Progressive leaders support President Castillo’s bid to change constitution

Members of the ruling left-wing Free Peru (PL) party and its allies have fiercely condemned the shelving of the bill and vowed to continue fighting for an inclusive constitution

May 11, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Congress of Peru
The Constitution and Regulation Commission of the Congress of Peru, on May 6, shelved a bill presented by President Pedro Castillo that proposed to call a referendum to change the current Constitution and establish a constituent assembly to redraft it. (Photo: Congress of Peru/Twitter)

The Constitution and Regulation Commission of the Congress of Peru, on May 6, shelved a bill presented by President Pedro Castillo that proposed to call a referendum to change the current Constitution and establish a constituent assembly to redraft it. The commission, which was made up of a majority of opposition legislators, rejected the measure with 11 votes against and six votes in favor.

In a statement, the commission said that the bill was “incompatible with the (current) Constitution”, adopted in 1993 during Alberto Fujimori’s dictatorship. “We declare it to be shelved outright, as it runs counter to the constitutional values and principles established by the will of the constituent power,” said the statement.

During his election campaign, Castillo vowed to change the country’s free-market friendly constitution, with the aim of giving the state more control and a leading role in the economy to compete with the private companies. Nine months after taking office, on April 25, he sent a bill to Congress that proposed that a referendum be held on October 2, alongside the regional and municipal elections, to ask Peruvians if they “approve the call for a constituent assembly in charge of preparing a new constitution?”

The current Magna Carta allows its modification, through article 206, in only two ways: the approval of 66 legislators and ratification via referendum; and/or approval of 87 parliamentarians in two consecutive legislatures. 

The bill, presented by Castillo, proposed to reform article 207 of the Constitution to create a Constituent Assembly, elected by the people, to write a new constitution, whose content will be ratified by the people in another referendum. The bill also proposed that the Constituent Assembly would be made up of 130 members, of a plurinational nature and with gender parity, a process similar to the one in progress in the neighboring country Chile.

The motion that sought the shelving of the bill argued that “article 206 of the Constitution is an intangibility clause that represents the only democratic rule that the constituent power itself has set for the modification of its work, and that Congress cannot make changes to said principle, because it would be invading powers that are prohibited to it.” With regard to the modification of article 207, the motion argued that “the constituent power itself voluntarily decided to establish its own limitation, by not regulating that a constituent assembly can carry out a total reform of the Constitution, but that it be the Congress itself, constituted power, who can fulfill the constituent function.”

A day before the voting, the president of the commission Fujimorista legislator Patricia Juárez, had announced that “the Commission was preparing a predicament recommending shelving the initiative, for not having complied with identifying the cost-benefit analysis of the proposal, as well as for containing copies of unquoted texts-plagiarism.”

Widespread condemnation

Members of the ruling left-wing Free Peru (PL) party and its progressive allies fiercely condemned the rejection of the bill. Various ministers and legislators criticized the opposition for turning their back on Peruvians and upholding the current constitution that enshrines the neoliberal order and deepens inequality in the country. They vowed to continue fighting and called on the people to join them in the struggle in defense of democracy and sovereignty.

The Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Félix Chero, took to Twitter to criticize the commission’s decision. “Shelving a constitutional reform project that responds to the legitimate demands of the people shows that Congress legislates behind the backs of the citizenry. We hope that there are new initiatives on the part of legislators and civil society that promote a new Political Constitution, through a broad and responsible debate, that listens to all the voices of the country,” he tweeted.

The Minister of Foreign Trade and Tourism, Roberto Sánchez, stressed that “No Constituted Power can subjugate the Constituent Power that resides in the citizens. It is a political and legal error to challenge the Sovereign People. Come on, People! We do not give up on democracy!”

The Minister of Culture, Alejandro Salas, stated that “They will be able to shelve the draft of the constituent assembly but they will never be able to shelve the voice of thousands of citizens who demand to decide on their own destiny. The debate is already in the streets, the confirmation of the Constituent Assembly has just begun.”

The spokesman for the Free Peru bench, legislator Waldemar Cerrón, said that as a party they will continue presenting legislative initiatives until a new Magna Carta is achieved. “We will continue presenting bills that allow us to improve this condition so that the constituent and the constituted have the good of changing the history of our country. They cling to the Constitution because they have symbolized it, because they believe changing it means mistreating someone who has had a space and a time in history,” Cerrón told the media outside the Legislative Palace. “We cannot allow our rights to be run over, we have not come to cry because the man of the left knows that there will always be struggles, the left has a dialectical thought. Today they will have had a pyrrhic triumph, but later history will prove us right because everything changes,” he added.

Former Prime Minister, legislator Guido Bellido, also indicated that the fight is not over yet. “Nobody is going to stop us. Today they said no to the Executive, shelving his initiative to convene a Constituent Assembly, but our bill is still pending, which overcomes the arguments of the opposition and establishes rules of the game with solid foundations. They shall not pass,” he tweeted.

Progressive leader and the founder of Free Peru, Vladimir Cerrón, also rejected the shelving of the constitutional reform bill. “Constitution Commission shelves PL 1840 of the Constituent Assembly. But you can be assured that the people will never shelve this demand which, on the contrary, is now more urgent than ever before,” he tweeted. “The shelving of the PL of the Constituent Assembly shows a clear divorce between the parties of the capital and the parties of the people. They have not yet understood or are not aware of what Peru is today,” he added.

Former presidential candidate Verónika Mendoza of the left-wing New Peru party described the shelving of the constitutional reform bill “undemocratic.” “There is nothing more undemocratic than denying the sovereign people the right to decide whether or not they want a constituent assembly. Thus, with each passing day, Congress moves further away from the people. The New Constitution that Peru deserves will not come from “the heights” but from the heart of the people,” she tweeted.

Legislator Isabel Cortez of the Together of Peru party described the shelving of the constitutional reform bill “a shame.” “The defenders of ‘democracy’ send to the archives the bill by PL that asks Peruvians whether or not they want a constituent assembly. A shame. But the people are sovereign and it will be in the streets that we will win. Constituent Assembly or nothing! New constitution now!,” she tweeted.

Legislators Silvana Robles, Alex Flores, Jaime Quito, Kelly Portalatino, Ruth Luque, Victor Cutipa, among numerous others, also rejected the right-wing-dominated commission’s decision to block the call for a referendum on a Constituent Assembly.

In the face of the right-wing’s recent maneuver to obstruct the process that could bring about much needed social changes in Peru, on May 9, the General Confederation of Workers of Peru (CGTP) called for a National Meeting of the organizations on May 14 in the capital Lima. The CGTP has called on the various trade unions, agricultural and peasant organizations, social organizations, defense fronts of the regions, peasant patrols, youth, women and LGBTQ movements, students organizations, political parties, among others, that make up the National Assembly of Peoples (ANP), to join the meeting under the banner of “Emergency plan for the crisis, against the coupist attitude of the far-right, for a Constituent Assembly.”