By Maria Fe Celi Reyna – Jul 12, 2023
Coups d’état are are not what they used to be. Gone are the dramatic scenes of tanks storming the presidential palace to seize power. In the past decade, we have witnessed coups d’état carried out through the abuse of law, a notable example of which was the case of Dilma Rousseff. For this reason, those in power must exercise increased caution.
Coups d’état are now more subtle. They involve the coordination of various sectors, with the press playing a pivotal role, and they employ a gradual approach, systematically pressuring the president until they are left with no choice but to resign. Alternatively, they exploit constitutional loopholes to forcibly remove the head of state, even against the wishes of the people, as was witnessed in Peru. My country’s lonely journey commenced on December 7, 2022, although preparations had been underway long before then.
After the second round [of the presidential elections], a new phase commenced the very next day. It started with an unfounded accusation of a fraud. Over the course of Pedro Castillo’s 13-month governance, the parliament censured 70 ministers, hindering the government’s initiatives, and Pedro Castillo faced two impeachment attempts triggered by the parliament’s exploitation of the “moral incapacity” clause outlined in the Constitution, often applied arbitrarily according to the opposition’s whims. What even is moral incapacity? Whatever the opposition deems it to be.
In order to oust the president, the fabrication of charges became a necessity, and in this endeavor, the media and the Attorney General’s Office played key roles. The mainstream Peruvian press, concentrated in the hands of the right, relentlessly disseminated negative coverage about the president day in and day out (even infiltrating entertainment programs). Many of these reports were later proven to be false and promptly debunked, yet the media showed little interest in rectifying its errors.
Pedro Castillo was portrayed as a fool, treated as an incapable leader who lacked governance skills, but he then was simultaneously painted as a mafia mastermind who, in a short time, had swiftly managed to establish a network of corruption to embezzle public funds. Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s office launched investigations based on these allegations, and the media amplified these actions. As a result, the stage was set for the third attempt to remove him from office.
This time, Pedro Castillo—in a metaphorical sense—”died while trying to kill.” Whether he genuinely believed he had the support of the Armed Forces or made the decision independently without such backing, on December 7, before the impeachment attempt, he did what the country had been clamoring for: dissolving the Congress, calling for new elections, and fulfilling one of his most significant campaign promises: the establishment of a Constituent Assembly. With this decisive act, Castillo emerged as the most steadfast president of Peru, at least within this century.
Castillo’s arrest aroused the ire of millions across the country, although to a lesser extent in Lima, a city historically marked by racism and with its back turned to the rest of Peru. Unfortunately, due to Peru’s longstanding centralization of government, if something doesn’t happen in the capital, it is often overlooked as if it never occurred. So the press seized this opportunity to craft a perfect narrative which was subsequently amplified by international media: Pedro Castillo’s imprisonment was portrayed as an attempted coup d’état, and, except for a handful of supporters who came out to protest, the country supposedly rallied behind the arrest. Dina Boluarte was declared the legitimate president of Peru. End of story.
They had not anticipated that the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and his Colombian counterpart, Gustavo Petro, would promptly and in tandem denounce the events that unfolded in Peru. While they were not the only presidents to do so, together with Bolivian leader Evo Morales, they were the ones who criticized in the harshest terms what had happened, effectively dismantling the narrative broadcasted abroad by the powers that be.
In the following months, numerous diplomatic tensions unfolded. The greater the abuses against the Peruvian population, the stronger the condemnations from Latin American leaders, culminating with the Peruvian de facto government summoning the ambassadors of those countries to express its discontent.
Tensions with Mexico reached a new level when the government of Mexico granted asylum to President Castillo’s wife and minor children. Peru proceeded to declare the Mexican ambassador persona non grata, prompting him to return to Mexico along with the president’s family. Each declaration made by López Obrador triggered a corresponding diplomatic reaction from Lima.
Subsequently, the de facto government of Peru withdrew the Peruvian ambassador to Mexico. Finally, the Peruvian parliament—whose approval ratings had plummeted to the single digits—declared the Mexican president persona non grata, to which López Obrador responded that it was “a badge of honor” to be declared so by the racist and classist Peruvian political elite.
The Pacific Alliance and the Peruvian crisis
Amidst the crisis in the bilateral relationship between Peru and Mexico, an unresolved matter emerged regarding the pro tempore presidency of the Pacific Alliance, comprised of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. This position rotates annually following an alphabetical order, and it happened to be Peru’s turn at this time.
