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Peruvian President Pedro Castillo Is Ousted & Arrested in Latest Episode of Peru’s “Enduring Crisis”

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Peruvian President Pedro Castillo was ousted from power Wednesday and arrested hours after he moved to dissolve the country’s Congress, with Vice President Dina Boluarte sworn in to replace him. Castillo is a left-leaning former teacher and union leader who was in office for less than a year and a half, during which time he faced sustained attacks from his political opponents for corruption. His announcement Wednesday that he would dissolve Congress came as lawmakers were preparing for a third time to impeach him. Peruvian scholar Javier Puente, associate professor and chair of Latin American and Latino studies at Smith College, says this week’s dramatic events are just the latest in an “enduring crisis” in Peru that started with dictator Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s. “This is yet another manifestation of the lack of institutional stability that the country has experienced for at least three decades as a result of the legacy of Fujimorismo,” says Puente.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show looking at the political crisis in Peru. On Wednesday, the Peruvian President Pedro Castillo was ousted from power and arrested hours after he moved to temporarily dissolve the Peruvian Congress. Castillo’s vice president, Dina Boluarte, has been sworn in to replace him.

Castillo is a left-leaning former teacher and union leader who was in office for less than a year and a half. Last year, he defeated Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of Peru’s former dictator Alberto Fujimori.

On Wednesday, Castillo made the dramatic announcement of dissolving Congress just before lawmakers were preparing their third attempt to impeach him on corruption charges. This is part of what Castillo said on Wednesday.

PRESIDENT PEDRO CASTILLO: [translated] In response to citizens’ demands throughout the length and breadth of the country, we have decided to establish an exceptional government aimed at reestablishing the rule of law and democracy, and therefore the following measures are dictated: temporarily dissolve the Congress of the Republic and establish an exceptional emergency government.

AMY GOODMAN: Pedro Castillo’s attempt to dissolve Congress was quickly rejected by members of Peru’s Supreme Court. Within hours, Congress voted 101 to 6 to remove him from office for reasons of, quote, “permanent moral incapacity.” Then Castillo’s vice president, Dina Boluarte, was sworn in as president, making her Peru’s sixth president in seven years. She also becomes Peru’s first-ever female president.

INTERIM PRESIDENT DINA BOLUARTE: [translated] As we all know, there has been an attempted coup d’état, an attempt pushed by Mr. Pedro Castillo, which has not found backing in the institutions of democracy and in the streets. This Congress of the Republic, per the constitutional mandate, has taken a decision, and it is my duty to act accordingly.

AMY GOODMAN: Supporters of Pedro Castillo took to the streets of Lima Wednesday to denounce what they saw as the president’s unjust removal from power.

SONIA CASTAÑEDA: [translated] Dina Boluarte is not our president. Let the people elect her. Then I will recognize her as president. But the people didn’t elect her. The people elected Pedro Castillo, and he is our president. We will work with him. Now, if the people of Congress consider themselves so democratic, then respect the people’s voice. Respect that we voted for Castillo.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, the United States quickly recognized Dina Boluarte as Peru’s next president. However, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador criticized Castillo’s removal from power. AMLO said, quote, “We consider it unfortunate that, due to the interests of the economic and political elites, from the beginning of Pedro Castillo’s legitimate presidency, an environment of confrontation and hostility was maintained against him until it led him to make decisions that have served his adversaries to carry out his dismissal,” AMLO said.

To talk more about the political crisis in Peru, we’re joined by Javier Puente. He’s a Peruvian scholar who serves as associate professor and chair of Latin American and Latino studies at Smith College. He’s also the author of The Rural State, a book about campesino politics and state formation in the 20th century Peruvian Andes.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Professor. It’s great to have you with us. Can you explain what has just happened, the significance of what has taken place in Peru with the removal of the Peruvian president, Castillo?

JAVIER PUENTE: Amy, thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be with you and your audience.

I think what we have witnessed yesterday is yet another episode in an enduring crisis that can be chronologically mapped in different terms. It can be seen as a 40-year cycle of crisis that goes all the way back to the coup d’état orchestrated by Alberto Fujimori on April 5th, 1992, and that finished yesterday with this attempted coup by Pedro Castillo. It can also be seen as this short-term crisis that started with Keiko Fujimori’s frustration to seize power in 2016 and a constant removal of presidents for this very dirty political maneuver of the Peruvian Congress of impeaching presidents since March of 2018 with the removal of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. But what is certain is that this is yet another manifestation of the lack of institutional stability that the country has experienced for at least three decades as a result of the legacy of Fujimorismo, as perhaps the most important driving political force in the country.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Javier, could you give some context? Why is it that the Congress in Peru made repeated attempts — this was the third — to impeach Castillo? What were they accusing him of?

JAVIER PUENTE: There is a very — there has been a very clear agenda of the Peruvian Congress, since Castillo won the presidency in 2021, to remove him from power, partly as a result of this frustration coming — stemming from Keiko Fujimori in yet another attempt to win the presidency and become the elected president of Peru. But on the other hand, I think it’s fair to say that there has been a very clear evidence of corruption allegations associated with Castillo and Castillo’s immediate political and social circles.

