NewsPedro Castillo turns one year at the head of...

Pedro Castillo turns one year at the head of Peru harassed by justice

The president of Peru, the leftist Pedro Castillo, celebrates a year in office this Thursday with a record of five fiscal investigations for alleged corruption and the persistent siege of a Congress dominated by the right that demands his resignation.

The panorama evokes the fate of former presidents Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and Martín Vizcarra, who survived a first impeachment motion, but not a second one in 2018 and 2020 respectively, amid clashes with Congress and allegations of corruption.

This is the panorama facing Castillo a year after taking office.

With Congress against

Castillo, a rural teacher and trade unionist, has survived two impeachment attempts “due to moral incapacity”, promoted by a dissatisfied sector of Congress since the beginning of his mandate.

When he goes to Congress this Thursday for his first annual message on Peru’s national day, he will find a more tense atmosphere.

The recent decision of the nation’s prosecutor, Patricia Benavides, to open a new investigation for “obstruction of justice” by protecting three fugitive members of her entourage has fueled the embers for a third impeachment request.

For now, Castillo has weathered the storm aided by the corruption and fragmentation of the 130-member Congress, which lacks the 87 votes needed to remove him from office.

“Three months later it was evident that he was an inept president with a very strong vocation for corruption,” said analyst and economist Augusto Álvarez Rodrich.

Five investigations against Castillo

The Prosecutor’s Office opened five investigations against Castillo, four for cases that occurred in his government.

The causes contemplate an alleged influence peddling in the purchase of fuel by the state-owned Petroperú in 2021 and the alleged obstruction of justice in the dismissal of an Interior Minister.

Also an alleged influence peddling in a file of military promotions; alleged corruption and aggravated collusion in a public works project, and for plagiarism in his university thesis.

The president vehemently denies all charges.

“I have nothing to do with irregular acts or corruption. I am an honest man and I will always defend my innocence and honor,” he wrote on Twitter on June 17.

The prosecution, which is autonomous and promotes the mega-investigation of the Odebrecht case that affected four other Peruvian presidents, considers that there are indications that Castillo heads “a criminal organization” that involves his political and family environment.

However, he cannot take it to court as he has immunity until the end of his term in 2026.

“The public ministry is independent. There have been so many testimonies and accusations that seem to be well founded. I don’t think these are fabricated,” analyst Michael Shifter, of the Washington DC-based Inter-American Dialogue, told AFP.

“This is not ideological,” he estimated. “The corruption is not limited to the president and Congress is also very involved and members of Congress have benefited. That’s why they don’t want to see him impeached either. They want this to continue. It’s kind of a perverse balance.”

The political scientist Carlos Meléndez, from the Diego Portales University in Chile, believes that Castillo is apparently surrounded by “adventurers and opportunists who punctually agree to set up improper businesses taking advantage of their proximity to power.”

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

Pacheco, who has been on the run for four months, has been in the custody of a special police anti-corruption team since Saturday, when he contacted the prosecution, according to the judicial body.

“I want to announce to all Peruvians that Mr. Bruno Pacheco has surrendered to justice,” Attorney General Patricia Benavides said in a public speech during a ceremony ahead of Peru’s Independence festivities this week.

In November of last year, after an authorized operation, prosecutors found $20,000 in the bathroom of Pacheco’s office, in the Government Palace, as part of an investigation into alleged government interference in the promotion of high-ranking officials in the Armed forces.

The president, in a message on Twitter, welcomed the capture of his former adviser. “For my government it is satisfactory that Mr. Bruno Pacheco has made himself available to justice. That shows the falsehood about the supposed protection of the Executive, we hope that the truth prevails.”

Peruvians divided between approval and rejection

Peruvians are divided on Castillo, who channeled a protest vote in 2021 as a new face, alien to the dominant parties, tainted by corruption.

“Our president is now cornered by the politicians of the right, they do not let him govern and all the people are witnesses that this Congress does not allow him to govern,” Areís Alfaro, 56, told AFP.

On the other hand, Ingrid Chung, 30, sees him as “someone else who has come to deceive us.” “I consider that it should not continue and that it is currently tainted with corruption,” he said.

His disapproval in the polls rose to 74%, four points higher than in June, according to a recent Ipsos poll. Congress also looks bad: 79% disapprove.

Castillo unexpectedly won the elections at the head of a small Marxist-Leninist party with 50.12% of the vote, in a close runoff against right-wing Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000).

The result was questioned by right-wingers who alleged fraud, but was endorsed by the OAS and the European Union.

The votes in mining regions helped Castillo’s election, and now they are looking to take their toll, according to analysts.

Communities see “a newly elected government that gives them a platform of support to protest in a way that (they think) there would be no repercussions,” MMG CEO Troy Hey said in a call with analysts this week.

Despite the social upheaval, Peru’s coffers received a record mining tax in 2021 and another is expected in 2022, according to the Economy Ministry, which projects economic growth of 3.6% this year thanks to mining taxes.

Eduardo Jiménez, from Macroconsult, referred that in the last year the country wasted the development of projects, when the prices of minerals were located at historical prices.

Copper hit record prices in March but has so far lost just over 30% on fears that an economic slowdown in China, the top minerals consumer, and a possible global recession will curb global demand for copper.

“Despite everything, the price of copper has been a kind of containment of this political uncertainty,” Jiménez said. Mining in Peru represents 60% of the country’s exports.

With information from AFP and Reuters

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