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Peru’s Castillo marks a year in power in Congressional crosshairs, prosecutors

#Perus #Castillo #marks #year #power #Congressional #crosshairs #prosecutors

Almost immediately after taking office on Thursday a year ago, left-wing country school teacher Pedro Castillo came under fire.

After unexpectedly seizing power from the traditional political elite in a head-to-head election, the former trade unionist has since resisted constant attacks from the political right, who deny his legitimacy.

In the first 12 months of a five-year term, Castillo, 52, has survived two impeachment attempts by a hostile Congress for “permanent moral incompetence,” with a third in the works.

At the same time, he was the target of the Attorney General’s Office, who opened five investigations into him – an unprecedented situation for a country where several presidents have been charged with crimes – but only after he left office.

Castillo and his attorneys deny the allegations, claiming it was all part of a conspiracy to depose him.

And while human rights bodies have expressed concern over the “arbitrary” use of impeachment to overthrow leaders in Peru, analysts say at least the law enforcement system is independent.

“I think … it’s very hard to argue that this is just a political campaign against him,” analyst Michael Shifter of think tank Inter-American Dialogue told AFP of Castillo’s predicament.

“It’s not ideological… There was so much testimony and allegations that seem well founded.”

With approval ratings at record lows and staff turnover staggering – seven interior ministers in 12 months – political instability in Peru has once again reached boiling point.

The country is no stranger to instability, having had three different presidents in five days in 2020 and five presidents and three legislatures since 2016.

– ‘incapable’ –

Castillo seemingly came out of nowhere, two winning 50.12 percent of the vote in a June 2021 runoff election against right-wing Keiko Fujimori, the corruption-charged daughter of ex-President Alberto Fujimori, who was convicted of bribery.

His opponents painted Castillo as a dangerous “communist” who would turn Peru into a new Venezuela and yelled foul, even though his victory was certified by the Organization of American States and the European Union.

Castillo attempted to portray himself as a humble servant of the people and vowed to reverse a quarter-century of neoliberal rule and end corruption.

But “after three months[of his tenure]it was clear that he was an incompetent president with a very big appeal for corruption,” Peruvian economist and commentator Augusto Alvarez Rodrich told AFP.

So far, however, two impeachment attempts have failed as multiple lawmakers, even opponents, rely on Castillo “because it keeps up these corrupt activities” that Shifter says also benefit them.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in March expressed “concern at the repeated, arbitrary use” of the impeachment process, which it said had “contributed to Peru’s governance problems”.

And Mexico’s President Andres Manuel López Obrador warned in December that the conservatives in Peru had started “a kind of preparation for a coup.”

“Without question, there’s a hard right sector that’s been after Castillo from the start,” Shifter added.

“But at the same time it’s very difficult to ignore the fact that there is an unprecedented number of investigations by the Attorney General.”

– “Criminal organization” –

Four investigations concern alleged crimes since Castillo took office, the fifth an alleged plagiarism of his university work.

One charge relates to alleged interference in the purchase of fuel by state-owned company Petroperu in 2021; another for alleged obstruction of justice in the sacking of Interior Minister Mariano González.

Gonzalez was fired after authorizing a special unit to arrest Castillo allies.

The remaining charges relate to alleged interference in military promotions and alleged corruption in a public works project.

On Tuesday, Castillo’s former secretary, Bruno Pacheco, who was wanted for corruption, turned himself in to authorities, in another blow to the president’s image.

Prosecutors believe there is evidence Castillo runs a “criminal organization” that benefits his family and colleagues.

Castillo has repeatedly maintained his innocence, writing on Twitter last month: “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 of imprisonment had expired.

For Peruvian Ingrid Chung, 30, Castillo was just “someone else who came to deceive us”.

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