© Reuters. Suporters of ousted Peruvian President Pedro Castillo gather outside Barbadillo police penitentiary where he has been detained after he was removed from office in an impeachment trial, in Lima, Peru December 8, 2022. REUTERS/Sebastian Castaneda
By Marco Aquino
LIMA (Reuters) -Peru’s former President Pedro Castillo faced a first court hearing on Thursday over his arrest on rebellion charges, as his successor issued her first pronouncements from the presidential palace after a day of high drama that shocked the region.
Castillo’s swift fall from power on Wednesday came after congressional lawmakers voted overwhelming to remove the leader following his failed attempt to rule by decree and dissolve Congress to avoid a third impeachment vote.
His abrupt ouster underscores the Andean country’s recent bouts of intense political instability, with five presidents in just the last five years all unable to complete their elected terms.
Castillo, a former teacher and union activist who won a narrow victory in 2021 buoyed by poor rural and indigenous voters, was arrested Wednesday on criminal charges of “rebellion and conspiracy,” according to prosecutors. He simultaneously faced separate corruption allegations.
Some rural residents peacefully protested his arrest, shouting their lingering support for Castillo on Thursday, according to images shown by local broadcaster Canal N, with some chanting in the city of Huancavelica: “New elections are urgent!”
On Wednesday, Reuters video footage showed police firing tear gas at some Castillo supporters as they held demonstrations in Lima.
The preliminary hearing on Thursday sought to evaluate the legality of Castillo’s arrest, as well as touch on an inquiry by the Attorney General’s Office into charges he orchestrated an alleged rebellion. A few hours after it ended, Castillo was ordered to a seven-day preliminary jail sentence as the investigation proceeds.
Castillo lawyer Victor Perez earlier rejected the rebellion charge at the hearing, arguing that such an act implies use of weapons and violence, which he said never occurred and that his client’s detention was “illegal” and “arbitrary.”
The former president attended the hearing via teleconference from a Lima prison and was asked if he wanted to address the court, but declined.
BOLUARTE TAKES OFFICE
Capping the whirlwind sequence of events on Wednesday, Dina Boluarte, Castillo’s vice president, was sworn in as the South American country’s new president, making her the sixth president in five years and the first woman to lead the nation of some 33 million.
The 17-month tenure of the 53-year-old leftist Castillo was marked by unprecedented turnover among his ministers, as well as multiple corruption scandals which he dismissed as politically motivated efforts by right-wing members of the opposition-controlled Congress set on undermining his government.
Castillo is being held in a police prison in the capital Lima where another former president, Alberto Fujimori, is also being held, a judicial source told Reuters early on Thursday.
Boluarte, 60, could begin to name a new cabinet over the next few days to lead the world’s second-biggest producer, with expectations running high that she will opt for a unity government.
Peru has remarkably held the title of Latin America’s fastest growing economy over the past decade despite the political turmoil, but there are now signs that growth is slowing.
In brief comments on Thursday morning to reporters at the presidential palace, Boluarte suggested that calling early elections could be “democratically respectable” but added she wants to hold additional discussions first, without adding details.
Fresh elections could help Boluarte soothe pockets of public anger over democratically-elected Castillo’s removal and present detention.
“Boluarte is not our president! Let the people elect her, then I will recognize her,” said Sonia Castaneda at a street protest in the capital.
In additional comments, the new president expressed hope that the regional Pacific Alliance summit originally scheduled to take place in Lima next week, along with the leaders of Colombia, Chile and Mexico, can still be salvaged.
“Relations with the countries of the region must continue,” she said, noting in particular her hope that Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a leftist who has shown sympathy for Castillo, will show up.
“We are going to wait for him here with open arms.”