Peru’s ousted president appears in court after being charged with rebellion

Peru’s ousted president Pedro Castillo made his first appearance in court on Thursday since being removed from office, arrested and charged with “rebellion” for attempting to shut down the Andean nation’s congress.

Castillo, the leftist onetime schoolteacher, was taciturn, and let his lawyers do most of the talking at the hearing to discuss his arrest after the dramatic developments of the previous day. One of them, Anibal Torres, served as his prime minister until late November. His other lawyer, Víctor Pérez, said that Castillo’s speech on Wednesday announcing the shutdown of congress “did not constitute the crime of rebellion”.

When the presiding judge gave Castillo the floor at the end of the hearing, he was uncharacteristically quiet. “That is all,” he said, exhibiting the same wan expression and wearing the blue jacket that he was photographed in on Wednesday when first detained.

“Rebellion is a serious crime,” prosecutor Marco Huamán said in the hearing. “It doesn’t matter whether it is successful to be a crime.”

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The hearing comes after Castillo’s failed gambit to avoid being removed from office by congress after months of conflict. Hours before lawmakers were due to vote on his impeachment on Wednesday, Castillo announced the shutdown of congress, the formation of an “emergency government”, and a nightly curfew.

The outcry was swift, with much of his cabinet resigning. Moments later, 101 out of 130 lawmakers voted for Castillo’s impeachment, as he fled the palace.

He was then taken into custody at Lima’s town hall. Small groups of detractors and supporters demonstrated outside the building.

Castillo’s vice-president, Dina Boluarte, was sworn in later on Wednesday, becoming Peru’s first female president. She described her predecessor’s actions as “an attempted coup d’état” in the ceremony and pledged to assemble a government “of all creeds”. On Thursday, she said it might be “democratically respectable” to hold early elections.

Castillo was transferred overnight from the town hall via helicopter to the headquarters of the Department of Special Operations.

Also reportedly held there is Alberto Fujimori, the last Peruvian president to have attempted a “self-coup” by closing congress. When Fujimori, an authoritarian rightwinger, did so in 1992, he had the military’s backing and was broadly popular. Fujimori then ruled by decree for another eight years. He was later sentenced to prison on graft charges.

Peru, which has now had six presidents in just over four years, is no stranger to political turbulence. But even by those standards Castillo’s 16 months in office where notable for their chaos. More than 70 ministers passed through the ranks of his administration. Congress had previously unsuccessfully tried twice to impeach Castillo, while investigators launched multiple corruption probes into him and his family.

Some leftist leaders in the region have indicated some degree of support for Castillo. Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Thursday that Castillo had called him the day before to say he was going to Lima’s Mexican embassy to request asylum, before being intercepted by police.

Colombia’s president Gustavo Petro has called on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to intervene on behalf of Castillo, and said that the former Peruvian leader had been “cornered from day one”.

Peru is the world’s second-largest copper producer, and until recently was able to weather political storms with steady economic growth. In October, credit rating agency Fitch revised the country’s outlook from “stable” to “negative”.

On Thursday morning Peru’s sovereign bonds appeared largely unaffected. The dollar bond maturing in 2031 was trading just above 86 cents on the dollar, having dipped yesterday to about 84.6 cents.

“Despite their perceived weakness, political institutions held firm,” on Wednesday, according to Jaime Reusche, an analyst at Moody’s. “Peru’s key economic and financial institutions remain resilient to political disruption and mitigate the sovereign’s exposure to possible downside scenarios that could weigh on creditworthiness.”

Additional reporting by Tommy Stubbington in London

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