This story originally appeared in Peoples Dispatch on December 18, 2022. It is shared here with permission.
The judiciary of Peru on Thursday, December 15, extended the preventive detention of former left-wing President Pedro Castillo to 18 months. The decision came as nationwide protests demanding Castillo’s immediate release and reinstatement entered a second week, and the death toll from the repression of protests rose to 21.
On Thursday, a judicial panel within the Supreme Court held a hearing to analyze the request made by the Prosecutor’s Office for the extension of Castillo’s pre-trial detention to 18 months. The judges accepted this request, citing the risk of flight by the deposed president. The day following Castillo’s illegal arrest, the government of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador reported that Castillo had requested political asylum in Mexico. Castillo’s lawyer Ítalo Diaz announced that he would appeal the ruling.
The Prosecutor’s Office also requested 18-months preventive detention for former Prime Minister Aníbal Torres, one of Castillo’s closest allies. The judges rejected the request, but ordered Torres not to leave the country without prior notice or authorization from the court.
The parliamentary coup against Castillo
Last week, on December 7, hours before a vote in Congress on an impeachment motion against him, Castillo dissolved the Congress, called for fresh parliamentary elections, and installed an “emergency government” to rule the country until the legislative powers were renewed. However, Castillo’s attempt to protect himself from the vote of the right-wing opposition majority Congress did not succeed. The conservative opposition legislators began accusing him of having attempted a coup d’état to seize power illegally. The right-wing dominated unicameral Congress held a plenary session and approved the impeachment request against Castillo on grounds of alleged “permanent moral incapacity” to continue in office, which led to his immediate dismissal from office. In another plenary session the same day, they swore in Castillo’s Vice-President Dina Boluarte as the new president.
Within hours following his removal from office, he was arrested and charged with allegedly “breaching constitutional order” for having tried to dissolve the Congress before the vote on the motion. The Prosecutor’s Office is investigating him for the crimes of rebellion and conspiracy, abuse of authority, and public disturbance for announcing the dissolution of Congress. Castillo has alleged that the Prosecutor’s Office and the judiciary are controlled by the conservative oligarchy, whom he had condemned several times for constantly attacking him and his ministers with the aim to oust them and destabilize his socialist government since its inauguration in late July 2021. Castillo has denied all charges against him and has said that he remains the country’s constitutional president.
Popular resistance and police repression
Since his ouster, Castillo’s supporters have been hitting the streets in large numbers, demanding his freedom and restoration as the president, and condemning the Congress for having carried out a parliamentary coup against him.
For the past 10 days, tens of thousands of people have been organizing mobilizations and roadblocks across the national territory demanding the dissolution of the Congress and fresh elections to change the country’s legislature. They are also demanding the resignation of Dina Boluarte, condemning her for criminalizing social protests, unleashing brutal repression, and entering into a political alliance with the right-wing to govern and forming a “government of unity” with them. They are also demanding that a Constituent Assembly be called to draft a new constitution to replace the current exclusiionary and neoliberal one, which was written and imposed in 1993 during the far-right dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori.
On December 15, despite the imposition of a 30-day-long state of emergency at the national level, Indigenous and peasant communities, popular movements, social organizations, student associations, and trade unions, including agrarian, construction workers and teachers unions, mobilized in different parts of the country demanding respect for their vote and pressing their demands. Since December 13, dozens of unions, organizations and movements associated with the Agrarian and Rural Front of Peru (FARP) have been observing an indefinite national strike.
In capital Lima, thousands demonstrated in front of the Congress, as well as near the headquarters of the Directorate of Special Operations (DIROES), where Castillo was detained. In the early hours of December 16, he was transferred to the Barbadillo prison.
According to the Ombudsman’s Office, 53 massive protests were held across the country, including in Lima, Ayacucho, Loreto, Ica, Piura, Tumbes, Puno, Tacna, Ancash, Cusco, Huancavelica, Cajamarca, La Libertad, Apurimac, and Arequipa regions.
The government responded to these protests with the deployment of hundreds of soldiers and police officers across the country, who launched tear gas bombs and used firearms against the demonstrators.
In Ayacucho, the security forces massacred seven people and severely injured 52 others while trying to unblock the local airport which was occupied by protesting residents.
According to local media reports, among those killed in police and military repression in the past nine days of anti-coup protests are seven people in Ayacucho, six in Apurímac, three in La Libertad, one in Arequipa, and one in Huancavelica. Over 180 have also been injured.
International support for Castillo
The heads of state of several Latin American countries have expressed concern about the crisis in Peru and have called for the restoration of democracy.
