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One year on, Peru’s president fights for political survival – Al Jazeera English



Lima, Peru – A year since his moonshot ascent to Peru’s highest office, socialist President Pedro Castillo is in the throes of political crisis.

Sworn in last July, the campesino teacher and union leader from rural Peru today faces mounting corruption allegations, a grim approval rating and a stillborn legislative agenda thwarted by an opposition-dominated congress.

One year into his five-year term, Castillo has survived two impeachment attempts, a whiplash-inducing change of cabinet ministers, and deepening economic and political strife.


Last summer, Castillo, a political fledgling and son of illiterate farmers, stormed into Lima from his native Cajamarca in Peru’s northern Andes. An improbable frontman for his Marxist Free Peru party, he promised to rewrite Peru’s constitution, redistribute mineral wealth and resuscitate a nation reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Backed by a coterie of peasant supporters, his message confounded Peru’s left-wing bourgeoisie and shook business and political elites. Rarely seen without his trademark straw hat, Castillo fired up campesino and Indigenous Peruvians with a simple mandate: “No more poor people in a rich country.”

Demonstrators protest against Castillo’s government in Lima in June [File: Sebastian Castaneda/Reuters]

His deeply unpopular far-right challenger, Keiko Fujimori, daughter of Peruvian strongman Alberto Fujimori, admonished voters that Castillo’s economic policies would steer the country into a crisis similar to Venezuela’s. But to many among Peru’s exasperated electorate, which had endured four presidents and two congresses in five years, both candidates represented dangerous extremes. Castillo won by just 44,000 votes in a runoff election last June.

“When he came into office, it’s not at all that he enjoyed the mandate of a majority,” Cynthia McClintock, a political science professor at George Washington University, told Al Jazeera. “He faced a congress in which forces on the right were very opposed to him, and a lot of people voted for him very worried.”

Corruption probe

Days after assuming office, Castillo drew fire for naming a number of inexperienced and hardline nominees to his cabinet, some with alleged criminal ties. His fealty to Marxist Free Peru’s party boss, Vladimir Cerron, raised the spectre that he would embrace regional autocrats and enact a radical agenda that would spook foreign investment.

Amid multiple cabinet reshuffles, his marquee campaign promises, including amending Peru’s 1993 dictatorship-era constitution, were rebuffed by congress. In March, he survived a second impeachment attempt, driven by right-wing parties who cited “moral incapacity” and corruption allegations.

In May, Peru’s attorney general revealed that Castillo would be included in a corruption probe into his alleged role as ringleader of a “criminal network” within his transportation ministry, which purportedly received bribes for public works contracts. Castillo, who testified before prosecutors in June, has denied wrongdoing. He is the first president in Peru’s history to be investigated by national prosecutors while in office.

The president has also been at the centre of other recent criminal probes, including for allegedly pressuring military leadership to promote officers favourable to his government.

Twisting the knife, prosecutors last week announced plans to investigate Castillo for alleged obstruction of justice over the firing of his interior minister, Mariano Gonzalez, who had sanctioned a special task force to locate and arrest fugitive allies of the president.

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Former transport minister Juan Silva and the president’s nephew, Fray Vasquez, both facing criminal charges, are currently in hiding. Peru’s public ministry has also opened a preliminary investigation into Castillo’s sister-in-law, Yenifer Paredes, for allegedly using ties to the president to win a sanitation contract in Cajamarca.

Castillo’s office did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on the ongoing investigations. On Thursday, the embattled president is set to address congress and the nation on the 201st anniversary of Peru’s independence from Spain.

“I think the overall consensus is that he is not prepared at all for this job,” McClintock said. “The learning curve has not been what anybody has hoped for. I would say an awful lot of the debate is: Will he survive, and what’s going to happen if he doesn’t?”

‘We’ve been duped’

With a divided opposition, no clear presidential successor and a populace hardened by government corruption, Castillo faces mounting problems. National strikes by truckers unions and farmers over the soaring costs of fuel, fertiliser and food sparked by Russia’s war in Ukraine have undermined trust in his ability to govern.

