Peru’s President Pedro Castillo announced on Wednesday that he will dissolve Congress temporarily and install an emergency government – hours before lawmakers were due to make an impeachment vote in congress.
In a televised speech from the Presidential Palace on Wednesday, Castillo said he will call for early parliamentary elections to work on a new constitution.
The embattled president, who has survived two impeachment attempts, also declared a national curfew from Wednesday from 10 p.m. local (5 p.m. ET) to 4 a.m. local.
Congress appeared defiant however, beginning its session on Wednesday with lawmakers singing the national anthem.
Francisco Morales, the president of Peru’s Constitutional Court, called Castillo’s action “coup d’etat” in a televised press conference, and urged Vice President Dina Boluarte to assume the presidency.
Boluarte too criticized the move. “I reject Pedro Castillo’s decision to perpetrate the breakdown of the constitutional order with the closure of Congress,” Boluarte wrote on Twitter. “It is a coup that aggravates the political and institutional crisis that Peruvian society will have to overcome with strict adherence to the law.”
A least seven cabinet ministers have announced their resignations following Castillo’s announcement, including Minister of Environment Wilbert Rozas, Finance Minister Kurt Burneo, Foreign Relations Minister Cesar Landa, and Justice Minister Felix Chero.
The government of the leftist leader has been mired in chaos since inauguration, with dozens of ministers appointed, replaced, sacked or resigned in little over a year – piling further pressure on the beleagured president.
Castillo, a former schoolteacher and union leader, has railed against the opposition for trying to remove him from the first day he was in office and accused Peru’s Attorney General, Patricia Benavides, of orchestrating what he called a new form of “coup d’état” against him.
In October, Benavides filed a constitutional complaint against him based on three of the six investigations her office had opened. The complaint allows congress to carry out its own investigation against the president.
A motion submitted by the opposition last week asked to impeach the president for being “morally unfit” according to Peru’s Constitution Art 113.
Elected in July 2021 by a narrow margin in a runoff, Castillo has faced a cascade of investigations on whether he used his position to benefit himself, his family and closest allies by peddling influence to gain favor or preferential treatment, among other claims.
Castillo has repeatedly denied all allegations and reiterated his willingness to cooperate with any investigation. He argues the allegations are a result of a witch-hunt against him and his family from groups that failed to accept his election victory.
The President faces five preliminary criminal investigations on allegations of masterminding corruption schemes while in office. These include prosecutors’ allegation that he led a “criminal network” that interfered with public institutions such as the Ministry of Transport and Communications, Ministry of Housing and Peru’s state-run oil company to control public bidding processes and benefit specific companies and close allies.
Prosecutors are also investigating whether the president led efforts to peddle influence in the process of promoting officers in both the armed forces and national police.
Widening beyond the President himself, these investigations also look into Castillo’s family, including his wife and sister-in-law. First lady Lilia Paredes is being investigated on suspicion of allegedly coordinating the criminal network. Her attorney, Benji Espinoza, has stressed her innocence and argues the investigation against the first lady includes “a number of flaws and omissions.”
And her sister-in-law Yenifer Paredes is under investigation for allegedly being a part of a criminal organization, money laundering and aggravated collusion. She was in custody until a judge revoked her “preventive detention” for 30 months. She too has denied any wrongdoing.
“My daughter, my wife, my entire family have been attacked with the only purpose of destroying me because they don’t want me to finish my term, I promise you I will finish my term, I’m not corrupted,” he said during a televised speech from the Presidential Palace on October 20.
In the same speech, Castillo admitted some of his closest allies should face justice over allegations of corruption, saying, “If they betrayed my trust, let justice take care of them.”
This is a breaking news story and will be updated.