LIMA, Peru — Peru’s bishops called for national unity and urged citizens to stand up for democracy and the rule of law as the president closed Congress and was subsequently impeached and arrested.
In a statement Dec. 7, the bishops’ conference said it “emphatically and absolutely rejects the rupture in the constitutional order. The defense of democracy is the right and moral duty of peoples and citizens.”
The bishops also called for state institutions to “protect and safeguard democracy” and to guarantee, preserve and reestablish “public and constitutional order.”
The brief statement came amid a rapidly unfolding political crisis that began with President Pedro Castillo announcing that he was closing the national Congress, instituting a “government of exception” that would rule by decree, and calling elections for a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution.
His announcement came just hours before Congress was scheduled to vote on whether to impeach him. Two previous impeachment votes had failed to garner the necessary two-thirds majority, or 87 votes.
After his announcement, Cabinet ministers resigned and members of the judiciary spoke out against the move, as did the governmental Ombudsman’s Office and various civil society organizations. The armed forces and national police eventually broke their silence with a statement saying they would defend the constitutional order and calling for calm.
Meanwhile, Congress went ahead with the impeachment vote, with a tally of 101 in favor — including some from Castillo’s own party — six opposed and 10 abstentions. Castillo was arrested after he and his family fled the presidential palace.
Vice President Dina Boluarte was sworn in as president, becoming Peru’s first female head of state and the country’s sixth president since 2018, including three in one week in December 2020. All the country’s living former presidents have been charged with or are under investigation for corruption.
Castillo’s move was reminiscent of the institutional coup staged by former President Alberto Fujimori in April 1992, when he dissolved Congress and convened a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. At the time, Peru was convulsed with political violence and his action, which was backed by the armed forces, had wide public support.
But Castillo, a farmer and teacher from Peru’s northern Cajamarca region who had no government experience before taking office in July 2021, had seen his approval rating drop from 40% in September 2021 to 25% in October of this year, and he lacked military support for his attempted institutional coup.
Prosecutors have accused Castillo of heading a criminal organization that profited from government contracts, and his administration has been unstable, with five Cabinet chiefs in barely 18 months and a constant turnover of ministers and vice ministers. Castillo, in turn, has accused critics of being prejudiced against him because of his background.
After taking the oath of office, Boluarte called for unity and dialogue among the country’s political groups and pledged to fight corruption, champion “the excluded” and push ahead with proposed political reforms that have languished in Congress.
Hours earlier, in their statement, the bishops urged a similar approach.
“In this difficult moment for the country, we call for national unity, to maintain calm and put (to) an end any form of violence or undermining of citizens’ fundamental rights,” they wrote.