Peru declares nationwide state of emergency as crisis deepens

Ex-President Pedro Castillo calls on supporters to go to prison where he is held as prosecutors seek 18-month detention.

Peru has declared a nationwide state of emergency amid a week of protest and political upheaval following the removal and arrest of former President Pedro Castillo.

Peruvian defence minister Alberto Otarola announced the new 30-day measure on Wednesday, which he said involved “the suspension of freedom of movement and assembly” and could include a curfew due to “acts of vandalism and violence”, including roadblocks.

“The National Police with the support of the Armed Forces will ensure the control throughout the national territory of personal property and, above all, strategic infrastructure and the safety and wellbeing of all Peruvians,” the minister said.

The move came as a judge ordered Castillo to remain in prison on charges of “rebellion” and “conspiracy” for another 48 hours in the run-up to a release hearing.

Castillo’s supporters have taken to the streets across the South American nation to demand the left-wing leader’s release, as well as new elections and the removal of his successor, former Vice President Dina Boluarte.

The crisis began last week when Castillo, a former rural teacher and union leader who took office in July of last year, announced plans to disband Peru’s Congress and rule by decree.

The move was widely denounced as unconstitutional and prompted the opposition-led legislature last Wednesday to vote overwhelmingly in favour of removing him in the third impeachment attempt of his embattled presidency.

peru protests
Police arrive at a protest on December 14 in Arequipa, Peru, where supporters of deposed Peruvian President Pedro Castillo demonstrate against his detention [Fredy Salcedo/AP Photo]

Boluarte was sworn in shortly after as Peru’s first female president and Castillo was arrested and transferred to a police prison near the capital, Lima, where he is still being held.

Peruvian prosecutors this week said they are seeking 18 months of preventive detention for Castillo, who has rejected the accusations against him and said he is being “unjustly and arbitrarily detained”.

Peru’s Supreme Court met to consider the prosecution’s request on Wednesday but it later suspended the session until Thursday.

Castillo called on supporters to come on Wednesday afternoon to the police facility where he is being held, arguing he should be released after an initial seven-day period of preliminary detention that expires later in the day.

He also urged the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to intercede on his behalf.

“Enough already! The outrage, humiliation and mistreatment continues. Today they restrict my freedom again with 18 months of pretrial detention,” he wrote in a message posted on Twitter. “I hold judges and prosecutors responsible for what happens in the country.”

The Ombudsman’s Office of Peru on Tuesday decreased the death toll from the demonstrations to six. The protests were particularly prominent in rural parts of the country where Castillo’s political support is strongest.

outside police prison where Pedro Castillo is being held in Peru
Police officers face supporters of former President Pedro Castillo gathering outside the police prison in Lima where he is detained on December 14, 2022 [Sebastian Castaneda/Reuters]

Boluarte, the new president, has sought to quell the unrest by promising the hold early elections instead of finishing out the remaining three-and-a-half years of Castillo’s term – a key demand of the demonstrators over the past week.

On Wednesday, she again said elections could be brought forward, this time to December 2023. “Legally, it works for April 2024, but by making some adjustments we can bring them forward to December 2023,” she told reporters.

Boluarte also reiterated a call for calm in the streets. “We can’t have a dialogue if there’s violence between us,” she said from the presidential palace.

But observers have raised concerns about the deteriorating situation as the protests continued.

The head of Peru’s ombudsman’s office, Eliana Revollar, told the AFP news agency on Tuesday that things could still get worse. “This is a very serious social convulsion,” Revollar said.

“We fear that it will lead to an uprising because there are people calling for an insurrection, who are asking to take up arms.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies