Peru’s former President Castillo denies charges as protest death toll rises
By Claudia Rebaza and Jack Guy, CNN
Peru’s former President Pedro Castillo has denied allegations of conspiracy and rebellion, following his dramatic ouster and arrest last week. His appearance in court on Tuesday came amid ongoing protests by Castillo’s supporters that have seen at least six killed.
Castillo was impeached and arrested on Dec. 7, after he announced plans to dissolve Congress and install an emergency government ahead of a looming impeachment vote by lawmakers.
Dina Boluarte, his former vice president, has since become president. On Monday, Boluarte proposed bringing general elections forward two years to April 2024 during a televised speech.
Castillo appeared in a virtual court hearing on Tuesday to appeal his seven-day detention order, an appeal which was ultimately rejected by Judge Cesar San Martin.
During the hearing Castillo told San Martin, “I have never committed the crime of conspiracy or rebellion” and described his detention as arbitrary and unjust.
Dressed in a blue jacket and sitting next to his lawyer Ronald Atencio, Castillo also said, “I will never resign and abandon this popular cause.”
“From here I want to urge the Armed Forces and the National Police to lay down their arms and stop killing these people thirsty for justice. Tomorrow at 1:42 p.m. I want my people to join me…” he also said, before being interrupted by the judge.
Since last week, demonstrations have erupted in cities across the country in support of Castillo, sometimes marked by clashes with Peru’s security forces,
At least six people have died in the demonstrations, including two minors, Peru’s ombudsman’s press office said on Tuesday. And at least 47 individuals were hospitalized as a result of protests in the cities of Lima, Apurímac, Huancavelica and Arequipa, Peru’s Health Ministry tweeted.
Demonstrators have called for a general election, the dissolution of Congress, and the creation of a new constituent assembly, according to the radio and television broadcaster Radio Programas del Perú.
Boluarte on Tuesday called for calm to be restored to the country, and said that she had instructed police not to use any lethal arms against protesters.
“Everyone has the right to protest but not to commit vandalism, burn hospitals, ambulances, police stations, assault airports, (these) are not normal protests, we have reached the extreme,” Boluarte added.
Trains to and from Machu Picchu will be suspended from Tuesday due to Peru’s protests, railway operator PeruRail said in a statement.
“We regret the inconvenience that these announcements generate for our passengers; however, they are due to situations beyond the control of our company and seek to prioritize the safety of passengers and workers,” the statement read.
Flights have also been disrupted due to protests, with LATAM Airlines Peru announcing the temporary suspension of services to and from airports in the cities of Arequipa and Cuzco.
Protesters attempted to storm the terminal at Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport in Cuzco on Monday, according to the Peruvian Corporation of Airports and Commercial Aviation (CORPAC).
So far there have been no reports of injuries, arrests or damage to the airport, according to CORPAC.
LATAM called on Peruvian authorities to take “corrective measures to ensure safety” for the operation of its flights.
“We regret the inconvenience that this situation beyond our control has caused our passengers,” it added.
Peru’s National Police said that, as of Monday evening, there were blockades on national roads in at least 11 regions of the country.
In addition, the government has declared a state of emergency in seven provinces in the Apurimac region in south-central Peru.
A country on the brink
Peru has been racked with political instability in recent years, with many Peruvians calling for political change, according to a September poll by the Institute of Peruvian Studies, which found 60% of those surveyed supported early elections to refresh both the presidency and Congress.
It is unclear if Boluarte’s ascendancy to the presidency can gain widespread political buy-in.
Boluarte “does not have a recognized political career,” said Fernando Tuesta Soldevilla, professor of political science at Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. “And without partisan support, political party or social organization behind her, she is weak from the beginning.”
“Everyone knows when Dina Boluarte’s government began, but no one can be sure how long it will last,” he told CNN.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect a revision by the Peruvian National Ombudsman of the known death toll from Peru’s recent political protests.
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CNN’s Andy Ortiz, Hira Humayun, Sahar Akbarzai and Gerardo Lemos contributed to this report.