Peru’s new president reshuffles cabinet as ties with Mexico are tested | protest news

Peru’s new president, Dina Boluarte, has announced a partial cabinet reshuffle hours after lawmakers tentatively approved a plan to advance the election in a bid to quell protests that began following the ousting of Boluarte’s predecessor.

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

Alex Contreras will stay on as economy minister and Oscar Vera will stay on as energy and mines minister.

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

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

Castillo’s ouster, coupled with his subsequent arrest and pre-trial detention on charges of rebellion and conspiracy, has led to demonstrations and blockades across Peru, particularly in rural areas, where he has strong support.

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

On Tuesday evening, Peruvian lawmakers approved a proposal, backed by Boluarte, to postpone presidential and congressional elections until April 2024. They were originally scheduled for 2026.

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

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

Last week, Boluarte’s government also declared a nationwide state of emergency for 30 days to try to contain the unrest, which has left at least 21 people dead and hundreds injured. The Peruvian authorities’ crackdown on the protests has also drawn criticism and calls for restraint from human rights organizations and international observers.

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

As Boluarte tries to restore order, her caretaker government faces rising tensions with other leftist leaders in the region, most notably Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has spoken out in favor of Castillo.

On Tuesday, Peru announced it would expel the Mexican ambassador and gave him 72 hours to leave in protest of Lopez Obrador’s repeated and “unacceptable interference” in Peru’s internal affairs.

“The Mexican president’s statements are particularly serious given the violence in our country, which is incompatible with the legitimate right of any individual to protest peacefully,” Peru’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

A day later, the Mexican president, commonly known as AMLO, said Mexico would not sever relations with Peru. “We’re not going to evict anyone,” he told reporters.

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

Peru’s former president had tried to take refuge in the Mexican embassy in Lima after being ousted on Dec. 7, AMLO said, but Castillo was arrested before he could reach the building.

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

AMLO said Mexico’s “doors are open,” including for Castillo, who has been in pretrial detention for 18 months. He has rejected the allegations against him.

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