Lima (AFP): Almost as soon as he took office a year ago on Thursday, leftist rural schoolteacher Pedro Castillo found himself under fire.
Having unexpectedly taken power from the traditional political elite in a neck-and-neck election, the former trade unionist has since been fending off non-stop attacks from the political right, which disputes his legitimacy.
In the first 12 months of a five-year term, 52-year-old Castillo has survived two impeachment attempts by a hostile Congress for “permanent moral incompetence,” with talk of a third in the works.
At the same time, he has been in the visor of the Attorney General’s office, which has opened five investigations against him — an unprecedented state of affairs for a country where several presidents have been charged with crimes — though only after leaving office.
Castillo and his lawyers deny the charges and claim it is all part of a plot to unseat him.
And while rights bodies have expressed concern about the “discretionary” use of impeachment proceedings to topple leaders in Peru, analysts say the prosecution system, at least, is independent.
“I think… it’s very hard to claim that this is just a political campaign against him,” analyst Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank told AFP of Castillo’s predicament.
“This isn’t ideological… There have been such a lot of testimony and accusations that appear to be well-founded.” With rock-bottom approval ratings and a head-spinning staff turnover — seven interior ministers in 12 months — political instability has once again reached fever pitch in Peru. The country is no stranger to instability: it had three different presidents in five days in 2020, and five presidents and three legislatures since 2016.
Castillo came out of seemingly nowhere two win 50.12 percent of votes in a June 2021 runoff election against rightwing Keiko Fujimori, the corruption-charged daughter of graft-convicted ex-president Alberto Fujimori.
His opponents painted Castillo as a dangerous “communist” who would turn Peru into a new Venezuela, and cried foul despite his victory being certified by the Organization of American States and the European Union.
Castillo sought to portray himself as a humble servant of the people, promising to upend a quarter-century of neo-liberal government and bring an end to corruption.
Yet, “three months (into his term) it was clear that he was an inept president with a very big vocation for corruption,” Peruvian economist and commentator Augusto Alvarez Rodrich told AFP.
Yet two impeachment attempts so far have failed as several lawmakers, even opponents, rely on Castillo “because it sustains this corrupt activity” that they also benefit from, according to Shifter.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in March expressed “concern about the repeated, discretionary use” of the impeachment procedure it said had “contributed to Peru’s governance problems.”
And Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador warned in December that conservatives in Peru have launched “a kind of preparation for an overthrow.”
“Without question there’s a hardline sector of the right that has been after Castillo from the beginning,” added Shifter.
“But it’s very hard to ignore at the same time that there’s an unprecedented number of investigations by the Attorney General.”
Four investigations involve alleged crimes committed since Castillo took office — the fifth is alleged plagiarism of his university thesis.
One charge is for alleged influence peddling in the purchase of fuel by state company Petroperu in 2021; another for alleged obstruction of justice in the dismissal of Interior Minister Mariano Gonzalez. Gonzalez was fired after authorizing a special unit to arrest allies of Castillo.
The remaining charges concern alleged influence peddling in military promotions, and alleged corruption in a public works project.
On Tuesday, Castillo’s former secretary Bruno Pacheco, wanted on corruption charges, handed himself over to the authorities in another blow to the president’s image. The prosecution considers there is evidence that Castillo is heading a “criminal organization” benefiting his family and colleagues. Castillo has repeatedly protested his innocence, writing on Twitter last month that: “I have nothing to do with… corruption. I am an honest man and will always defend my innocence and honor.”
Like all Peruvian presidents, Castillo enjoys immunity from prosecution while in office. Six of the last seven were investigated or prosecuted after their terms were over.
For Peruvian citizen Ingrid Chung, 30, Castillo was just “someone else who has come to deceive us.”
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