Peru’s embattled president faces charges blaming her for deadly protests

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Peru protests: Will president’s promise of elections end deadly street battles?
WATCH: Peru protests: Will president's promise of elections end deadly street battles? – Feb 5, 2023

Peru’s attorney general on Monday blamed President Dina Boluarte and her prime minister for the deaths of “several” anti-government protesters earlier this year, and charged them with first-degree murder before the nation’s congress in a procedure known as a “constitutional complaint.”

A congressional committee must now review the complaint, which could lead to a trial if the charges are approved by a majority of the nation’s lawmakers.

Boluarte, who took office last December following the controversial ouster and jailing of her predecessor, described the constitutional complaint issued by Attorney General Patricia Benavides as “causing astonishment.”

“We express our condemnation for such a despicable political maneuver that improperly uses the memory of deceased patriots to distract attention from a very serious complaint against the prosecutor herself,” said Boluarte, referring to corruption accusations leveled against Benavides.

Peru’s constitution protects heads of state from most criminal charges while they are still in office. This means the complaint filed Monday against Boluarte would most likely initiate a trial after she finishes her term or if she is ousted from office through other means, such as an impeachment vote.

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Peru has had five presidents since 2016, with none finishing their terms, and two of them impeached by the nation’s powerful congress.

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The charges pressed against Boluarte deepen a political crisis that broke out last year following the impeachment of former President Pedro Castillo, after he attempted to dissolve congress and rule by decree.

At least 49 people were killed in protests that followed the removal of Castillo, who was replaced by Boluarte, his vice president.

The attorney general’s office first announced in January it was launching a probe into Boluarte and members of her cabinet on charges of “genocide, qualified homicide and serious injuries.”

Boluarte has blamed criminal groups involved in illegal mining and left-wing radicals for the violence. But human rights groups have widely criticized her government for using excessive force against protesters in street clashes where police and soldiers used live rounds and tear gas to disperse crowds.

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Critics also accuse Boluarte’s government of taking an increasingly authoritarian bent, as it staves off demands for early elections and works with members of congress on laws that threaten to undermine the independence of Peru’s judicial system.

The new charges against Boluarte were filed by Benavides just hours after prosecutors accused Benavides of leading a corruption ring that allegedly dropped investigations against lawmakers that appointed some of her allies to influential positions within the judicial branch.

On Monday an anti-corruption team led by prosecutor Marita Barreto ordered the arrest of one of Benavides’ closest aides while police raided some of the attorney general’s offices in Lima.

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Benavides quickly fired Barreto and later published a video, in which she said she was charging President Boluarte for the murder of anti-government protesters. Benavides described the corruption probe against her as a “reprisal” for her efforts to defend human rights.

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Several anti-corruption prosecutors within the attorney general’s office also called for the resignation of Benavides on Monday.

Boluarte dismissed the charges filed by the attorney general.

“It is strange that such a complaint has been presented after everyone in the country saw how the attorney general’s offices were raided, and how several members of her team were arrested for alleged acts of corruption,” Boluarte said in a statement broadcast by Peru’s public television channel.

Meanwhile, Boluarte’s approval fell to its lowest level to date in a poll published last weekend at just 8%, while her disapproval reached 85%, according to the IEP survey.

Rueda reported from Bogota, Colombia. Additional files added from Reuters.

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