Pedro Castillo is living his lowest hours since he became president of Peru four months ago. A succession of scandals has left the president on the ropes, now at the mercy of a Congress that is debating a motion to activate the vacancy, the mechanism provided by the Peruvian Constitution to end the mandate for “moral incapacity of the president”.
First there was the discovery of $20,000 in cash in the bathroom of the office of Bruno Pacheco, Castillo’s personal secretary in the presidential palace. Officials from the Attorney General’s Office discovered the money as part of an investigation into alleged influence peddling by Pacheco to get companies owned by friends of his to pay less taxes. Pacheco tendered his resignation, he said so that Castillo would not be splashed, and claimed that the cash is part of his savings, but new bombshells are not ruled out as the investigations progress.
Then came the hardest blow. The program Cuarto Poder revealed that Castillo had held secret meetings with representatives of companies that benefited from contracts. The broadcast showed images of Castillo entering and leaving in the middle of the night from a building in the Lima district of Breña. Instead of the peasant hat he wears in all his public acts, he wore a cap and left the place in a high-end Audi assigned to the Presidency services.
The images have blown up the image of the “president of the poors” that Castillo has been trying so hard to build. For a leader who had presented himself as the champion of honesty in the face of the corruption of the traditional political class, the blow could not be more damaging. “The president’s credibility is now at a low ebb,” commented former Defense Minister Jorge Nieto.
Even from the orbit of the left, criticism rained down on Castillo, who has not yet found a way to contain the political hemorrhage. Congresswoman Indira Huilca spat at him in a tweet: “The people who elected him voted against corruption” and “against the impunity of the abuse of power for their own benefit”. “Are you going to pay the people with more of the same?” she asked.
With public outrage on the rise and in the midst of growing contacts in the always fluctuating and unpredictable Peruvian Congress to add support to the vacancy motion presented days before by Fujimorismo and other right-wing forces, Castillo decided on Monday to address a televised message to the country.
This is an unusual gesture for a president who has not given a press conference or answered questions from journalists in the four months he has been in office. Castillo said that the meetings he holds outside the presidential palace and the official agenda are of a “personal” nature and attributed it all to an alleged elite plot to bring him down.
But Castillo overlooked that among the people he met with in Breña was Karelim López Arredondo, an advisor of a concessionaire of infrastructure contracts who had already visited him several times at the presidential palace.
The president’s lack of answers set the networks ablaze and left him with even less support among the congressmen. Carlos Anderson, from Podemos Peru, initially opposed to the vacancy, announced that he will support the motion so that the president has to explain himself to the Chamber: “The message of the president, due to his vagueness, victimization and reluctance to clarify the facts that indicate possible corruption in his government, leads me to announce my vote in favor of the vacancy”.
According to estimates published in the media, the number of congressmen in favor of impeaching the president has been increasing since the publication of the images and only two of the 52 needed are missing.
However, there is one thing that can still save Castillo: the lack of an alternative. The right-wing parties promoting the motion are competing for the support of an increasingly radicalized electorate and the polls show that, together with the general rejection of Castillo’s chaotic management, fragmentation and the impossibility of reaching large majorities continue to be the dominant trend.
The forecasts point to the fact that the Congress will finally be inclined to initiate the vacancy, but the initiative will not prosper because it does not yet have enough support. But the mere initiation of the process will allow the congressmen to request explanations from the elusive Castillo, who would have to choose between appearing or defending himself through his lawyer or in writing.
The pressure for him to show his face continues to grow. At this point, with a government paralyzed by the erratic decisions of a president under suspicion, more and more Peruvians think that the question is not if Congress will remove Castillo, but when.