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Understanding Peru's political turmoil


Thousands of miles away from Germany, another threat to democracy unfolded last week. Pedro Castillo, the now former president of Peru, tried to dissolve Congress and seize power, but the coup attempt did not succeed. Instead, he was impeached and arrested Wednesday. Castillo was replaced by his vice president, Dina Boluarte, who is Peru's sixth president in six years and the first woman in the role. To learn more about all this, we called Andrea Moncada, a Peruvian political analyst and journalist based in Oxford, England. And she's with us now. Welcome, Andrea Moncada. Thanks so much for joining us.

ANDREA MONCADA: Hi. Thank you very much for having me.

MARTIN: Could you just walk us through a little bit of the background here? What happened that led to this kind of dramatic moment last week?

MONCADA: Yes. So Wednesday was the very dramatic culmination of about 18 months of political chaos and confrontation between then-President Pedro Castillo and Congress. So this was the third attempt to impeach him in 18 months. And he apparently tried to avoid that impeachment by deciding to illegally dissolve Congress. Now, that move was unconstitutional, and so it convinced parliamentarians who were perhaps on the fence about removing him from office to do so.

MARTIN: You know, it sounds like President Castillo tried to do the same thing that President Alberto Fujimori did back in 1992 - you know, dissolve Congress to rule by decree, consolidate power. But it didn't work this time. Why not?

MONCADA: The main reason is that Castillo did not have the support of the army, which Fujimori did have back in 1992. But another reason I think is important is that Castillo had no support besides his very, very closest advisers in order to pull this off. He did not have, for example, the judiciary behind him. He had no allies in Congress. He was, in comparison with Fujimori, a very weak sort of wannabe dictator.

MARTIN: So the vice president was sworn in. Tell us a little bit more, if you would, about Dina Boluarte. And do Peruvians think she can stabilize the country's political leadership?

MONCADA: So Dina Boluarte was a very unknown figure up until when she was elected as vice president in 2021. She previously worked as a public servant, a relatively minor public servant. And when she was elected as vice president, she was in charge of the ministry of development. Now, as to whether she can stabilize the country, I think that she has the exact same challenges and problems that Castillo faced when he was elected president. And so my answer would be no. And I also think that Peruvians in general don't have a lot of faith in this president, precisely because while she may be less tainted by all the corruption allegations surrounding Castillo, she is inexperienced politician in a country that is extremely complex.

MARTIN: Why has Peru been through so many leadership changes in the past couple years? How do you understand that?

MONCADA: I believe that we can pinpoint this current cycle of political instability to 2016. So that was the year in which Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a right-wing politician, was elected to the presidency. But he faced a very, very overwhelming majority - opposition majority in Congress. So the largest party at the time was Fuerza Popular, which was Keiko Fujimori's party - is Keiko Fujimori's party - and she is the daughter of the former dictator Alberto Fujimori.

And so from the get-go, they were very determined to remove him from office under the belief that he had, in some ways, stolen the election from them because he won by a very small margin. And so they tried to impeach him twice and finally were able to force his resignation under corruption allegations. Congress was also very much opposed to him, and they all also decided to impeach him as well. So I think for parliamentarians in Peru to remove a sitting president who they don't like is not a difficult affair under this impeachment mechanism.

MARTIN: I also am curious about what it means regionally. I mean, Castillo was considered a leftist. I mean, he - a former teacher who's a former strike leader - and the political left is having, I would say, something of a resurgence in Latin America right now. I'm thinking about Lula's recent victory in Brazil. In Colombia, you have Gustavo Petro. Is there anything that speaks to kind of a regional moment or a moment in the regional politics, or do you think the issue here is really more specific to Peru?

MONCADA: I mean, there was definitely a sense of expectation when he assumed office precisely because he is a - was a very leftist sort of president. And that was unusual for Peru's politics. And Peru was already pretty disillusioned with the right, which had not really managed to bring a lot of prosperity to the country after about 15 years of rule. But again, the leftist wave in Latin America is not a monolith. Every president who is on the left right now is pretty different and rather unique to their own country, really. And that's the same with Peru. And the fact is that despite all that, he was - I believe is - a very corrupt president and was not precisely interested in governing and in policymaking.

MARTIN: If you don't mind my asking, how are your friends and, you know, colleagues, family members back home in Peru taking all this in? Or have people kind of come to accept this as the new normal?

MONCADA: The general feeling that I get and that I've personally felt for the past four or five years that we've been in this spiral is despair and worry and concern about the future of the country. We worry a lot that it's all going to erode to a point where we will effectively have a - an authoritarian government again.

MARTIN: That is Andrea Moncada. She's a global risk analyst and an authority on Peruvian politics. Andrea Moncada, thanks so much for joining us and sharing these insights with us.

MONCADA: Thank you.

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