South America

Peru’s new president reshuffles cabinet as Mexico ties tested

Peru’s new president, Dina Boluarte, has announced a partial cabinet reshuffle, hours after legislators tentatively endorsed a plan to move elections forward in a bid to quell protests that began after the impeachment of Boluarte’s predecessor.

In a ceremony on Wednesday at the presidential palace, Boluarte named lawyer Alberto Otarola as Peru’s new prime minister. She also announced new defence and interior ministers.

Alex Contreras was kept on as economy minister, and Oscar Vera will stay on as the minister of energy and mines.

The changes were made two weeks after Peru’s opposition-led Congress voted to remove President Pedro Castillo from office in the third impeachment effort of the left-wing leader’s embattled presidency.

Shortly before his impeachment, Castillo had announced plans to disband the legislature and rule by decree, a move widely denounced as unconstitutional. Boluarte, Castillo’s vice president, was sworn in after his removal.

Castillo’s ouster, coupled with his subsequent arrest and pretrial detention on charges of rebellion and conspiracy, have set off demonstrations and blockades across Peru, particularly in rural areas, where he has strong support.

The protesters have demanded the former president’s release, speedy early elections, Boluarte’s resignation and the dissolution of Congress, which has an overwhelming disapproval rating.

On Tuesday evening, Peruvian legislators approved a proposal backed by Boluarte to push up elections for president and Congress to April 2024. They were originally planned for 2026.

The plan, which would add one article to Peru’s constitution, must be ratified by another two-thirds majority in the next annual legislative session for it to be adopted.

“Don’t be blind,” Boluarte said over the weekend as she urged lawmakers to listen to Peruvians’ demand for early elections. “Look at the people and take action in line with what they are asking.”

Last week, Boluarte’s administration also enacted a nationwide state of emergency for 30 days to try to stop the unrest, which has killed at least 21 people and injured hundreds. Peruvian authorities’ crackdown on the protests also has drawn criticism and calls for restraint from human rights groups and international observers.

Demonstrators protest in Peru’s capital, Lima, on December 13, 2022 [Alessandro Cinque/Reuters]

As Boluarte seeks to restore order, her caretaker government faces mounting tensions with other left-wing leaders in the region, most notably Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has come out in support of Castillo.

On Tuesday, Peru announced it was expelling Mexico’s ambassador and gave him 72 hours to leave in protest of what it said was Lopez Obrador’s repeated and “unacceptable interference” in Peru’s internal affairs.

“The statements by the Mexican president are especially grave considering the violence in our country, which is incompatible with the legitimate right of every individual to protest peacefully,” Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

A day later, the Mexican president, widely known as AMLO, said Mexico would not break off relations with Peru. “We are not going to expel anybody,” he told reporters.

The diplomatic dispute developed after Mexican officials said they would grant asylum to members of Castillo’s family.

Peru’s former president had tried to seek refuge in Mexico’s embassy in Lima after he was impeached on December 7, AMLO said, but Castillo was arrested before he could reach the building.

On Wednesday morning, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard posted a photo on Twitter showing Castillo’s wife, Lilia Paredes, and his son and daughter at the airport in Mexico City after their arrival from Lima.

AMLO said Mexico’s “doors are open” also to Castillo, who is in pretrial detention for 18 months. He has rejected the accusations against him.

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