Peru's ousted president had pushed for anti-corruption efforts. What happens now?

LIMA, Peru – When the Peruvian legislature elected President Martín Vizcarra from office this week, they may have ousted more than one popular leader – they probably have the country’s best chance of tackling endemic corruption on hold placed.

The head of state has been the country’s strongest supporter of measures to end decades of dirty politics. Vizcarra dissolved Congress last year after lawmakers repeatedly blocked efforts to contain transplantation and reform the judiciary. More recently, he has tried to get rid of their right to parliamentary immunity.

He may not have succeeded in pushing through any major changes – and he is now being investigated for his own possible wrongdoing – but many Peruvians saw in Vizcarra the leader of a fledgling drive to hold those in power accountable. Angry about his move on Monday, thousands took to the streets every day in protest and refused to recognize the new government.

“From a political point of view, he was the face of resistance,” said Alonso Gurmendi Dunkelberg, analyst and assistant professor at the Peruvian Universidad del Pacifico. “I don’t think we will see much anti-corruption efforts in this Congress.”

In a region where transplants are common, Peru has gone further than most Latin American countries in scrutinizing senior leaders in recent years.

Every former living president is being investigated or charged with corruption. All but one of them were linked to the massive Odebrecht scandal, in which the Brazilian construction giant admitted to distributing bribes in the millions in exchange for public works contracts. The other, strong man, Alberto Fujimori, is serving a 25-year prison sentence during his tenure from 1990-2000 for violating human rights, corruption and sanctioning death squads.

And these are just the cases where heads of state are involved.

When Vizcarra took a stand on Monday in his defense, he pointed out that 68 lawmakers are currently facing their own investigations into allegations ranging from money laundering to murder. The country’s newly appointed president, Manuel Merino, was interviewed himself about possible nepotism in awarding $ 55,000 of government contracts to his mother and two siblings while he was lawmaker, despite denying wrongdoing.

“Is that why you have to quit your job?” Vizcarra asked.

The hypocrisy has not been lost with dozens of Peruvians who have demonstrated in the days since to protest the removal of Vizcarra under a vague 19th-century move that allows the powerful Congress to appoint a president for “persistent moral incapacity.” ” to remove. Lawmakers accused him of taking US $ 630,000 in bribes in return for two construction contracts as governor of a small province in southern Peru.

Vizcarra denied the allegations and was not charged, although he agreed to resign and said he did not want to further exacerbate the country’s already precarious stability. Peru has experienced one of the world’s worst virus outbreaks and has the highest per capita COVID-19 death rate of any country in the world.

Some blame a weak political party system, with Peruvian lawmakers voting from a confusing list of little-known candidates, many of whom have no experience. Analysts also believe that Peru’s generous parliamentary immunity makes bad apples run.

A poll by Proetica, the Peruvian chapter of Transparency International, found that out of 40 cases filed by the Supreme Court from 2006 to 2019 to waive legislature immunity to prosecute possible charges, only six were granted – which is on it indicates that those suspected of misconduct can often turn to law enforcement.

“Many lawmakers are already entering the office with investigations,” said Samuel Rotta, the group’s director. “Many enter politics to gain access to immunity.”

Although lawmakers accused Vizcarra of corruption when it voted him out, many political analysts said the move was little more than a parliamentary coup by a group of lawmakers who feared the president’s actions would jeopardize their own careers.

Vizcarra only had eight months in office and said he would not run again.

“Very distant” opportunities for corruption reform

Some have wondered if Vizcarra should have resisted Congress instead of simply stepping down after receiving an overwhelming vote to remove him.

“The chances of corruption reforms moving forward are very slim,” said Cynthia McClintock, professor of political science at George Washington University.

Others worry about what kind of government the new president can put together. One of his first appointments to prime minister is a politician who resigned in 2009 after 34 people were killed in a protracted indigenous protest.

It is not yet known how Merino will deal with gigantic problems like the pandemic, and many expect it to attempt to take potentially destructive populist measures.

Very few countries in the region have signaled that they will recognize the government of Merino. Several statements urge Peru to keep plans for a presidential election in April. The Organization of American States said Wednesday it was “deeply concerned” about the upheaval in Peru.

“The entire new government is obviously so crippled by what he’s done that it can’t get support,” said Gurmendi Dunkelberg, referring to Merino.

Peru’s politics have not always been seen as so corrupt.

Carlos Fernández, professor of political science at Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University in Lima, has analyzed decades of opinion polls and found that it was not until the late 1980s that Peruvians began to largely distrust their politicians.

The scourge began during the 1985-1990 tenure of Alan García, who committed suicide in 2019 when police arrived at his home to arrest him related to the Odebrecht probe. Confidence continued to decline during Fujimori’s tumultuous 10-year rule, marked by rights violations and a notorious scandal involving a spy chief who caught bribing congressmen.

In the decades since then, Peruvians have watched politician after politician be accused of accepting bribes, obstructing the judiciary and embezzling funds.

“We have had corrupt governments for the past 35 years,” said Fernández. “That created a political culture of corruption that people now reject.”

University student Violeta Mejia said many were just fed up.

“Why am I protesting?” she said among a crowd of protesters Tuesday. “Because we are tired.”

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