Ottawa backs removal of elected Peruvian president despite protests

Many Peruvians have taken to the streets to oppose last week’s removal of elected president Pedro Castillo. Ottawa has supported the ouster of the former teacher and union leader whose government withdrew from the Canada-backed Lima Group.

Protesters have blocked important highways and seized the airport in the country’s second biggest city of Arequipa. Strikes are taking place across the country.

To supress the popular uprising security forces have killed at least six protesters over the past two days. Dozens more have been hurt and the government has declared a state of emergency in many areas of the country. The military has been dispatched to secure infrastructure and Kawsachun News posted a disturbing video of a police chief in Andahuaylas, a hotbed of indigenous resistance, hyping up his forces by declaring “kill or die”.

Peru’s first ever leftist president was impeached and jailed on December 7. Since being elected 18 months ago Castillo has been attacked by the media, business elite and Congress. His right-wing opponent refused to recognize his election victory and Congress has repeatedly sought to impeach him.

Partly as a result, Castillo has been largely ineffective in pursuing his agenda of lessening the country’s gross inequities. The president’s bid to dissolve Congress in reaction to his impeachment was poorly planned and constitutionally questionable.

While Washington has backed Castillo’s removal, at least eight countries in the region have not. Angry with his government for calling the anti-Venezuela Lima Group “the most disastrous thing we have done in international politics in the history of Perú”, Ottawa has backed Castillo’s removal. At a special meeting of the Organization of American States soon after Castillo was arrested Canada’s representative noted, “Canada would like to express its deep concern over President Castillo’s attempt to dissolve congress and establish a government of exception in Peru. Such destabilizing actions run directly counter to the recommendation of the OAS high level group and risk jeopardizing Peru’s adherence to democratic norms.” According to Ottawa, the ouster of the elected president was a step forward for democracy.

Global Affairs Canada echoed this position in a tweet. On Monday Canada’s ambassador to Peru Louis Marcotte responded to security forces killing multiple protesters, including two teenage boys, by tweeting, “In view of the most recent events in Peru, Canada calls for calm and invites all actors to avoid the escalation of tensions through civil and democratic dialogue. The right to peaceful assembly must be respected and protected.”

While Canada has largely blamed Castillo for the political crisis, Colombia, Mexico, Bolivia and Argentina released a collective statement calling him a “victim of undemocratic harassment. Our governments call on all the actors involved in the previous process to prioritize the will of the citizens that was pronounced at the polls.”

Canada has repeatedly backed the removal of elected politicians, as Owen Schalk and I demonstrate in a forthcoming book. In what was dubbed an “autogolpe” (“self-coup”), Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori deployed the military to secure the Congress, media outlets, party headquarters and streets of Lima in 1992. In that case Canada refused to condemn the neoliberal Peruvian president’s coup against the elected congress.

The nearest parallel to the current situation may be Canada’s support for parliamentary coups against social democratic Brazilian president Dilma Rouseff in 2016 and Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo in 2012. Ottawa passively backed those impeachments, which were mired by legally questionable manoeuvres.

Instead of siding with the USA, Ottawa should forcefully denounce police repression in Peru, call for the release of Castillo and his return to the presidency (or immediate elections). With protests growing the people may still reverse this coup.

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