Conflicts & War

Peru’s Castillo facing perfect storm

By Paula Bayarte and Gonzalo D. Loeda

Lima, Apr 6 (EFE).- Nine days after defeating a bid by opposition lawmakers to oust him, Peruvian President Pedro Castillo was confronted Wednesday by intensifying calls for his resignation amid conflict with Congress, a truckers’ strike, and his opponents’ growing dominance on the streets of this capital and other cities.

The opposition-controlled legislature has been hostile to the leftist former schoolteacher from the moment he took office last summer, but now some of Castillo’s allies are beginning to question his judgment.

Launched on March 28 as a protest over surging fuel prices, the truckers’ strike led to confrontations and disturbances in parts of Peru, but the capital region remained largely untouched and many drivers appeared to be mollified by the government’s decision last Sunday to suspend fuel taxes at the pump for three months.

But minutes before midnight Monday, Castillo imposed a 24-hour curfew on Lima and neighboring Callao, provinces that are home to around 10 million of Peru’s 33.6 million inhabitants.

The president justified the measure by saying that unspecified groups were planning violence to block the movement of trucks into Lima and Callao.

The curfew took Lima residents by surprise and spurred denunciations from across the political spectrum. Castillo scrapped the restrictions Tuesday afternoon, seven hours earlier than originally scheduled.

By that point, however, thousands of protesters had poured into the center of Lima and what began as a peaceful demonstration gave way to a pitched battle between police and militants on the street in front of Congress.

Shops were looted, fires set, and a courthouse came under assault in what Supreme Court Chief Justice Elvia Barrios described as a premeditated attack.

On Wednesday, a demonstrator was killed during clashes with police on the Panamericana Sur highway in the southern region of Ica.

And while Congress is even more unpopular than the beleaguered president, lawmakers show no sign of ending their war of attrition with Castillo.

Though he has managed to escape two attempted impeachments, Castillo remains subject to non-stop harassment from a legislature dominated by the right-wing party of the woman he narrowly defeated in last year’s presidential election, Keiko Fujimori.

The head of state must now find a new health minister after Congress voted last Friday to remove incumbent Hernan Condori, the second person to occupy the post in the Castillo administration.

Until now, Castillo has had enough support in the legislature to prevent the opposition from mustering the super-majority needed to oust a president.

His resort to the curfew may have put that bulwark in jeopardy.

One of Castillo’s own former prime ministers, Mirtha Vazquez, denounced the curfew as an “arbitrary measure” and Veronika Mendoza, the most important figure on the left after the president, accused the administration of taking the same approach to conflict resolution as previous right-wing governments.

The Sutep teachers union, where Castillo rose to prominence as the leader of a strike in 2017, has called for a protest Thursday in Lima against the president. EFE pbc-gdl/dr

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