The New “Left Tide” Sweeping Latin America Just Hit a Couple of Big Rocks

Peru continues to stumble from crisis to crisis, scandal to scandal, and president to president. In Argentina, one of the towering figures of Latin America’s political left, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, just received a 6-year prison sentence.

Over the past couple of years, as regular readers are well aware, Latin America has seen a new wave of leftist leaders taking office. Following Brazil’s election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, aka Lula, in November, all six of the region’s largest economies (Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru) have — for the first time ever — left-of-center coalitions in power. But it was not going to be all smooth sailing; a push back was inevitable. Lo behold, last week Latin America’s new “leftist tide” hit a couple of big rocks.

First, Peru’s President Pedro Castillo was toppled, imprisoned and replaced by his vice-president Dina Boluarte, all in the space of just a few hours. That was on Wednesday. The day before that, Argentina’s current Peronist Vice President and former two-term President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (aka CFK) was sentenced to six years in prison on corruption charges and barred from holding public office in the future.

Let’s begin with the recent events in Peru.

Close to Ungovernable

Over the past two decades, Peru has stumbled from crisis to crisis, scandal to scandal, president to president. The country has burnt through six presidents in the past two and a half years alone. Of its last 12 presidents (including Pedro Castillo):

  • Two resigned from their post in disgrace (Pedro Kuczynksi and Manuel Merino, whose term in office lasted just five days)
  • Two were impeached (Pedro Castillo and Martín Vizcaro Cornejo)
  • Four were arrested (Alberto Fujimori, Alejandro Toledo, Allanto Humala and now Pedro Castillo). Fujimori, Toledo and Humalla have all served jail time for, among other things, corruption charges relating to the Odebrecht scandal.
  • One committed suicide before having to face justice (Alan Garcia)

Given such a backdrop, the downfall of Castillo, a virtual political unknown before being elected to presidential office in June 2021, hardly came as a shock. It was the culmination of months of corruption allegations, infighting among his left-wing coalition, and multiple attempts by the right-wing opposition to criminalize him.

On Wednesday afternoon, Castillo was impeached by Congress with 101 votes in favor, six against, and ten abstentions. That was after Castillo, with zero support from the military or judiciary, had declared on national television that he was dissolving Congress. It was a preemptive act of total desperation, taken three hours before the start of a congressional session to debate and vote on a motion to dismiss Castillo for “permanent moral incapacity” due to corruption allegations. Castillo also announced the start of an “exceptional emergency government” and the convening of a Constituent Assembly within nine months.

Hours later, Castillo was arrested and taken to jail on a string of charges including sedition. His lawyer is now claiming Castillo was drugged before making the television address. It is the latest chapter in one of the most bizarre and short lived of internal coups, in a country that has witnessed more than its share of coups d’état. Since winning independence from Spain in 1821 Peru has seen no fewer than 18 coups d’état (19 if you include Pedro Castillo’s attempt), 14 of which were successful. Seven/eight of them have occurred since the 1940s.

Oligarchy Making Moves

A virtual political nobody before riding to power on a crest of popular anger at Peru’s hyper-corrupt establishment parties, Castillo was always an outsider in Lima. He had zero control over Congress and failed miserably to overcome rabid right-wing opposition to his government. Even in his first year in office Castillo faced two impeachment attempts. As Manolo De Los Santos writes in People’s Dispatch, the political and business elite could never accept that a former schoolteacher and farmer from the high Andean plains could become president:

The oligarchic rulers of Peru could never accept that a rural schoolteacher and peasant leader could be brought into office by millions of poor, Black, and Indigenous people who saw their hope for a better future in Castillo. However, in the face of these attacks, Castillo became more and more distanced from his political base. Castillo formed four different cabinets to appease the business sectors, each time conceding to right-wing demands to remove leftist ministers who challenged the status quo.

In his last months in office, rather than mobilizing the peasant and Indigenous movements that had swept him into power, Castillo appealed for assistance from the Washington-based Organization of American States, which had played a major role in the removal of Bolivian President Evo Morales in 2019. By the end, an almost totally isolated Castillo was abandoned by his own vice-president as well as much of his own party.

German Connection

The concerted efforts to topple Castillo’s government were allegedly not entirely home grown. In February the weekly newspaper ‘Hildebrandt en sus trece’ reported that several opposition lawmakers, including the president of Congress María del Carmen Alva, had met with representatives of the Friedrich Neumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), a German foundation for (neo)liberal politics, to discuss ways of modifying the constitution to expedite the removal of Castillo from office.

The FNF had supported the scandal-tarnished right-wing populist Keiko Fujimori and her party Popular Force in the 2021 general election. The group financed the travel costs of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López to visit Peru in support of Fujimori. It also sponsored right-wing groups that planned to remove Castillo from office, which they have now finally achieved.

Castillo’s replacement, Dina Boluarte, originally planned to see through the rest of the Castillo government’s term, until 2026. But as tensions in the country have risen, she has brought the elections forward to April 2024. For the moment there is no end in sight for Peru’s political crisis and a heck of a lot can happen between now and then…

Read the full article on Naked Capitalism

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