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Canada takes sides as hemisphere splits over who rules Peru

The Trudeau government supports new President Dina Boluarte, while regional governments divide into blocs

Canada has recognized Dina Boluarte as the new president of Peru and has sent its ambassador in Lima to convey a message of support to the new government in person — putting Ottawa firmly on one side of a crisis that has split the hemisphere into two rival blocs.

In a media statement, Peru’s new foreign minister Ana Cecilia Gervasi — who was until recently Peru’s consul-general in Toronto — said she had met Canadian Ambassador Louis Marcotte and “reiterated Peru’s gratitude for the commitment of his country to work with President Dina Boluarte.”

On Thursday, a Lima court ordered deposed president Pedro Castillo held without bail for 18 months as he awaits trial on charges of rebellion after a failed attempt to suspend Peru’s congress and constitution last week.

Castillo, an unpopular left-wing president whose term in office has been marked by scandals, shocked the country on December 7 when he went on national television and announced that he would rule with emergency powers.

But his attempt at what South Americans call an “autogolpe” or “self-coup” turned into farce when it became clear he had no real backing from Peru’s armed forces, police or judiciary — or even his own cabinet.

Within a few hours, his family abandoned the presidential palace and headed for the Mexican Embassy in search of asylum. But his own bodyguards stopped his motorcade and instead took him into a police station. There he was placed under arrest and then criminally charged by his own attorney-general, while Congress voted to depose him and swear in his vice-president as his replacement.

Dina Boluarte became Peru’s first female president just hours after Castillo’s announcement, flight and arrest. But that proved to be just the beginning of Peru’s latest crisis.

On Thursday night, as disturbances rocked cities across the country, the Peruvian government declared several regional curfews on top of an existing national state of emergency. At least eighteen people have died in clashes between Castillo supporters and police.

Mexico has emerged as Castillo’s strongest international backer. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (widely known as “AMLO”) has acknowledged that he spoke with Castillo prior to the Peruvian president’s arrest. He has accused Peru’s upper classes (“pitucos”) of treating Castillo with disdain because of his peasant origins.

AMLO has since said Mexico doesn’t recognize Castillo’s removal from office — declared by Peru’s congress in accordance with the country’s constitution after a vote of 101-6 — and does not recognize Boluarte as president.

On Thursday, Peru recalled its ambassador from Mexico. It also pulled its ambassadors from Argentina, Bolivia and Colombia after those countries signed on to a Mexican statement deploring the removal of Castillo.

On Wednesday, the ALBA bloc of nations formed by former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, meeting in Havana, also expressed its support for Castillo. The group unites Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela with six Caribbean nations: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

But while Castillo received widespread support from the Latin American left, there were two major voices missing from the chorus.

It was no surprise when Brazil’s lame-duck president Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist, accepted the removal of a president backed by a Marxist party. Much less certain was the attitude of his rival on the left, Lula Da Silva of the Workers Party, who recently defeated Bolsonaro at the polls and will take office on January 1.

But Lula accepted that it was Castillo who broke Peru’s legal order by attempting to suspend the constitution.

“It is always regrettable that a democratically elected president has this fate,” he wrote. “But I understand that everything was forwarded in the constitutional framework.”

Chile’s “democratic socialist” President Gabriel Boric took the same view, expressed in a communique from its Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “The Government of Chile condemns the rupture of constitutional order in Peru and appreciates that the political crisis coming out of it is being addressed through institutional channels.”

The United Nations and the Organization of American States also have both accepted the transition as legitimate and have recognized the new government.

With the U.S. also taking the position that Castillo was the author of his own downfall, the western hemisphere appeared thoroughly split on the question of who is the legitimate president in Peru.

On one side, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, the U.S. and Uruguay all back the new government.

Ranged against them are Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela. 

Paraguay, Guatemala and El Salvador appear not to have taken a clear stand as yet.

The European Union and the United Kingdom also support the new Peruvian government. Russia also appeared to acquiesce in the transition to a new government, choosing not to side with its close allies Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

The most significant opponent of Peru’s new government may be AMLO, who had cultivated a relationship with Pedro Castillo and who offered him asylum as his planned takeover fell apart.

AMLO is accused by many in his own country of trying to weaken democratic institutions.

On Thursday, his MORENA party approved a new law that abolishes Mexico’s independent elections authority — a move critics say aims to roll back decades of democratic progress in Mexico.

And on Tuesday, AMLO joked about the possibility of a “Plan B” — which would involve claiming that it’s impossible to hold elections and giving himself a second term in office that would last until 2030.

“There’s always a little devil. He’s great, and sometimes he gives me tips,” AMLO said, laughing, adding that the devil was encouraging him to launch Plan B.

Electorally, the left is currently ascendant in Latin America, following a string of victories culminating in Lula’s return to power in Brazil. It is also disunited. 

While the split that has emerged over Castillo vs. Boluarte to some extent echoes the debate over Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his rival Juan Guaido in 2019, it also reveals growing fractures within the left on questions of democracy and rights.

Chile’s Boric in particular has aggravated countries like Venezuela and Nicaragua by condemning their rights abuses, and saying that the Latin left needs to stop making excuses for authoritarianism.

Castillo, meanwhile, appears to have been re-energized by his international backers. Last week he said through his lawyer that he could not even recall giving his televised speech, claiming that he had been given a drink beforehand that left him “befuddled.”

This week, he tweeted from his jail cell that he would “NOT RESIGN OR ABANDON MY HIGH AND SACRED FUNCTIONS” and denounced the words of his former vice president as “the snot and spittle of a coup-mongering Right.”

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