I am thankful my home country, in a very timely manner, decided to sink into yet another spectacular political crisis. Lucky me! If you don’t know what I’m talking about a week where we had three presidents and protests the size of which we hadn’t seen since the turn of the century. It all started about 30 years ago.
As the 80s was coming to an end, Peru was weathering a 12000% inflation and maoist terrorist group Shining Path had successfully taken their guerrilla warfare to a point in which people had to check the news every morning to check whether the presidential palace had already been taken. In the general elections that year, Alberto Fujimori, pictured below with his daughter Keiko and son Kenji, went from being a university professor no one had heard about to the president of a country in the brink of collapse, all within the span of two months. Shining Path was defeated during his government. Unsurprisignly, Fujimori took credit although not before closing congress 1. From then on, he governed with ease. He bribed congressmen, judges, media personalities and media barons. He was a prototype of Putin. He escaped to Japan as soon as people became suspect of his wrongdoings and he resigned through a letter he faxed.
Congress did not think it was honorable to accept his resignation so they impeached him. They called on an article in the constitution which states that a president can be removed if the president dies, leaves the country without approval from congress, offers his resignation, or is permanently morally or physically incapacitated When congress decided to invoke this article, they decided to do it not because Fujimori had submitted his resignation, but because he was deemed to be morally incapacitated. However, the constitution had been written on a time in which moral incapacity meant mentally disabled. This new interpretation unlocked the possibility to have congress impeach a president for anything they considered inmoral.
Fast forward to 2016, the last general election Peru has had. Alberto Fujimori’s daughter, Keiko, is now leader of a populist party whose platform is simply to release Fujimori from prison 2. She had plenty of support because of her father’s fabricated legacy for defeating Shining Path. However, her father had also ursurped democratic institutions and killed thousands of innocent people so she faced staunch opposition, one large enough to defeat her. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) won the presidency but Keiko managed to capture an overwhelming majority in the legilative’s only chamber.
Pictured above is the winning presidential ticket, PPK and his vicepresident Martin Vizcarra. None of them is president today, they have both been removed by two different parliaments even though the legislative session is meant to span the same length as an executive government. This happened because there was two presidential impeachments and a congress shutdown in between.
Alright, I have introduced the cast and I have placed them on the board so the chips are almost ready to fall. In order to proceed, I must first mention what at the time seemed to be a confined case of corruption in our neighbouring country of Brazil. In an on-going case known as ‘Lava Jato’ 3, top level executives of the state-owned oil company Petrobras had been money laundering and embezzling an estimated $13 billion. This money came from taking bribes from an engineering and contracting company known as Odebrecht. The CEO of Odebrecht was sentenced to almost 20 years of prison and the investigation managed to get its hands on incriminating records that would soon implicate public officials in multiple countries across the region.
The ‘Lava Jato’ case eventually brought down every president we’ve had after Fujimori. All of them have been imprisoned for having accepted bribes from Odebrecht at some point during their presidential campaings, with the exception of Alan Garcia who had chosen to kill himself soon after the police knocked his door to arrest him. Given that Garcia had been president in the 80-85 and 01-06 periods and Fujimori remained in prison, we had the peculiar honour of having every living ex-president incarcerated. Unsurprisingly, PPK was also implicated during his government and he was promptly threatened with impeachment. Even though the evidence of corruption was not enough to get the votes necessary to remove him from office, this episode was quickly followed by the leak of a video that featured Kenji Fujimori negotiating with PPK for the release of his father in exchange for his party’s abstention from the looming impeachment vote. They both held their side of the deal, Fujimori was given presidential pardon not a week after the rejected impeachment vote 4. With no way of overcoming a political scandal of such magnitude, PPK promptly resigned, thus leaving the presidency to Vizcarra.
Martin Vizcarra’s faith wasn’t very different but he put up a good fight. He hasn’t been implicated in the Lava Jato scandal, at least not yet. He chose to draw on the wave of indignation against corruption and summoned peruvians to a referendum on issues of electoral reform. The most relevant proposal being one that made it impossible for representatives of congress to be reelected. I personally do not think it’s an effective solution at all, but most voters were tired of seeing the same old people come back to congress every session and do what they perceived to be nothing. It succeeded and it removed any incentive for congressmen to represent their constituents 5.
