjar, would be subject to vicious attacks by the media and the establishment (in the case of Béjar, by the Navy itself) and by the right-wing parliamentary majority that forced the resignation of ministers with the avidity of zealous witch hunters.

Hector Béjar was ostensibly rebuffed for his accurate commentary on Navy activities in the 1970s, but probably even more for making the decision to abandon the Lima Group for Peru, adopting a non-interventionist foreign policy towards Venezuela and for condemning sanctions. unilateral against nations. Hector Béjar made the announcement of the new policy on August 3, 2021 and the “revelations” about his comment regarding the Navy were made on August 15. The demonization campaign was in full swing immediately thereafter, which included: soldiers holding public protests demanding their resignation, a parliamentary motion by a coalition of parliamentary forces essentially for "not being fit for office", and for adhering to an "ideology communist".

Something similar, but not identical, happened to Hector Béjar's replacement, Oscar Maurtúa, a career diplomat, who had served as foreign minister in several previous right-wing governments since 2005. When in October 2021, Guido Bellido , a radical member of the turkey free, who, upon being appointed government minister, threatened to nationalize the Camisea gas, an operation run by multinational capital, for refusing to renegotiate its profits in favor of the Peruvian state, Oscar Maurtúa resigned two weeks later. Guido Bellido himself was ostensibly forced to resign as an “apology for terrorism”, but in reality for having had the audacity to threaten to nationalize an asset that should belong to Peru.

On October 6, 2021, Guido Bellido, a national leader of the free turkey, who had been a minister in Pedro Castillo's government since July 29, offered his resignation at the president's request, triggered by his threat of nationalization. Vladimir Cerrón, the main national leader of the turkey free, followed suit, publicly breaking with Pedro Castillo on October 16, asking him to leave the party and thereby leaving Pedro Castillo without the party's parliamentary support. Since then, the turkey free has suffered several divisions.

Worse, Pedro Castillo was thrown into a corner by being forced to select ministers to the liking of the right-wing parliamentary majority to prevent them from being approved. It all happened in a context dominated by intoxicating media demonization, accusations, fake news and widespread hostility to his rule, but with a sword of Damocles – a motion to declare his presidency “vacant” and thus face impeachment – ​​hanging over his head. .

The first attempt was in November 2021 (a few weeks after Bellido's forced resignation). He did not get enough parliamentary support (46 against 76, and 4 abstentions). The second was in March 2022 with the accusation of “permanent moral incapacity”, which obtained 55 votes (54 against and 19 abstentions), but failed because legally 87 votes were required. And finally, on December 1, 2022, Congress voted in favor of initiating a “vacancy” declaration process against Pedro Castillo for “permanent moral incapacity”. This time, the right had managed to gather 73 votes (32 against and 6 abstentions). The motion of more than 100 pages, included at least six "parliamentary investigations" for allegedly "leading a criminal organization", for influence peddling, obstruction of justice, treason (in an interview Castillo addressed the possibility of offering Bolivia access to the sea through from Peru), and even for “plagiarizing” his master's thesis.

At that time, Pedro Castillo was incredibly isolated, surrounded by the rare, putrid and feverish establishment Lima politician who was like a pack of bloodthirsty ravenous wolves: Pedro Castillo would have to face a final hearing scheduled by the majority of Peru's Congress on December 7. On the same day, in an event surrounded by confusion – maliciously presented by the great world press as a coup d'état –, the president went on TV to announce his decision to temporarily dissolve Congress, establish an exceptional emergency government and hold elections for elect a new Congress with Constituent Assembly powers within nine months. The US ambassador in Lima, Lisa D. Kenna, reacted immediately that same day with a note stressing that the US "rejects any unconstitutional act by President Castillo to prevent Congress from fulfilling its mandate." The “mandate” of the “Congress” was to stop President Pedro Castillo.

We know the rest of the story: on the same day, Congress presented the “vacancy” motion by 101 votes, Pedro Castillo was arrested and Dina Boluarte was sworn in as interim president. Declaring the dissolution of Congress may not have been the most skillful tactical move made by Pedro Castillo, but it did shine a spotlight on the key institution that doggedly obstructed the possibility of socioeconomic progress that Pedro Castillo's presidency represented.

Pedro Castillo did not have any support among the economic or political elite, the judiciary, the state bureaucracy, the police or the armed forces, or the main media. He was politically right in calling for the dissolution of the obstruction of Congress to allow the mass of the people through the ballot box the opportunity to democratically remove the latter. A survey of Institute of Peruvian Studies (IEP) in November showed that the congressional disapproval rate was 86%, 5 points higher than in October, and that it has remained at 75-78% during the second half of 2021.

