Peru’s President Pedro Castillo Faces Impeachment Attempt

SAN LUIS DE PUÑA, Peru — At a cattle market high in the Andes Mountains in northern Peru, Estaurofila Cieza recalls the joy that flared in the region when a campesino, or poor farmer, was elected president last year.

“Everybody celebrated. Every last one of us,” Ms. Cieza said. “We thought, ‘finally someone who knows what tillage is.’”

Last year, Pedro Castillo became Peru’s first left-wing president in more than a generation after campaigning on a promise to tackle the poverty long afflicted by rural Peru and poverty. This is getting worse during the pandemic.

But today, he is engulfed in crisis with growing questions about whether his presidency will survive. The leader’s failures come as Peru is suffering from economic difficulties that have hit Mr. Castillo’s rural base hard.

In less than a year and a half in office, Mr. Castillo has appointed five different cabinets, faced six criminal investigations and on Wednesday, faced a third impeachment attempt in Congress, which Peruvian leaders have threatened to disband.

Prosecutors accused Mr. Castillo of leading a criminal organization to profit from government contracts and repeatedly obstruction of justice, charges the president has denied.

Peru’s fledgling democracy has struggled after years of high-profile corruption scandals that have led to five presidents since 2016. Mr. Castillo’s tenure has only deepened the sense that the country’s political system water was broken.

At the same time, global supply disruptions due to the pandemic and war in Ukraine have pushed the country’s inflation to a multi-decade high, raising the risk of political dysfunction in a country with 1 Four-quarters of the population of 33 million live in poverty.

The United Nations warned last month that Peru has the highest rate of food insecurity in South America, with half of the population not having access to adequate nutrition on a regular basis.

Unlike other leaders who were leftist across Latin America, Mr. Castillo has never been wildly popular with voters.

One of nine siblings in a family of campesinos in an area with no sewage system and far from well-equipped hospitals and schools, Mr. Castillo was a cattle farmer to earn extra money. income for teachers before running for office.

“There are quite a few outsiders in Peru, but no one is too far from the centers of power,” said Mauricio Zavaleta, a Peruvian political analyst.

During his campaign, Castillo raised expectations in rural Peru when he spoke of structural change and promised to replace the country’s constitution, nationalize natural resource extraction and double spending on education.

He took a surprising lead in the first round of 20 candidates with 19% of the vote by appealing to voters who were unhappy with the political establishment. In the final, he narrowly won against Keiko Fujimori, a divisive figure and daughter of an authoritarian former president, Alberto Fujimori, who is serving time in prison for human rights abuses and corruption. .

But today, many of Castillo’s supporters in the countryside are struggling to buy basic goods and services and are disillusioned by his achievements.

Cajamarca, a mostly rural area 350 miles north of Lima where Castillo was born and built his career, has long been one of the poorest areas of the country.

In communities stretching from the regional capital to the small village of San Luis de Puña, Castillo’s hometown, supporters like Cieza say they expect more from him.

“He said he was going to change the country,” she said. “He tricked us.”

Since taking office, Mr. Castillo has ushered in an era of controversies notable for their clumsiness and frequency, while making little progress on many of his campaign promises. .

He has worked through more than 80 ministers and appointed many positions with related inexperienced officials.

His administration failed to buy fertilizer for its biggest crop of the year, after three private company tenders were canceled due to negligence and corruption. His government has also delayed cash payments and subsidies for low-income Peruvians.

Mr. Castillo has survived two impeachments in Congress, where critics say he is morally unfit to be president.

The Peruvian leader denied wrongdoing and condemned what he called a “new form of coup” orchestrated by prosecutors, lawmakers and the media. His administration has taken a first step towards attempting to dissolve Congress in response to lawmakers’ refusal to hold a vote of confidence in his government.

One congressman, Guillermo Bermejo, a close ally of Mr. Castillo, said the president’s opponents will not stop until they hand power to the traditional elites based in the capital, Lima.

“People with strange last names have been making ham for 200 years,” he said in a television interview on Sunday.

However, truckers and farmers in rural areas have staged protests in recent weeks over the high prices of fuel, food and fertilizers.

In Cajamarca, farmers said they planted half as many potatoes this year as before after price of the most widely used synthetic fertilizer nearly tripled after the start of the Ukraine war. The prices of cooking oil, rice and sugar have doubled, leaving the poorest people in Peru unable to pay. High fuel prices make it more expensive to bring products to market.

In a part of Peru, where Castillo’s campaign slogan, “no more poor in a rich country,” once caused cheers, today it causes laughter.

San Luis de Puña, the rural village where Mr. Castillo was born, is a five-hour drive from the regional capital along barely paved roads that wind through the mountains and through verdant valleys, mines and mines. exposed gold and burnt brick houses with no electricity or running water.

Ranchers in the area complained of a sharp drop in cattle prices due to oversupply while families in need of money had to sell their cattle. Mothers cannot buy school supplies for their children.

“Now we have to work more to eat a little less,” said Cesar Irigoin, 67, a farmer in Tacabamba, the county that includes San Luis de Puña. Castillo “promised the opposite,” he added.

However, the president has his defenders.

“They said he was a bad person,” said Maria Nuñez, 77, who lives in San Luis de Puña. “No. He’s a good citizen of the community here.”

She blamed her difficulties on the powerful class. “Unfortunately they don’t let him work as usual,” she added.

Even after 18 months in office, Mr. Castillo has been in power for longer than many expected. Three of his successors were deposed early in their tenure amid a series of corruption scandals.

Mr. Castillo appears to have suffered a similar fate. But analysts say the opposition has repeatedly failed to assert itself as the better alternative, starting with its refusal to recognize last year’s presidential election victory.

For weeks after the vote, Ms. Fujimori sought to annul votes from rural areas in a failed attempt to reverse the results, claiming there was no evidence that there had been electoral fraud.

Since then, Congress has blocked Mr. Castillo from traveling abroad to represent Peru on official business trips, turning a conventional and perfunctory vote allowing a president to travel abroad into a political weapon. Lawmakers tried to prosecute Mr. Castillo for treason for a comment he made in an interview about wanting to give Bolivia part of Peru’s coast, which he was quick to apologize for.

“They really hate him, don’t they? Because he’s from Tacabamba,” said Alicia Delgado, 68, a farmer living in Castillo’s home district, while noting the president’s rural roots in a country where rural Peruvians have faced discrimination for centuries.

Although Castillo’s approval rating has dropped to 19 percent in Lima, in rural areas outside the capital it remains at 45 percent, just four percentage points lower than a year ago, according to a report. polls last month by the Research Institute of Peru.

“The country is divided,” said Segundo Huanombal, 50, farmer and carpenter in San Luis de Puña. “You know why? Because the poor are looked down upon.”

He added that many wealthy people in Lima “look at us with disdain, because we are always walking and getting dirty from the fields”.

But there is a distinct sense of dismay in what was once Mr. Castillo’s stronghold.

One November evening, Heriberto Quintana, a farmer in Chota Province, patrols with other members of the rondas campesinos, or security patrols, which include farmers and act as a sort of police force. local.

Mr. Quintana said that Mr. Castillo, who was on patrol as a young man, used his campesino identity to gain support without actually helping rural people.

He has actually suggested one thing and is doing another, he said. “It hurts more when it’s someone who knows you.”


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