Peru’s Pedro Castillo blasts critics ahead of impeachment hearing

Peru’s President Pedro Castillo has accused his opponents of undermining democracy as he faces the third impeachment attempt of his embattled presidency.

Castillo, who began a five-year term in July 2021, is expected to appear in impeachment beginning December 7, to answer charges of “moral incapacity.” Peru’s Congress issued a convocation for the incumbent president last week.

Facing a congressional vote that could remove him from office, Castillo rejected the corruption allegations in a speech Tuesday and accused his rivals of trying to “blow up democracy and ignore our people’s right to choose.”

A former teacher from rural Peru, Castillo’s unexpected rise to the presidency in 2021 has been followed by a tumultuous period in office.

He has already survived two impeachment attempts. The latest result of a constitutional lawsuit filed by the prosecution in October, alleging that Castillo headed a “criminal organization” that benefited from state contracts and obstructed investigations.

Congress also accused Castillo of incompetence. He has appointed five cabinets and at least 80 ministers during his tenure.

The controversy surrounding Castillo comes amid a broader context of political uncertainty in Peru, which has seen seven presidents and four former leaders detained or wanted on corruption charges since 2011.

Castillo has characterized the impeachment efforts as a backlash by powerful interests seeking to reclaim the power that “the people took from them at the polls.”

But Attorney General Patricia Benavides said her office has found “very serious indications of a criminal organization that has taken root in the government.”

While Peruvian presidents normally have immunity from criminal cases, a constitutional lawsuit allows Congress to conduct its own trial.

Peru’s 130-member legislature approved a motion to start the impeachment process on December 1 with 73 votes in favor, many of them from right-wing parties.

But the threshold for removing a president from office is higher, requiring a two-thirds majority, or 87 votes. Previous impeachment efforts in December 2021 and March 2022 failed to pass that threshold.

Castillo and members of his family face six corruption investigations. The president has denied any wrongdoing.

In October, five of Castillo’s allies were arrested on corruption charges. And in August, his sister-in-law, Yenifer Paredes, was sentenced to 30 months in pretrial 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 any crime.

In November, Castillo accepted the resignation of former prime minister and strong ally Aníbal Torres, marking the departure of the fourth prime minister from Castillo’s term. Torres had challenged Congress to hold a confidence vote and resigned after the legislature refused to do so.

While political turbulence has been a persistent feature of Peruvian politics for years, the country’s economy has grown at the fastest rate of any major economy in South America.

But according to Reuters, Colombia is expected to overtake Peru this year, partly due to the country’s uncertain political landscape. The region has struggled with the consequences of rising inflation, as well as food and energy shortages caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Castillo ran on a leftist platform that promised a fairer economic system, but he has governed largely as a moderate and has failed to pass any significant economic reforms.

According to Reuters, the Castillo government has seen relatively low levels of spending on social programs and Congress has shelved a proposal to increase taxes on the country’s mining industry.

It is unclear what effect, if any, Castillo’s removal 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 turmoil has long been a source of concern for investors. In 2020, for example, the country went through three presidents in less than 10 days.

“I think there is no other option but that the government is affecting [economic] expectations because companies are doing well,” said Pedro Francke, a former finance minister in the Castillo government who resigned earlier this year.

Castillo has called for dialogue and has reiterated that he “is not corrupt.” But with hostile opposition, numerous legal problems and protests demanding his removal, it is not certain that he will finish his five-year presidential term in 2026.

For his part, the president seems determined to hold out. In response to the November protests, Castillo said: “They are going to have me until the last day of my term because my people have decided so.”

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