Peru’s ousted president Castillo questions detention

Protesters calling for the dissolution of Congress and democratic elections reject Dina Boluarte as Peruvian president following the ouster of former leader Pedro Castillo during a demonstration in Arequipa, Peru, on December 13 .Stringer/Reuters

Amid violent nationwide protests over Peru’s political crisis, ousted President Pedro Castillo told Peruvians on Tuesday that he was “unjustly and arbitrarily detained” and thanked his supporters since his arrest last week. “Effort and struggle” since detention.

Castillo was speaking at a hearing to determine whether he would remain in prison for three years while authorities filed a rebellion charge against him. Castillo was taken into custody Wednesday after lawmakers ousted him for trying to dissolve Congress ahead of an impeachment vote.

“I will never give up or give up on this popular cause that brought me here,” Castillo said. Then, apparently in response to violent protests against his ouster, he urged the national police and armed forces to “lay down their arms and stop killing people who yearn for justice”.

The judge interrupted him, telling Castillo to limit his remarks to legal arguments. He said he would make a ruling on Castillo’s detention later Tuesday.

Protests were particularly intense outside the Peruvian capital Lima. The Peruvian Ombudsman’s office reported on Monday that seven people had died since demonstrations that began on Wednesday, including five on Monday. All seven events took place in poor rural communities – the stronghold of Castillo, a political novice and former schoolteacher from a farmer.

Four of the seven deaths occurred in Andahuaylas, a remote Andean rural community where the poor have struggled for years and where Castillo won overwhelmingly by 44,000 votes in last year’s runoff support. Many businesses there remained closed Tuesday and streets were clogged with burning tires, rocks and tree branches.

Shoe store owner Vilma Zuniga put up a sign that read “Congress is the worst virus. Hang out with Dina Boluarte,” referring to Castillo’s successor. She and other businesses decided to close their doors, losing potential sales ahead of the holidays.

Attorney Ronaldo Atensio, who spoke on behalf of Castillo’s legal team, argued that he did not raise arms or organize anyone capable of overthrowing the current government because Peruvian law requires someone to be charged with rebellion. He also said Castillo was not a flight risk and had never sought asylum from Mexico, as confirmed by the Mexican ambassador.

  • Supporters of former Peruvian President Pedro Castillo clash with police in Lima, Peru, after he was removed from office on December 7, 2022.Christopher Kasarov/The Globe and Mail

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Castillo’s running mate and Vice President Boluarte was swiftly sworn in on Wednesday after Congress fired Castillo citing “permanent moral incapacity.”

On Monday, she partly agreed with protesters’ demands, announcing in a nationally televised address that she would send Congress a proposal to bring the election up to April 2024. She has previously asserted that her goal is to continue as president for the remaining 3 1/2 years of her predecessor’s term.

On the streets of Lima, police hurled tear gas at protesters and repeatedly beat them. Outside the capital, demonstrators torched a police station, took over an airstrip used by the armed forces and trespassed the runway of an international airport popular with tourists and hikers.

The national police reported that 130 officers had been injured in clashes with demonstrators, according to state media.

Boluarte implored protesters to calm down on Tuesday, explaining that she was not running for the presidency.

“I want to call my brothers and sisters in Andaveras, please calm down, calm down,” she said. “I don’t understand why my brothers … stood up against their fellow countryman Dina Boluarte when I did nothing for this to exist or happen.”

She was speaking outside a hospital where a girl was being treated for an eye injury caused by a projectile fired during the protest. Boluarte said she had instructed the national police not to use any deadly weapons, “not even rubber bullets,” and authorities were working to determine who used them to prosecute them.

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