The president’s disapproval rating reached 70 percent in a recent poll – and that discontent was apparent earlier this month in Lima’s San Martin Plaza, where Mari Castillo, also a Cajamarca native, served up stewed chicken to a crush of protesters marching for housing justice.

“We were proud to have a campesino president. But he’s doing an awful job,” Castillo told Al Jazeera. “Prices are going up. We thought things would get better, but we’ve been duped.”

Snapping photos of the government palace in Lima’s main plaza, Hualberto Sandoval, a small-town mayor in the coastal department of Lambayeque, also expressed dismay. “I speak for a lot of Peruvians who are upset about what we’re seeing and hearing,” he told Al Jazeera. “We want to believe he’s capable of leading. We need police funding, infrastructure. It’s been a year and he hasn’t delivered.”

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Blocks away, Jaime Amasifuen was selling fish parts from a styrofoam cooler alongside the Pan-American Highway. “[Castillo] promised to help the poor,” he told Al Jazeera. “But things are worse. The prices of fish are sky-high. He’s the leader. He needs to do something about it.”

The president has proposed legislation to congress that would lower sales tax on essential food items. While Peru’s economy has remained relatively stable during Castillo’s tenure, girded in part by the country’s robust mining sector, countless Peruvians toiling in the informal economy have felt the pinch of rising prices.

In central Lima’s hillside shantytown of Cantagallo, Pilar Arce, a native Shipibo artist from the Amazon, said she was hopeful that a president with humble origins might advocate for Indigenous people. “But a year later, the country isn’t advancing,” Arce told Al Jazeera. “Who can buy art when they’re worried about where their next meal is coming from?”

Meanwhile, supporters of the president, such as Andres Huamani, blame the country’s elites for inventing corruption allegations and polarising the nation: “The media, the rich and powerful, and the conservative political class have all been hellbent on taking him down,” Huamani told Al Jazeera. “They haven’t given him a chance from the start.”

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Toews, Savage withdrawal from election could cast doubts on premier, say experts – Calgary Herald



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One day after two top UCP cabinet ministers announced they would not seek re-election in May there were still few answers to be had.

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On Friday afternoon, both Finance Minister Travis Toews and Environment Minister Sonya Savage announced they were opting to spend more time with family instead of running again in the next provincial election.

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Premier Danielle Smith on her Saturday radio show on QR770 noted Toews’ ability to manage through the pandemic and deliver two consecutive balanced budgets. She called Savage her “point person in dealing with Ottawa.”

“I’m grateful to both of them,” said the premier. “I’m looking forward to finding out how we might be able to continue to use their incredible talents post-election in an advisory role, because I think that they’ve done so much for our province and I want to continue to see them have an opportunity to contribute.”

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Smith, in a press release on Friday, said she will appoint replacement UCP candidates for Toews’ riding in Grande Prairie-Wapiti as well as for Savage in Calgary-North West.

The two are the latest cabinet ministers who have withdrawn from the coming spring election. They join former Jobs, Innovation and Economy Minister Doug Schweitzer, who stepped down before the UCP leadership race last summer, and Minister of Trade, Immigration and Multiculturalism Rajan Sawhney and party whip Brad Rutherford who have withdrawn since Smith took office in October.

Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt said it is not uncommon to have a 25 per cent turnover in MLAs. What is different is to have so many cabinet ministers — especially single-term politicians — decide not to run again.

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Adding to the intrigue is both were at one point prepared to run again. Toews was the first runner-up to Smith in the leadership race, while Savage had already secured the nomination for her riding.

He called the reasoning to spend more time with family a mere cliché but said it is difficult to know their full reasons for not running again.

He also does not expect this to be the end of the withdrawal of cabinet ministers, pointing to the potential of two more members of former premier Jason Kenney’s inner circle — Health Minister Jason Copping and Justice Minister Tyler Shandro — stepping away before May.

“You wonder how united the party is as Smith was able to rally them,” said Bratt.

Smith said Toews promised to stay on to at least deliver his fifth budget, which he did on Feb. 28. The implementation bill was passed on Thursday and he then informed the premier he was not going to run again.

