By: Manolo De Los Santos*
June 6, 2021 was a date that shocked many in the Peruvian oligarchy. Pedro Castillo Terrones, a rural teacher who had never been elected to public office, won the second round of the presidential election with just over 50.13 percent of the vote. More than 8.8 million people voted for Castillo’s program – which included sweeping social reforms and the promise of a new constitution – against far-right candidate Keiko Fujimori. In a dramatic turn of events, the historical program of neoliberalism and repression, transmitted by former dictator Alberto Fujimori to his daughter Keiko, was rejected at the ballot box.
Since that still incredulous day, the Peruvian oligarchy declared war on Castillo. They turned the next 18 months into a period of great hostility for the new president, attempting to destabilize his government with a multi-pronged attack that included a major use of legal warfare. Calling for “throwing out communism,” the National Society of Industries (the oligarchy’s main business group) devised its plan to make the country ungovernable by Castillo.
In October 2021, recordings were made public revealing that since June 2021, this group of businessmen, along with other members of the Peruvian elite and leaders of right-wing opposition parties, had been planning a series of actions that included financing protests and strikes. Groups of former military personnel, allied with far-right politicians like Fujimori, began openly calling for Castillo’s violent ouster, threatening government officials and leftist journalists.
The right wing in Congress joined these plans and tried to remove Castillo twice during his first year in office. “Since my inauguration as president, the political sector has not accepted the electoral victory that the Peruvian people gave us,” Castillo said in March 2022. “I understand the power of Congress to exercise oversight and political control; however, these mechanisms cannot be exercised through the abuse of the right, proscribed in the Constitution, ignoring the popular will expressed at the polls,” he emphasized. It turns out that several of these lawmakers, with support from a right-wing German foundation, had also been meeting to see how to amend the constitution in order to quickly remove Castillo.
The governing class of the Peruvian oligarchy could never accept that a rural teacher and peasant leader could be brought to the presidency by millions of poor, black and indigenous peoples who saw in Castillo the hope of a better future. However, in the face of these attacks, Castillo became increasingly distant from his political base. He formed four different cabinets to appease business sectors, increasingly yielding to right-wing demands to dismiss left-wing ministers who challenged the status quo. He broke with his party, Free Peru, when he was openly questioned by its leaders. He asked the already discredited Organization of American States for help in seeking political solutions, rather than mobilizing the country’s main peasant and indigenous movements. In the end, Castillo fought alone, without support from the masses or the parties of the left.
The final crisis for Castillo erupted on December 7. Weakened by months of corruption allegations, left-wing infighting and multiple attempts to criminalize him, Castillo was eventually overthrown and jailed. He was replaced by his vice president, Dina Boluarte, who was sworn into office after Congress removed Castillo with 101 votes in favor, six against and 10 abstentions.
The vote came shortly after the country received the televised announcement that Castillo would dissolve Congress. He did so preventively, three hours before the start of the session of Congress in which a motion of dismissal for “permanent moral incapacity” due to the allegations of corruption that are being investigated was to be debated and voted. Castillo also announced the start of an “exceptional emergency government” and the convening of a constituent assembly in nine months. He said that, until the constituent assembly was installed, he would rule by decree. In his last message as president, he also decreed a curfew starting at 10 p.m. This, like its other measures, was never implemented. Hours later, Castillo was overthrown.
Boluarte was sworn in before Congress while Castillo was detained at a police station. Demonstrations erupted in Lima, but none massive enough to reverse the coup, which had been almost a year and a half in the making, the last in Latin America’s long history of violence against radical transformations.
The coup against Pedro Castillo is a major setback for the current wave of progressive governments in Latin America and for the popular movements that elected them. This coup and Castillo’s arrest are a stark reminder that Latin America’s ruling elites will not cede any power without a fierce struggle to the end. And now that the dust has settled, the only winners are the Peruvian oligarchy and its friends in Washington.
* Manolo De Los Santos is the Executive Co-director of People’s Forum and a member of the Tricontinental Institute of Social Research.
The article was produced by Globetrotter
Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Friday, December 9, 2022, https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/12/09/opinion/025a1pol and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee