Peruvian President Pedro Castillo has accused his opponents of undermining democracy as he faces the third attempt to impeach his beleaguered presidency.
Castillo, who began a five-year term in July 2021, is due to appear in impeachment proceedings from December 7, to answer charges of “moral incapacity”. The Peruvian Congress issued a summons for the incumbent president last week.
Facing a congressional vote that could remove him from office, Castillo dismissed corruption allegations in a speech Tuesday, instead accusing his rivals of trying to “blow up democracy and disregard the right to choose from our people”.
A former teacher from a rural part of Peru, Castillo’s unexpected ascent in the presidency in 2021 was followed by a tumultuous period in power.
He has already survived two impeachment attempts. The latest results of a constitutional complaint filed by the prosecution in Octoberalleging that Castillo ran a “criminal organization” that benefited from state contracts and obstructed investigations.
Congress also accused Castillo of incompetence. He appointed five cabinets and at least 80 ministers during his tenure.
The controversy around Castillo is set against a broader backdrop of political uncertainty in Peru, which has seen seven presidents and four former leaders detained or wanted on corruption charges since 2011.
Castillo called the impeachment efforts a backlash from powerful interests seeking to regain power that “the people took from them at the ballot box.”
But Attorney General Patricia Benavides said her office found “very serious indications of a criminal organization that has taken root within the government.”
While Peruvian presidents normally enjoy immunity from criminal cases, a constitutional complaint allows Congress to conduct its own trial.
The 130 members of Peru The legislature passed a motion to start the impeachment process on Dec. 1 with 73 votes in favour, including many from right-wing parties.
But the threshold for removing a president is higher, requiring a two-thirds majority or 87 votes. Previous impeachment efforts in December 2021 and March 2022 failed to cross that threshold.
Castillo and his family members face six corruption investigations. The president has denied any wrongdoing.
In October, five of Castillo’s allies were arrested for corruption. And in August, his sister in law, Yenifer Paredes, was sentenced to 30 months in pre-trial detention. Prosecutors alleged that Paredes was involved in a scheme to hand out 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 powerful ally Anibal Torres, marking the departure of the fourth prime minister of Castillo’s term. Torres had challenged Congress to hold a vote of confidence and resigned after the legislature refused to do so.
While political turmoil has been a persistent feature of Peruvian politics for years, the country’s economy has grown the fastest of any major South American economy.
But according to the Reuters news agency, Colombia is expected to overtake Peru this year, in part because of the country’s uncertain political landscape. The region struggled with the fallout from rising inflation, as well as food and energy shortages caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Castillo ran on a left-wing platform that promised a fairer economic system, but he largely governed as a moderate and did not enact any significant economic reforms.
According to Reuters, Castillo’s government has recorded relatively low levels of spending on social programs and Congress has shelved a proposal to raise taxes on the country’s mining industry.
It’s unclear what effect, if any, Castillo’s impeachment would have on the economy, and Peru is expected to remain one of the fastest growing economies in South America. However, the country’s political unrest has long been a source of concern for investors. In 2020, for example, the country had three presidents in less than 10 days.
“I think there is no other option that the government affects [economic] expectations because businesses are doing well,” said Pedro Francke, a former finance minister in the Castillo government who resigned earlier this year.
Castillo called for dialogue and reaffirmed that he was “not corrupt”. But with hostile opposition, numerous legal issues and protests demanding his dismissalit is far from certain that he will see his five-year presidential term end in 2026.
For his part, the president seems determined to hold on. In response to the November protests, Castillo said, “They’ll have me until the last day of my term because my people have so decided.”