LIMA, Peru (AP) — A judge on Tuesday ordered detained Peruvian President Pedro Castillo to remain in custody.
Supreme Court Justice Cesar San Martin Castro’s decision could further spark violent protests across the country, as people demand Castillo’s freedom, the resignation of his successor and the immediate scheduling of general elections to elect a new president. elect and replace all members of Congress.
Castillo’s nationally televised announcement Wednesday that he had dissolved Congress by presidential decree was “not just an act of speech, but the concrete expression of the will to change the constitutional system and the configuration of public powers,” the judge said.
Later this week, prosecutors plan to hold Castillo for up to three years.
Castillo claimed at his hearing earlier Tuesday that he is being “unjustly and arbitrarily detained” and thanked his supporters for their “effort and struggle” since he was taken into custody.
The judge said there are indications that Castillo was intercepted as he tried to reach the Mexican embassy to seek asylum. He was taken into custody shortly after being impeached by lawmakers when he attempted to dissolve Congress ahead of an impeachment vote.
“I will never part with this popular cause that brought me here,” said Castillo. Then, apparently referring to the violent protests over his ouster, he urged the national police and armed forces to “lay down their arms and stop killing this people who thirst for justice”.
The protests were particularly violent outside Peru’s capital, Lima. Peru’s ombudsman’s office on Tuesday reduced the death toll from the demonstrations that began Wednesday to six. The agency said in a statement it removed one person from the list after the national records service determined the person “doesn’t exist”.
All of the deaths occurred in rural, impoverished communities — strongholds for Castillo, a political neophyte and former farm-roots schoolteacher. Four of these took place in Andahuaylas, a remote rural community in the Andes where the poor have struggled for years and where voters overwhelmingly supported Castillo last year in the second round of the election, which he won by 44,000 votes.
Many businesses in that community remained closed on Tuesday, with streets blocked by burnt tires, rocks and tree limbs. About 3,000 people, including farmers from nearby villages and teachers, marched again, calling for Boluarte’s resignation.
A smaller group escorted the coffin of a protester who died Monday of an apparent gunshot wound.
Shoe store owner Vilma Zúñiga put up a sign reading “Congress is the worst virus. Down with Dina Boluarte”, referring to Castillo’s successor. She and other merchants decided to close their doors, missing out on potential sales for the holiday season.
Attorney Ronaldo Atencio, speaking on behalf of Castillo’s legal team, argued that he has not raised arms or organized people capable of overthrowing the existing government, as Peruvian law requires someone to be charged with rebellion. He also said Castillo poses no flight risk and has never sought asylum in Mexico, as confirmed by the Mexican ambassador.
Boluarte, Castillo’s running mate and vice president, was swiftly sworn in Wednesday after Congress fired Castillo for “permanent moral incompetence.”
On Monday, she partially responded to protesters’ demands, announcing in a nationally televised address that she would send Congress a proposal to move the election to April 2024. She had previously claimed she intended to remain president for the remaining 3 1/2 years of her predecessor’s term.
In the streets of Lima, police doused protesters with tear gas and repeatedly beat them. Outside the capital, protesters set fire to police stations, seized an airstrip used by the armed forces and raided the runway at Arequipa International Airport.
According to state media, 130 officers were injured in clashes with protesters, according to the national police.
Boluarte on Tuesday begged protesters to calm down and explained she had not sought the presidency.
“I want to call my brothers and sisters in Andahuaylas, please calm down, calm down,” she said. “I don’t understand why my brothers… revolt against their compatriot Dina Boluarte when I have done nothing to allow that situation to exist or prevent.”
She spoke outside a hospital where a girl is being treated for an eye injury caused by a bullet fired during the protests. Boluarte said she had instructed national police not to use deadly weapons, “not even rubber bullets,” and that authorities are working to determine who used them to prosecute them.
Associated Press writer Franklin Briceño contributed to this report from Andahuaylas, Peru.