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Bratt said the deal could potentially have been that Toews was to stay on to get the budget passed before stepping away all along, while Savage was just “hedging her bets and keeping her options open” until the legislative session was over.

“I don’t know how you could ignore the shift in leader and the role that that plays,” he said.

Melanee Thomas, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, said it is curious what changed for the finance minister. If he didn’t share the premier’s vision, he likely would not have been given the power to put the budget together.

The question is, how this will play out come election time, especially with Calgary considered to be a key battleground with both the UCP and the NDP needing to win the city to win the election.

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While Calgary-North West has been a long-time conservative stronghold, Thomas said Savage stepping down could mean the riding is up for grabs.

“The NDP vote is inefficient in Edmonton. The UCP is inefficient in rural areas, which means that it comes down to who wins all the seats in Calgary,” she said.

Bratt said the fact two more high-profile ministers have decided not to run again, regardless of the publicly stated reasons, will play on the minds of the undecided electorate when it comes to the UCP leader.

“You know, people do have questions and wonder, ‘if I have doubts about Smith, well, maybe Toews and Savage and Schweitzer and Sawhney have doubts about her as well,’” he said.
Twitter: @JoshAldrich03


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China, Russia face sanctions from US states now. That’s dangerous



Sanctions have become all the rage in international politics. The United States and its allies are imposing them on rivals with increasing frequency and severity. And those rivals are reciprocating where they can.

Now, American states, too, are increasingly getting in on the act. And that’s bad news — for the world, and for US foreign policy. A much-publicised episode of a Chinese balloon entering US airspace seems to have created new energy for such restrictions and has led to legislation being proposed in at least 11 states.

On Wednesday, the South Carolina State Senate passed a bill barring ownership of land in the state by citizens of US geopolitical adversaries Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and Cuba. The bill’s top sponsor even compared a planned purchase of South Carolina land by a Chinese biomedical firm with the Trojan Horse plot of Greek mythology.

Meanwhile, Texas State Senator Lois Kolkhorst has proposed a similar law that has drawn strong condemnation on human rights grounds but has been defended by Greg Abbott, the state’s Republican governor. A simple reading of the original version of this bill would lead one to conclude that any individual who holds citizenship from any of the mentioned countries, or any firms which they own, would be barred from owning property. This would have included American citizens who hold dual citizenship. Since then, the language has been softened to protect dual citizens and permanent residents but not citizens of those countries residing in Texas on a visa.


Implementation of such language would impose new and unusual due diligence requirements on common land transactions. Meanwhile, creating special restrictions on various immigrant communities to own property poses human rights concerns.

Existing sanctions laws and Treasury Department designations already block leaders from those American adversaries from transferring money into the US or owning property in the country. Meanwhile, recently introduced federal legislation aims to ban US adversaries from purchasing large swaths of farmland in the US.

So why would a state engage in what is essentially a foreign policy and national security matter?

Why sanction?

On the one hand, some scholars see sanctions as often being a product of domestic politics, aimed at portraying muscle to the electorate, at times influenced by pressure groups such as “ethnic lobbies”. Those in this camp of scholars are more inclined to believe that sanctions are not particularly effective. If sanctions are for the satisfaction of domestic onlookers, they will not be designed and implemented with an eye towards efficacy and the security context.

Other scholars, however, argue that sanctions are indeed imposed due to a meaningful effort to address national security concerns.

Like many in the national security decision-making scholarship community, I feel both of these binary constructions frequently fail when confronted with the history of economic sanctions. The truth is that foreign policy choices are a product of complex national security matrices that accommodate both foreign policy and domestic political considerations.

Who sanctions?

Yet irrespective of one’s overall view on the efficacy of sanctions more broadly, it is hard for anyone to deny that policies against foreign nationals adopted by state governments can have little explanation other than domestic and even local politics.

In the US, the executive branch has always been best suited to make foreign policy decisions due to its clear mandate and wherewithal in this field. Congress has a constitutional role in foreign policy matters but it’s far more likely to be influenced by domestic political pressures and national anxieties.