I think the views around the attempts, the congressional attempts to remove Castillo from power, that seem to be so contradictory and so clashing, you know, on the one hand, it’s either the Congress’ racist agenda to have a campesino — a representative of campesino politics in the palace of government removed from it — it’s not so much in contradiction with the idea that, yes, there was corruption, yes, the allegations of mismanagement of public funds and nepotism were present, were there. So there is a possibility of seeing allegations of corruption, and yet that deliberate congressional agenda to destabilize Castillo’s administration as actually coexisting and being part of the same narrative.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Javier, what is your sense of how Castillo is perceived now among Peruvians? There have been reports that during his term in office, before he was ousted yesterday, there were protests against him. But now, of course, there have also been supporters who have been opposing his ouster. So, could you give us a sense of how people perceive his presidency?

JAVIER PUENTE: I think, up to this point, these colliding visions that I explained a minute ago — so, you know, it’s they are trying to remove him because these political forces are being racist, or the fact that, yes, he is a corrupt leader — had been polarizing civil society to a large degree. But I think it has been symptomatic of the view, not necessarily around Castillo but around Castillo’s attempted coup, to see multiple organizations of civil society, including universities, including research institutions, including associations, organizations that up to this point have remained fairly independent and, to some degree, questioning the real motives of the Congress to remove Castillo, standing against Castillo’s measure to dissolve the Congress and to centralize power in the fashion and in the way that he tried to yesterday. I think there is a form of consensus that is probably going to get some nuance over the next few hours, if not few days, about Castillo’s illegitimacy to try to do what he tried to do, and yet a lot of expectation around where are we headed next, what’s going to happen with the presidency of Dina Boluarte.

Upon being sworn in as president, she has asked for some sort of political truce to establish a cabinet and a government of, as she called it, all bloods, all political forces, all political alignments. To what degree that’s going to happen, I am skeptical that the Congress will give her a truce. I think we’re going to see more and more evidence that, yes, there was an agenda that exceeds the removal of Castillo, and it is about empowering once again, not necessarily Keiko Fujimori, but a certain vision of crooked politics that Fujimorismo has represented very well up to this point, that is this sort of like business-oriented, neoliberal, capitalist view in which the state is nothing but the sort of reward or vehicle for the conduction of all kinds of crooked politics and businesses.

AMY GOODMAN: Telesur is quoting Evo Morales, the former president of Bolivia, talking about his deep concern over what’s happening in Peru, saying, “We see once again that the Peruvian oligarchy and the U.S. empire do not accept that union and Indigenous leaders reach the government to work for the people.” And AMLO, the president of Mexico, said something similar and said that they forced him into a position where he then made mistakes. Do you share this assessment? And you mentioned Fujimori. Talk about her significance and how she is tied into this oligarchy, like her father was.

JAVIER PUENTE: Absolutely, Amy. So, one of the narratives that I have resisted since the election of Pedro Castillo is related to the idea of seeing his Indigenous and campesino and even unionizing origins as necessarily left-leaning. Right? I think there has been a fair share of essentialization around the figure of Castillo, assuming that just because he comes from Indigenous origins, he comes from campesino politics, he comes from some sort of grassroots political origins, he necessarily has to be a left-leaning political figure. One of the points that I mentioned to question that essentializing narrative was, for instance, his evangelical orientation, which made him really socially conservative. He ran on a very socially conservative platform. And on the other hand, the fact that he was a rondero, he was a campesino militia member, which, sure, you know, campesino militias played a huge role in the civil war in Peru between 1980 and 2000, but they continue to be a form of paramilitarism that I believe should come under scrutiny with a less sort of like politically essentializing lens. So, you know, I think Morales and López Obrador’s support of Castillo’s administration and their condemnation of his removal plugs into this essentialized view around Castillo as being Indigenous, therefore being leftist.

On the other hand, it is unquestionable that Fujimorismo has been, since the 1990s, the primary political force in Peru, and therefore the primary responsible for establishing everything that we associate with neoliberal politics, with the establishment of state administration as just securing market-oriented policies and politics, and the market fundamentalisms that have ruled in Latin American over the last three to four decades. And in that sense, Keiko Fujimori, as the daughter of Alberto Fujimori and the new leader of Fujimorismo, has tried to encapsulate the idea that the original neoliberal reformations conducted by [her] father were responsible for reinvigorating and bringing out Peru from a situation of almost complete collapse and meltdown, and therefore could continue to be responsible for bringing Peru, after its bicentennial, to the next stage of development. That next stage of development, of course, is just securing, at all cost, all forms of integrities and protection for conducting business, businesses, at whatever expenses — extractive businesses, crooked businesses, Mafia-like businesses. And, you know, this alignment between capital and corrupt politics represented by Fujimorismo are behind everything that has happened in Peru over the last 40 years in terms of the deinstitutionalization of the country and of the Peruvian state.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us. We’ll continue to follow these fast-moving developments in Peru. Javier Puente, Peruvian scholar, associate professor and chair of Latin American and Latino studies at Smith College in Massachusetts.

Next up, we go to Moscow to speak with a prominent Russian dissident as Vladimir Putin admits the war in Ukraine will be a, quote, “long process.” And this breaking news: The WNBA star Brittney Griner has been freed. Stay with us.

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