What was not expected with the impeachment of Pedro Castillo was the vigorous upsurge of social mobilization across Peru. Its epicenter was in the Peruvian “serra”, the interior indigenous lands where Pedro Castillo gained most of his electoral support, but also in key cities, including Lima. The demands raised by the mass movement are the return of Pedro Castillo, the dissolution of Congress, the resignation of Dina Boluarte, the holding of immediate parliamentary elections and a new constitution. Protesters, expressing their fury in Lima, carried signs declaring that "Congress is a rat hole."

In light of the huge mass mobilizations, it is inevitable to ask why this was not unleashed earlier, say, a year and a half ago? Pedro Castillo, heavily isolated and under extreme pressure, hoping to buy some breathing space, sought to please the national and international right, for example by appointing a neoliberal economist, Julio Valverde, head of the Central Bank, tried to approach the deadly Organization of the American States, met with Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and distanced himself from Venezuela. In vain, the elite demanded more and more concessions, but they would never be satisfied, no matter what Pedro Castillo did.

The repression unleashed against popular mobilizations has been swift and brutal, but ineffective. Reports speak of at least eighteen people killed by police bullets and over a hundred wounded, but the mobilizations and marches grew and spread even further. Although the “provisional government” has already banned the protests, they continue. Three days ago they occupied Andahuaylas airport; an indefinite strike was declared in Cusco; in Apurimac, classes were suspended; plus a multiple roadblock in many parts of the country. It is evident that the political atmosphere in Peru was already quite charged and these social energies were dormant, but waiting to be awakened.

Although it is premature to draw many conclusions about what this popular resistance could provoke, it is clear that the oligarchy miscalculated what it expected from the result of Pedro Castillo's removal: the crushing defeat of this attempt, however timid it was, by the lower classes, especially you cholos (pejorative name for indigenous peoples in Peru), to change the status quo. The Peruvian oligarchy found it intolerable that a cholo, Pedro Castillo, were the president of the country, much less that he dared to threaten to mobilize the masses of the people to actively participate in a Constituent Assembly charged with writing a new constitution.

The appointed interim president, Dina Boluarte, feeling the pressure of mass mobilization, announced a proposal to hold “early elections” in 2024 instead of 2026, the date of the end of Pedro Castillo's official mandate. However, it was reported that Pedro Castillo sent a message to the people encouraging them to fight for a Constituent Assembly and not to fall into the “dirty trap of new elections”. Through one of his lawyers, Ronald Atencio, Pedro Castillo communicated that his detention was illegal and arbitrary, in violation of his constitutional rights, that he is the target of political persecution, which threatens to turn him into a political prisoner, who has no intention of request asylum, and that he is fully aware of the mobilizations across the country and the demands for his freedom.

We'll see how things evolve from here. The removal of Pedro Castillo is a negative development; it is a setback for the left in Peru and for democracy in Latin America. Latin America's left-wing presidents understood this and condemned the parliamentary coup against democratically elected president Pedro Castillo. Among the presidents who condemned the coup are Cuban Miguel Diaz-Canel, Venezuelan Nicolas Maduro, Honduran Xiomara Castro, Argentine Alberto Fernández, Colombian Gustavo Petro, Mexican Lopez Obrador and Bolivian Arce.

Most dramatically, the presidents of Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Bolivia issued a joint statement (December 12) demanding the return of Pedro Castillo, who in his relevant passage says: “It is not news to the world that President Castillo Terrones, since the day of his election, has been the victim of anti-democratic harassment (…) Our governments appeal to all actors involved in the aforementioned process to give priority to the will of the people as expressed in the ballot boxes. This is the way to interpret the scope and meaning of the notion of democracy, as enshrined in the Inter-American System of Human Rights. We urge those who make up the institutions to refrain from reversing the popular will expressed through free suffrage.”

At the XIII ALBA-TCP Summit held in Havana on December 15, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Grenada and Cuba condemned the arrest of President Pedro Castillo, which they characterized as a coup d'état.

It is very doubtful that Peru's oligarchy is capable of bringing political stability to the country. Since 2016, the country has had 6 presidents, none of whom have completed their term, and the impeachment of Pedro Castillo has let the genie (militant mass mobilizations) come out of the bottle and it seems quite unlikely that they will be able to put it back. The illegitimate government of Dina Boluarte declared, on December 14, a state of emergency throughout the national territory and, abominably, left the armed forces in charge of guaranteeing law and order. The armed forces, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that investigated the dirty war between the Peruvian state and the guerrillas of Sendero Luminoso (1980-1992), were responsible for about 50% of the 70.000 deaths that the war cost. It is the typical action, although the worst possible one that the Peruvian oligarchy can undertake.

The demands of the mass movement must be satisfied: the immediate and unconditional freedom of President Pedro Castillo, the immediate holding of elections for a Constituent Assembly for a new anti-neoliberal constitution, and the immediate cessation of the brutal repression, sending the armed forces of back to their barracks.

*Francisco Dominguez is professor of political science at the University of Middlesex (England).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

Originally published on the portal Publishing Rooms.

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