Keiko Fujimori’s agenda had been fulfilled when her father had been released from prison so we would have had a chance to see what her political leanings actually are if not for what happened right after. To the surprise of no one, she was finger pointed by Odebrecht’s CEO as yet another recipient of his bribes. She was put in prison. She started a judicial appeal right away and then used her influence in congress to start appointing judges to the same court that would decide her case. To stop her political enemy from leaving prison and running for president in 2021, Vizcarra immediately proposed to ammend the judge appointing process. Now, bear with me, in the peruvian system, if congress veto’s any proposal put forward by a president, the president has the right to call for a vote of no confidence. If the vote of no confidence obtains, then the president must reformulate his cabinet. If parliament passes a second vote of no confidence a second time, then the president can shut down congress. By interrupting Keiko’s plan to escape from justice, President Vizcarra forced her congress to deny him confidence for a second time and therefore he had the constituional right to dissolve an inimical congress 6. This political checkmate was remarkably welcomed by the electorate, as they took it to be an opportunity to banish the old political establishment from power. As I write this, I realise how ironic it is that Fujimori’s party, whose martyr first closed congress in the 90s, had their congress closed back.
As shown above, only a handful of parties survived the purge. The Fujimorista party, Fuerza Popular, went from 73 seats at the start of the parliamentary period to having only 15 7. Relatively younger parties, or parties that had long lost popularity, made a comeback. Worth mentioning are Union for el Peru (12 seats) and Frente Popular Agricola del Peru, FREPAP (15 seats). Unlike most parties that represent the business interests of specific industrial sectors and regions of the country, these two parties defend strong ideological convictions. The first one is a surrogate party captured by Antauro Humala, pictured in the left of the picture below. Antauro Humala is the leader of the Ethnocacerist movement, which seeks to establish a dictatorship led by the indigenous communities and their descendants. They want to remove the influence of those with spaniard blood, want to legalize the growth of coca leaves and nationalize industry in its entirety. The other half of the picture shows FREPAP and at the center of the table is Ezequiel Ataucusi. He somehow managed to convince around 200 thousand people that he is a prophet and the reincarnation of the Holy Spirit. He claimed that he was chosen by god to create a new Israel in the Amazon rainforest, because the original one is being punished for losing their faith. Policy wise, they’re economically socialist which makes them the current representatives of the Peruvian left 8. The lesson from all this is that, apparently, if you don’t let the political establishment to participate in political processes, you give extremists a chance to take over.
That brings us, finally, to the latest episode in the political crisis that has permeated this last governmental period. The members of parliament were well aware that they could not become reelected for the next session, so they had no trouble applying a scorched earth policy. They were aware that with 87 votes they’d be able to impeach the president by claiming that he is ‘permanently morally incapable’. They also thought that it does not matter whether the claim is believable, they’ll get away with just voting the president out. Given that Vizcarra was PPK’s vicepresident, if he was impeached then congress would be able to install their choice of president in the executive, further tempting them to go for Vizcarra. In a first attempt to impeach Vizcarra, they accused him of having overpaid when hiring a singer, Richard Swing, to give motivational speaks in the Ministry of Culture. Here’s how congress voted.
Those who opposed impeachment didn’t do so because they believed the accusations had no ground, but because they knew that they could get something out of it and were going to try to cut a deal. A few months later, they impeached Vizcarra. The country’s most influential newspaper had published a piece giving voice to accusations that the president had received bribes during his time as a regional governor ten years prior. While there may be a truth to these accusations, 95% of the country opposed to impeachment because they thought that Vizcarra, who had broken records in popularity polls, should be tried only after he leaving office the following July. Some said that to impeach him would sink the country into political chaos and disrupt economic stability 9. Here’s how they voted.
The agenda of these parties are clear to anyone who has been following peruvian politics. As a matter of fact, every single party who voted the president out can be suspected of trying to obtain something very specific. These objectives include the pardons for the Fujimoris and Antauro Humala. They were also suspected of trying to get rid of the no-reelection rule, and to postpone elections so they could stay for 5 years. Furthermore, if you look closely you’ll spot the parties that changed their position between the votes. It certainly wasn’t the case that they thought the president was corrupt and had to be removed as soon as possible. The answer is that Alianza por el Progreso and Podemos Peru are funded by cheap universities that were scamming students and have recently lost their licenses. This is one of their universities:
These are mercantilist parties with only one economic objective and no ideology. That’s how a highly fractured congress managed to build a supermajority to impeach and split the pie. It is here where I think lies the main flaw of the peruvian political system, we have no true parties. Every election process, we see new parties surface. Every parliamentary period, we see congressmen change parties.