As is customary with illegal and/or illegitimate governments, their primary objective is to secure international recognition. This is particularly crucial for the de facto government of Peru due to its reliance on the international market. Ending up isolated could prove fatal for the already battered economy of the country, making the rotational presidency a vital means of obtaining international support.
The crisis surrounding the Pacific Alliance presidency arose during Castillo’s presidency. The Peruvian parliament denied him authorization to leave the country, causing Mexican President López Obrador to postpone the handover meeting until Castillo could travel to Mexico. However, Castillo was impeached and subsequently imprisoned before this could occur.
Months later, with Boluarte assuming power, Peru sought to reclaim the presidency. López Obrador responded by stating that he could not grant it to Lima as his administration did not recognize the government. However, he expressed willingness to pass it on to either Colombia or Chile, allowing them to make the final decision.
Due to the tense relations between Peru and Bogota, where Boluarte had also withdrawn the Peruvian ambassador, Chile remained the only option. And Gabriel Boric did not disappoint.
The Chilean president, always so loquacious when it came to matters concerning Cuba or Venezuela, remained curiously silent regarding Peru. His previous speech at the CELAC summit criticizing Boluarte for the murders during the protests and the storming of tanks into the Mayor de San Marcos University, had created expectations that he would also adopt a critical stance. However, disappointingly, he continued to maintain silent on the matter.
Finally, in an attempt to resolve the diplomatic “impasse” within the Pacific Alliance, the Chilean government offered to receive the pro tempore presidency from Mexico and subsequently hand it over to Peru. This conveniently occurred (note the sarcasm) during a time of heightened migrant crisis, with people seeking to leave Chile, although the Boluarte government had closed the border.
The transfer of the pro tempore presidency to Peru has been hailed as a great national triumph and a defeat for the “meddling” López Obrador. It will likely only make Peru’s lonely journey a little longer.
To understand the situation, some historical context and knowledge about the composition of the Pacific Alliance is necessary. It was established in 2011 through the efforts of Alan García, a fervent right-wing fanatic at the time and serving as president of Peru. The alliance was formed in a bid to stop the advance of ALBA and CELAC, driven by a political objective masked under the guise of an economic and technocratic discourse. It was essentially conceived as a means to impede the crucial process of regional integration in Latin America, which was being promoted by leftist leaders during that period.
Today, the Alliance boasts remarkable numbers. According to its official website, as of 2019, the bloc contributed to 41% of the GDP and 38% of foreign direct investment in Latin America and the Caribbean. The collective population of the four member countries amounts to 230 million, with an average per capita GDP of $19,050. However, it is crucial to note that these impressive numbers are only achievable due to the inclusion of Mexico. Without Mexico’s participation, the alliance would become totally irrelevant.
If Boluarte’s de facto government persists, it will be interesting to observe the rhetorical acrobatics she will engage in to justify the absence of the president of the most important economy of the Alliance, claiming he is unwelcome in Peru, and also her willingness to invite the Colombian president after having withdrawn the Peruvian ambassador in that country. It could end up being a bilateral meeting between only Boric and Boluarte.
It appears that Boric’s actions regarding the Pacific Alliance have alleviated López Obrador’s concerns. Mexico has more pressing issues to address than engaging in conflicts with its alliance partners. In addition, with an election year coming, López Obrador will be more involved in domestic politics. In Colombia, where the right-wing is attempting to replicate the coup narrative used against Castillo, Petro will be focused on avoiding coup attempts or impeachment. Meanwhile, in Chile, the Chilean people will be heading to the polls to choose between Pinochet’s constitution and an alternative drafted by the extreme right. Given these circumstances, the Pacific Alliance will not be a priority for anyone involved.
Peru will assume the pro tempore presidency but little else. It has managed to isolate itself from Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, Argentina, and Honduras, reacting in an excessively defensive manner to criticism and complaints of human rights violations committed by Peruvian police and military forces, which are well-documented.
While Brazil has recognized Boluarte’s government, it remains aloof, and Chile does not seem particularly proactive in its relationship with Peru. The de facto president of Peru eceives support solely from the United States. I have to say that Peru has never been so isolated.
For now, Boluarte finds herself in a state of near-isolation. However, as time passes, sooner or later, she will have to confront the realities within Peru. The country is set to host the APEC meeting next year, and Asian nations operate under a different set of dynamics. The longer the depoliticized and divided Peruvian society delays in bringing an end to this government, the more likely other nations will reluctantly recognize it, regardless of their discomfort.
Maria Fe Celi Reyna is a Peruvian political analyst residing in China. She specializes in topics associated with China, Latin America, and the multipolar world. She can be reached on Twitter @mfceli.
Translation: Orinoco Tribune