On December 14, Mexican President López Obrador, during his morning press conference, said that “For Mexico, Pedro Castillo continues to be the president of Peru, since his election is the result of the will of the citizens expressed at the polls.”
“In accordance with international agreements, those responsible for political leadership in Peru are urged to respect the vote of citizens and also to respect human rights, not to repress the people,” he added.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro in a tweet pointed out that “the crisis in Peru, the arrest, without a judge and without defense, of a popularly elected president has seriously questioned the role of the American Convention in the Latin American legal system.”
Bolivian President Luis Arce, during the XXII summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – People’s Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP), held in Havana, Cuba, on December 14, rejected “the siege and the constant persecution, which was orchestrated from the Legislative power against the comrade Pedro Castillo and unfortunately materialized in his dismissal.”
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro also condemned the coup against Castillo. “We have taken a step to classify what took place in Peru as a coup, we will go to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) so that the rights of the people and Professor Pedro Castillo are respected,” said Maduro during the ALBA-TCP Summit, on behalf of all member countries.
Vladimir Cerrón, progressive leader and the founder of Free Peru party that sponsored Castillo’s presidential candidacy in 2021, in a thread on Twitter on December 15 explained the factors that led to the current political crisis as well as why the people are on the streets and why it would be a mistake to criminalize their struggle.
“Castillo won the Presidency in 2021, for 5 years, in elections against all odds. It was the first time in 200 years that the left won the government, but not power. From the first day, the national and international right felt hurt and planned the coup. External factors that facilitated the coup: with Castillo there was no truce, he faced vacancy motions, evident racism, the press insulted him with impunity, the Armed Forces and the National Police did not respect him, his ministers were frequently censured and he was prevented from representing us abroad. Internal factors that facilitate the coup: the problem begins when he was advised to govern without Free Peru, divide the bench, try to register two parties, invite our congressmen to dissent and not show solidarity in the face of the harsh repression suffered by the Party. They totally isolated him and he tried to give a self-coup driven by emotion and not reason. Congress responded with a vacancy and stripped him of his immunity, violating due process, ending it in a counter-coup, which deposed Castillo,” said Cerrón.
“After his imprisonment, his sympathizers began to organize, but this quickly spread as a national contagion, setting up a popular insurgency, followed by a fierce repression, with 21 deaths so far…Castillo is the symbol of the first and only triumph of the Peruvian left in 200 years in a electoral process. He is a man with virtues and defects, but the people of the interior see him as the first peasant to become president, so the people see their vote violated in his impeachment, it was assumed that we had a leftist government, cabinet, bench and program, for 5 years, and now it is not like that. Castillo was not such a good president, he was criticized by the same people who want him free today. Certainly, he led a neoliberal government, hence his discrepancies with Free Peru, which demanded that he fulfills campaign promises and not become an electoral scam. The right underestimated these analyzes, it was announced that if they removed Castillo, there would be a social uprising, we did not imagine it would be at this level, not only demanding to restore Castillo, but also demanding a Constituent Assembly,” Cerrón added.
“In this insurgency, the NGOs have no footing, it is a fight not contaminated by external agents, but rather the self-convened communities in all the regions and Castillo is the [point of convergence]. They are not financed by businessmen, drug traffickers, or other agents. What facilitates the insurgency? A more technologically interconnected Peru. We also have a racist society that the people are no longer willing to tolerate, the mockery of the bourgeoisie towards Castillo like the imprisonment of his daughter – the people felt it as theirs. In such circumstances, in the exercise of political rights, the population also feels this overthrow as their own overthrow. This insurgency had a rapid installation that did not give time for its planning and therefore lacks visible leaders for the moment. Thus, the peasant and community sectors have been telling the time (for daily protests), which the middle class has been joining as a reserve force. The adversaries classify it as a terrorist insurgency, supported by drug traffickers etc., it is a big mistake because in the communities’ psychology that is considered a collective insult,” said Cerrón.
In a new letter shared on his Twitter account, Castillo denounced the involvement of the United States in the coup against him, and indicated that the reason behind it is the country’s copper reserves.
“The visit of the US ambassador to the Government Palace was not free, nor was it in favor of the country. It was to give the order to take the troops out into the streets and massacre my defenseless people; and, incidentally, leave the way clear for mining exploitation, as in the case of Conga, Tía María and others. The Peruvian press will not only remain silent about this, but will deny it just as easily,” he wrote.
Castillo’s letter recalled and drew similarities to the 2019 right-wing civic and military coup against the democratically elected Bolivian President Evo Morales, which was carried out to take over the country’s large lithium reserves.