The impeachment sparked massive outrage across the country. For a week, we had cacerolazos and protests everyday. Even though these manifestations were pacific, the police gassed them. They shut down shops that were printing banners asking the newly installed government to resign. The last protest on Saturday had two young men die, 60 people were injured, and many people took days to reappear. A kid who was missing showed up at a police station to make a complaint against undercover cops that kidnapped him.
The whole country was asking for the resignation of Manuel Merino, the interim president that congress had installed. Congress impeached Vizcarra for having judicial procedures against him, however, Merino has a large number of investigations for corruptions. Seeing that the peruvian people did not approve him, he decided not make public appearances. His first and only appearance in the national media had been when his prime minister, who was being interviewed, revealed that the president was sitting right next to him and relayed the phone 10. By Saturday, when the whole country couldn’t stop banging pots after having seen on TV the mournful mother of the deceased protestor come out of the hospital, members of his three-day old cabinet started to resign. Merino gave a televised message the next day, announcing his immediate exit from office. As soon as he pronounced the word “resignation” my whole neighbourhood roared with claps and screams. It was as if Peru had just scored the goal which qualified us to the World Cup.
I will admit that I did not think the protests would have any success, not without the significant amount of vandalism as seen in Chile, where the protests had roots in a sinking economy. The reason for this is that I didn’t think that there were any mechanisms for accountability. Congress can’t become reelected, and even if they could, electoral districts in this country have more than one representative, so there’s no way of punishing politicians for deviating from the will of their constituents. I thought that if there was a way out, it would be by convincing the international community that the impeachment was actually a coup. While Merino was not recognised as president by a large number of countries, economic sanctions were unlikely to come amidst a global pandemic that had other countries preoccupied with their own economic crisis. After all the events had transpired, I concluded that what I forgot to consider is the wanting professionalism of the peruvian police. Their negligence was exposed, there’s videos where we can hear cops screaming and announcing their will to shoot to kill. According to Peruvian law, every single member of the cabinet is responsible for any crime the executive commits, which explains why the cabinet collapsed so quickly after the most violent protest. Perhaps if police officers had died too, the optics of the protests would have played differently, and Merino would still be president.
After Merino’s resignation, congress had to select a new president. They could not make up their minds for a day and I feared for a gridlock. Fortunately, they had a brief moment of clarity and appointed a man who had voted against Vizcarra’s impeachment. Our current president, Francisco Sagasti, is an industrial engineer who later became a social scientist, and during the last 40 years he has been in academia writing about how to make government more scientifically minded. He has a youtube channel in which he discusses the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence and shares the very same books I have already read and enjoyed. On top of that, he is also my neighbour! I am ecstatic.
Moreover, unlike all of his predecessors, he didn’t swear to protect the country on the cross or on a god. He swore on the constitution. Showing a level of sensitivty we had forgotten was possible from peruvian politicians, he invited the family of the deceased protestors to his inauguration, where in his speech apologized to the country for the shortsightnedness the peruvian political class has had during the few years, causing the political crisis. He discussed climate change, committed to bring scientists to the fight against Covid, and promised to stay impartial during the upcoming electoral process. He closed the speech with a broken voice, reciting a poem about how we can learn to work together even though we’ve previously let each other down.
I couldn’t be happier with this turn of events. It’s a pity that he’ll only be in office for 8 months.
If you know me well you probably know that I don’t have much good things to say about this country other than it has great food and places to visit. There’s so much more left to do to achieve actual representation in politics. However, this is the first time in my life I can say I feel proud of its people and their sense of civic duty. I am hopeful for the future, I know it won’t last long because the nextion elections are in 5 months, but at least we have something to inspire future generations and show them that this country can do things right.
He was hugely criticised by the international community, so he caved in and called for a constituonal assembly. ↩
Alberto was captured in Chile when he was planning to return to Peru for the 2011 general election. ↩
Named after a carwash shop investigators caught overstating their revenue and that eventually connected to Petrobras. ↩
The impeachment vote was on December 21st 2017. Alberto was free on December 24th. There were protests on Christmas Eve. The video leaked in March 2018. ↩
There’s no carrot not stick. ↩
The situation was a constitutional crisis because there was disagreement about whether there had even been a vote of no confidence. The details are too muddy to get into. ↩
The chart shows Fuerza Popular with 54 seats. They lost members during the period. ↩
At least their religious ideology is compatible with their economic policy, unlike others. ↩
A self fulfilling prophecy. ↩
His first public appearance was for a Colombian radio. ↩