The executive branch largely controlled sanctions policy throughout the Cold War era. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, as major threats to the homeland faded, Congressional and sub-federal forces became increasingly involved in this field.

While Congress has largely ceded its war power authority in the modern era, it has become more active in sanctioning due to an impulse of members to be seen as projecting power against American adversaries even when it interferes with the president’s efforts to engage in strategic policy.

What about state legislators and governors? They have no real national security staff nor the relevant mandate, as their elections almost always lack any meaningful foreign policy discussion and are decided based on provincial issues, whether taxes or abortion rights.

Yet their meddling in foreign policy isn’t superfluous — it can actually be reckless, for global diplomacy and for US foreign policy. Here’s how.

The folly of state sanctions

As written, the mentioned measures are unlikely to meaningfully interfere with the federal government’s ability to carry out its foreign policy. But one can imagine a scenario in which sanctions imposed by states do just that.

New York state and California preside over major nodes of the global banking community and the international technology supply chain. Texas itself is a major player in global energy markets. Other states can wield a more narrow version of such powers as well.

There are already examples of when New York State has targeted European firms for their perceived violation of sanctions, ignoring objections at the federal level. States can, as the federal government has often done, impose restrictions on firms operating in their jurisdiction in a way that has extraterritorial consequences.

This in turn sets up a precarious dynamic. The federal government might have to mollify or negotiate with state governments led by ambitious politicians responding to special interests or catering to local constituencies.

Equally, state governments of the party in opposition can actively undercut diplomatic efforts of the federal government using such sanctions. For example, a federal effort to ease sanctions on Cuba could create political momentum for state sanctions in Florida, where families of those who fled communist rule are a powerful lobby.

Ultimately, sanctions are a tool of foreign policy and the capacity to modulate or even repeal them is critical to accomplishing the political goals behind sanctions campaigns. For the president or Congress to have to lobby with state governments, each representing a fraction of the overall population, to alter America’s sanctions against a country would represent a bizarre new obstacle to the federal government’s ability to carry out its foreign policy obligations.

The proposed Texas and South Carolina laws are textbook examples of sanctions as political grandstanding meant for domestic consumption. They are also a reminder of the jingoistic zeal that can be nurtured and exploited by foreign policy amateurs at the state level.

As we embark upon what scholar Peter A G van Bergeijk calls the “second wave” of global sanctions, states will likely look further to getting in on the act with human rights and global affairs.

Washington’s basic ability to carry out a coherent foreign policy hangs in the balance.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.


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Beijing denies meddling after MP Han Dong’s resignation from Liberal caucus



OTTAWA — Beijing says it has nothing to say about ongoing allegations that China has meddled in Canadian affairs, including those regarding a member of Parliament who has left the Liberal caucus.

Han Dong is now sitting as an Independent as the Liberal government has a rapporteur investigate claims of Chinese interference, including allegations the Toronto MP willingly received electoral support through Chinese officials.

Dong resigned from the Liberal caucus Wednesday night after Global News, citing unnamed security sources, published a report alleging that he spoke about Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig with a Chinese diplomat in Toronto in February 2021.

The MP says he met with the diplomat but disputes any suggestion that he urged China to delay releasing the two Canadian men, who by that point had been detained for more than two years.


Dong told the House of Commons he would defend himself “against these absolutely untrue claims” and that he did nothing to cause Spavor and Kovrig any harm.

Asked about Dong’s resignation at a press conference today in Beijing, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry says “the Canadian side may be in a better position” to comment, and that “China opposes interference in other countries’ internal affairs.”

He adds that this applies to broader allegations about Chinese interference.

“We have no interest in and will not interfere in Canada’s internal affairs,” Wang Wenbin said in the official English transcript. “There should be no irresponsible comments on this.”

China’s detention of the men who became known around the world as the “two Michaels” occurred in apparent retaliation for the December 2018 arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition warrant.

Beijing has insisted the cases are not linked, despite a close alignment in the timing of each being detained and then released the same day in September 2021.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2023.


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