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Peru’s President impeached and arrested after he attempts to dissolve Congress

Peruvian President Pedro Castillo waves during the inauguration of the 52nd General Assembly of the OAS in Lima on October 5, 2022. (Photo by Ernesto BENAVIDES / AFP) (Photo by ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNN) — Dina Boluarte became Peru’s first female President on Wednesday, capping off a dramatic day which saw her predecessor arrested for the alleged crime of rebellion and impeached by lawmakers.

Boluarte, the country’s former vice president, was sworn into the top job at Congress to become Peru’s sixth President in under five years.

The ceremony took place hours after a majority of 101 members in the 130-person legislative body voted to impeach former leader Pedro Castillo.

The tumultuous day began when then-President Castillo announced plans to dissolve Congress and install an emergency government, ahead of a looming impeachment vote by lawmakers, which Peru’s Ombudsman described as an “attempted coup d’état.”

He also called for parliamentary elections to work on a new constitution.

The move prompted a string of cabinet resignations, fiery reactions from top officials and condemnation from regional neighbors — and ultimately failed to prevent his impeachment in Congress.

Peruvian armed forces rejected Castillo’s attempt to sideline lawmakers, calling it an “infringement of the constitution.”

And Boluarte herself criticized Castillo’s dissolution plan, describing it on Twitter as “a coup that aggravates the political and institutional crisis that Peruvian society will have to overcome with strict adherence to the law.”

International officials joined the chorus of condemnations of Castillo, with the United States urging the leader to “reverse” the move and “allow Peru’s democratic institutions to function according to the Constitution,” US Ambassador in Peru Lisa Kenna said on Twitter.

“We will continue to stand against and to categorically reject any acts that contradict Peru’s constitution, any act that undermines democracy in that country,” said US State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a statement.

Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed “deep concern” over Peru’s political crisis in a statement on Twitter, and Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Castillo’s actions were “incompatible with the constitutional framework of that country, [and] represent a violation of democracy and the rule of law.”

In a stunning turn of events, Castillo was detained by police in the capital city Lima after lawmakers impeached him in Congress.

Images shared from the prefecture showed the former President, wearing a blue jacket, sat around a table while officials signed documents.

In a statement, the office of Peru’s Attorney General said Castillo had been arrested for the alleged crime of rebellion, “for violating the constitutional order.”

“We condemn the breach of the constitutional order,” Peru’s Attorney General, Patricia Benavides, said in a statement. “The Political Constitution of Peru enshrines the separation of powers and establishes that Peru is a democratic and sovereign republic … No authority can place itself above the Constitution and must comply with its constitutional mandates.”

CNN has reached out to Castillo’s defense team for comment regarding the allegations.

It is a humiliating end to Castillo’s brief time in office. The former schoolteacher and union leader rose from obscurity to be elected in July 2021 by a narrow margin in a runoff, and was seen as part of a “pink tide” of new left-wing leaders in Latin America.

He ran on a platform promising to rewrite the constitution and increase wealth redistribution by granting states greater control over markets and natural resources, pledges that he has struggled to deliver amid rising inflation in Peru, his lack of political experience and strong conservative opposition in Congress.

The government of the leftist leader had been mired in chaos since inauguration, with dozens of ministers appointed, replaced, fired or quitting their posts in little over a year — piling further pressure on him.

Castillo has railed against the opposition for trying to remove him from the first day he was in office. He has accused Benavides of orchestrating what he called a new form of “coup d’état” against him through her office’s investigations.

In October, Benavides filed a constitutional complaint against Castillo based on three of the six investigations her office had opened. The complaint allows Congress to carry out its own investigation against the former President.

A cascade of investigations

Castillo has faced a cascade of investigations on whether he used his position to benefit himself, his family and closest allies by peddling influence to gain favor or preferential treatment, among other claims.

Castillo has repeatedly denied all allegations and reiterated his willingness to cooperate with any investigation. He argues the allegations are a result of a witch-hunt against him and his family from groups that failed to accept his election victory.

The former President faces five preliminary criminal investigations on allegations of masterminding corruption schemes while in office. These include prosecutors’ allegation that he led a “criminal network” that interfered with public institutions such as the Ministry of Transport and Communications, Ministry of Housing and Peru’s state-run oil company to control public bidding processes and benefit specific companies and close allies.

Prosecutors are also investigating whether the former President led efforts to peddle influence in the process of promoting officers in both the armed forces and national police.

These investigations also look into Castillo’s family, including his wife and sister-in-law. Former first lady Lilia Paredes is being investigated on suspicion of allegedly coordinating the criminal network. Her attorney, Benji Espinoza, has stressed her innocence and argues the investigation against the former first lady includes “a number of flaws and omissions.”

Her sister-in-law Yenifer Paredes is under investigation for allegedly being a part of a criminal organization, money laundering and aggravated collusion. She was in custody until a judge revoked her “preventive detention” for 30 months. She too has denied any wrongdoing.

“My daughter, my wife, my entire family have been attacked with the only purpose of destroying me because they don’t want me to finish my term, I promise you I will finish my term, I’m not corrupted,” Castillo said during a televised speech from the Presidential Palace on October 20.

In the same speech, Castillo admitted some of his closest allies should face justice over allegations of corruption, saying, “If they betrayed my trust, let justice take care of them.”

President Boluarte’s image has also been tarnished by her own constitutional investigation by Congress, which was dismissed on December 5.

Her ascendency may not necessarily ease Peru’s toxic and embittered political landscape as she would need to gain cross party support to be able to govern.

Meanwhile, many Peruvians have been calling for a total reset. In September 2022, 60% of Peruvians said they supported early elections to refresh both the presidency and Congress, according to a poll by the Institute of Peruvian Studies (IEP).