Peru’s Third President in One Week: Can Sagasti Halt ‘Constant’ Crisis? – Liberal Article
Newly chosen Francisco Sagasti will be the third to take up the presidential role in Peru in the past week; the fifth in the past four years. But let’s not be mistaken. I feel the new leadership may do little to rectify the country’s instability.
The first of the three to go was former president Martín Vizcarra, impeached on 9 November. This came after accusations of having links to the so-called ‘Construction Club’ case, receiving over $630,000 in bribes. An ironic contradiction with his reputation as the “anti-corruption” president! Vizcarra himself, however, denies allegations.
This was not Vizcarra’s only fault, as he failed to solve a taxing deadlock with opposition lawmakers, Peru’s members of Congress.
The cornerstone of Vizcarra’s popularity has invariably been his anti-graft reforms. This raises the question, was Vizcarra’s removal constitutionally correct or was this simply a ploy by Congress to stop anti-corruption laws?
Ousted on the claim of “moral incapacity”, I am left sceptical as to whether such a vague term upholds the rule of law. Perhaps members of Congress are simply playing on their parliamentary immunity.
Therein lies a common theme in global politics. Prioritisation of personal gain over national interest.
The second of the three to gain the presidency was Manuel Merino, viewed by many as the staging of a coup. This saw thousands of peaceful protestors take to the streets. As expected, they were met with what was described by Walter Gutiérrez, human rights spokesman, as an “irrational, abusive use of force.”
Riot police. Tanks. Shields and truncheons. Teargas fired from canisters and from helicopters flying overhead. Street lights deactivated and mobile phone signal blocked. Two left dead from gun wounds, dozens missing and over 100 injured.
At that agonising moment, resentment fused with deep sorrow and seethed into an endemic fury. Peru is in mourning.
Denouncing the brutality on Twitter, the ex-president Vizcarra imputed the bloodshed to the new “illegal and illegitimate” government. Pressure mounting, there were demands for Merino’s immediate resignation. In light of this, Merino barely held out six days in office.
But why has there been such an exhausting record of political turmoil?
Firstly, the unicameral body, likewise seen in Ecuador, Venezuela and most Central American countries, means that decisions made only have to be ratified by one legislative organisation. I see this as an immense setback as it grants an abundance of power to a small elite.
Secondly, the ease of the impeachment process. Only 20% of members of congress have to agree for an impeachment to be proposed. I believe that this makes it straightforward for tensions to quickly spiral.
The Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Peru as a “flawed democracy” in 2019. But is it feasible to argue that the crisis is ceaseless? We certainly cannot deny the long tradition of political volatility.
Relentlessly, Peru alternates between democracy and militarism, enduring 10 coups in the 20th Century alone. From 1980, the country was riddled by 20 years of conflict involving the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement and the Shining Path. The latter still has a following. As a result, I feel that Peru struggles to come to terms with the Civil War and is insufferably hindered by this.
Nevertheless, it is not all doom and gloom. Peru has advanced. I think it would be ludicrous to turn a blind eye to the economic progress of the ‘90s, for example. Peru reaped the benefits of a liberalised economy, welcome foreign investment and reduced monetary poverty.
If nothing else, then, Peru is troubled by contradictions.
So, are the recent protests a turning point? Or does this merely foreshadow a rupture in the constitutional order?
Naturally, Peru’s people will not be silenced. Trending Twitter topics recently included the hashtags ‘It’s Your Turn Congress’ and ‘Congress National Embarrassment’.
However, there is a glimpse of hope for the future. Owing to the popularity of the recently impeached Vizcarra, citizens desired a president who had voted against the impeachment. Fortunately, the latest president Francisco Sagasti belongs to the only party that satisfied these public demands.
But as positive as this may be, I do not see it as an excuse to relax just yet.
I fear that the new president may follow the concept of the ‘vientre de alquiler’. Literally meaning ‘surrogate mother’, in Peruvian political jargon, the term describes those whose political affiliation is motivated by self-advancement. In this case, it worries me that public benefit would take a back seat.
It is worth pointing out that every living former president in Peru has either been imprisoned or under house arrest for corruption. Regrettably, then, this Andean country will have to put up a fight to do away with deception.
But are these problems so deep-seated that they cannot be tackled?
Perhaps escaping the crisis depends on whether Peru continues to adopt neoliberalism as an economic model. Albeit successful, neoliberalism is not free of complications. In recent years, economic growth in Peru has stagnated. As a result, inequality becomes shamelessly glaring. However, I feel that by rising up against neoliberalism, Peru can overcome the upheaval.
Ultimately, what currently keeps Peru stuck in a rut is the coronavirus pandemic. Irrespective of who governs, I would say that the pivotal battle for the new president is prioritising the health crisis.
Granted, there is a long way to go. But protestors prove they are willing to take an active stand. My hope is that Peruvians continue to inform themselves and vote responsibly in next year’s elections.
Next year also marks the 200th anniversary of Peruvian independence. 2021, therefore, evokes the liberation gained 200 years prior. This instils confidence that the fight will not be in vain.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Natasha Tinsley
Point of Information
Cautious optimism for the future of Peru – A Conservative Response
I echo, somewhat, Natasha’s optimism for the future of Peru. Sagasti, the consummate centrist, is very concerned with “building bridges”. Precisely what is needed right now in fractured Peru.
This optimism is also aided by his base in the legislature. The first of the three Presidents that Natasha mentioned, Vizcarra, was quite clearly removed by the legislature as he did not fit their volitions or interests. However, Sagasti is in a slightly stronger position: he has a party behind him. This slightly stronger footing will hopefully lead Peru to see less despotic behaviour and more longer-term planning.
It is not all good news, however. One of the big issues facing Sagasti, as mentioned by Natasha, is that it looks as though the legislature will try to “stymie” any major anti-corruption reforms. The corruption problem is colossal, with almost half of congress being under investigation. Perhaps, the new President will also succumb to the quagmire that has plagued so many of his predecessors.
The problem is that, to regular Peruvians, this all sounds far too familiar, and that the regular recitation of ‘unity’ is starting to ring hollow. Those in power play their games, and it is the average individual that bears the brunt.
Finally, I do hope that there is no political opportunism on behalf of the military. That they will not step in to ‘restore order’, in what would not be completely out of fashion.
We shall wait and see with fingers crossed.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Alexander Dennis
Boundless institutional problems, but plenty of room for optimism – A Labour Response
I too echo Natasha’s optimism for the future of Peru. Of course there are many obstacles to overcome, but I am hopeful that the Peruvian people can pave the way for change. The protests are just a start.
However, “Peru’s third President in one week” says it all. Something is terribly wrong here.
It will definitely take a lot more than a promise or two from Sagasti to convince Peruvians they are on the path to a more hopeful political future. There are boundless institutional problems here. Rebecca alludes to these. The unicameral body, the ease of the impeachment process, and of course their wavering reputation as a democracy are just some of the reasons why political turmoil could likely persist.
So it seems likely that one of the best hopes Peruvians is to protest, using their democratic right to further inform others about the ongoing political struggle in their country.
The institutional problems are going nowhere in a hurry, but the movement against them can sure be mobilised.
Written by Co-Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo