Castillo's Impeachment Signals Latin America's Switch to Constitutional Tools Over Coups
© AP Photo / Peru's Police Administration OfficeIn this photo provided by Peru's police administration office, former President Pedro Castillo, second from left, and former Prime Minister Anibal Torres, far left, sit as prosecutor Marco Huaman stands at center inside a police station, where Castillo and Torres' status was not immediately clear, in Lima, Peru, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022. Peru’s Congress removed Castillo from office Wednesday and replaced him with the vice president, shortly after the president decreed the dissolution of the legislature ahead of a scheduled vote to oust him.
© AP Photo / Peru's Police Administration Office
MOSCOW(Sputnik) - The ousting of Pedro Castillo as Peru's president through an impeachment procedure shows that Latin American countries have begun switching to constitutional tools to settle political disputes while abandoning coups, experts told Sputnik.
Castillo was impeached by the Peruvian parliament on December 7 with Dina Boluarte, the prime minister at the time, being sworn in as the country's new president on the same day. Castillo, who tried to dissolve the parliament before the vote, was arrested and the Peruvian prosecutor's office launched a criminal case against him on charges of a coup attempt and crimes against the state.
Castillo's impeachment reportedly prompted people to take to the streets in the country's capital, Lima, as well as in Apurimac, Cajamarca, Arequipa, Lambayeque, and Ica, to protest Boluarte's appointment and her government's continued work, and to demand an immediate presidential election.
Boluarte, in turn, promised to serve out the rest of Castillo's term until July 2026, and declared a state of emergency in regions with a "high level of social conflict."
Peru is certainly no stranger to an elected president dissolving the parliament and assuming extraordinary powers. In April of 1992, only 30 years ago, then-President Alberto Fujimori did exactly that. The event became known as Fujimorazo. What followed was a rule that lasted until 2000 and is described by many as a dictatorship.
This wasn't the first such period in the country's history, as it was ruled by several military dictatorships throughout the 20th century. Many other countries in the region followed a similar pattern, shifting between periods of democracy and authoritarian rule.
© AP Photo / Marcelo SalinasPeruvian President Alberto Fujimori and first lady Susana Higuchi attend an Independence Day celebration, in their last public appearance together, in Lima, Peru, July 28, 1994. Higuchi died on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021 at the age of 73, confirmed her daughter Keiko Fujimori.
Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori and first lady Susana Higuchi attend an Independence Day celebration, in their last public appearance together, in Lima, Peru, July 28, 1994. Higuchi died on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021 at the age of 73, confirmed her daughter Keiko Fujimori.
© AP Photo / Marcelo Salinas
"During the Cold War and until the 1980s, military coups were a common mechanism of replacing unpopular presidents or solving executive-legislative crises. Often, these presidential crises ended up as regime crises, with countries experiencing a democratic breakdown," Ignacio Arana Araya, assistant professor at the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, told Sputnik.
"Since the 1990s, numerous presidential crises have been resolved not by coups, but by impeachment processes or massive protests that induce presidential resignations."
The expert described Castillo's actions as a failed self-coup — a process where a lawfully-elected head of state is trying to take power from other branches of government — which could have potentially caused Peru's democratic backsliding.
"Had he succeeded, Peru was at a high risk of falling into authoritarianism. Luckily, he did not have the support of the military or a large majority of citizens. Castillo is not a victim and his detention is good news," Arana Araya said.
In the same vein, Anibal Perez-Linan, professor of political science and global affairs at the University of Notre Dame, also noted a decline in the number of military coups in the region and across the globe since the 1990s.
"This is good news. There is little tolerance in Latin America today for unconstitutional power grabs. The velocity with which President Castillo's attempt to dissolve the Peruvian Congress failed is an example of that. It is good news that political elites are willing to use only constitutional tools, like impeachment, to fight their battles," Perez-Linan explained.
8 December 2022, 23:41 GMT
At the same time, both experts noted the dangers of lawmakers overusing the impeachment prerogative, citing the excessive use of impeachments in Peru. Nevertheless, even if prone to being weaponized, "constitutional tools are necessary for democratic accountability," Perez-Linan stressed.
Politics or Corruption?
Last week's events in Peru coincided with important developments in another Latin American country, Argentina, where Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who also served as president from 2007 to 2015, was sentenced to six years in prison while also being banned from holding public office for life in a corruption case. Fernandez de Kirchner condemned the verdict as a case of political persecution.
Many have claimed that Fernandez de Kirchner's situation could be considered an instance of a weaponized legal process, with her supporters calling the case "lawfare." However, Perez-Linan told Sputnik that the available information indeed points to Fernandez de Kirchner's administration having been involved in acts of corruption.
Argentina's VP Given 6 Years in Prison, Barred From Holding Public Office in Corruption Case
6 December 2022, 20:58 GMT
"The case of Cristina Fernandez is different. Her supporters accuse lawfare, or the use of the legal system to constrain her rights because she is a powerful politician. But the verdict can also be seen as a reflection of an independent court sanctioning a corrupt politician for committing close to a $1 billion fraud involving public works contracts," Arana Araya said.
"There were several corruption scandals during Fernandez’s administration, and she has faced numerous legal charges for illicitness committed while in office."