Odebrecht S.A. is a Brazilian construction firm well known to have corrupted and manipulated several government officials across Latin America. Ever since these illegal operations came to light, dozens of politicians have been prosecuted and detained all over the world. Peru was no exception to these countries and the officials found guilty are now facing the consequences.
Additional to these corruption charges, the country is now facing strong disagreements between the president and congress. The latter would normally be a healthy exercise in a stable economy, after all, the existence of several political powers is there to counteract any attempts of policymaking related to personal interests. However, in a country where corruption has played an important role in politics, disagreements between government organs are detrimental for politics, society and democracy.
Conflicts between two political organs are nothing new to the history of the Andean country. During late 20th century, the then president Alberto Fujimori dissolved one of the legislative chambers of the South American country, leaving Peru with only one political power besides the president. As a result, the constant struggle to agree on several policies has yielded disagreements and polarization among the population, and even skepticism towards the strength of Peruvian politics; leaving Peruvians with a strong decision to make regarding their loyalty between both political bodies.
Over the past two years, Peru has experienced a remaking of its own history. During this same period, the corrupted government has cost Peru’s politics two imprisoned presidents, one ex-candidate in jail, one ex-president detained in the US and an ex-president killing himself.
It all began with the election of Pedro Pablo Kuzcynski (PPK) in 2016 and the consequent defeat of Alberto Fujimori’s (ex-president [dictator] of Peru) daughter; Keiko Fujimori. In spite of her defeat, Keiko Fujimori managed to install 73 of the 130 congressmen in the only legislative chamber that currently runs Peru; therefore obtaining an absolute majority in her party, the Popular Force (FP).
Alberto Fujimori was the president of Peru from 1990 to 2000. After dissolving congress, Fujimori ruled for ten years in Peru; hence his tag as Peru’s Last Dictator. After finishing his term, Fujimori lived in self-exile before being arrested in Chile and extradited to Peru to face corruption charges. Alberto Fujimori is now in jail and faces a 25-year sentence. His daughter, Keiko Fujimori lost the presidency in 2016 but managed to impose an absolute majority in congress. After claiming several times that the presidency was stolen from her, Keiko Fujimori paralyzed almost every policy proposed by Kuzcynski, thus creating an ungovernable environment for the president.
Due to the constant obstructions from congress, along with more than one corruption allegation against him, Pedro Pablo Kuzcynski stepped down from the presidential chair in March 2018. On October of the same year, Keiko Fujimori was arrested for money laundering and suspected dealing with the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. In turn, Pedro Pablo Kyzcynski was put in house arrest a few months later due to several claims that he had corrupt dealings with the construction firm when he was finance minister.
As a result of the resigning of Kuzcynski, first vice-president Martín Vizcarra took office on March, 23rd. Vizcarra held a strong policy against corruption in the country. “All of my 4 predecessors have been accused of corruption” Vizcarra said after taking office. On December 9th, he held a referendum to abolish congressmen re-election rights and to install a new anti-corruption package in the country. His referendum passed with a 90% majority. However, Congress prevented the creation of an anti-corruption body that would strip congressmen of immunity from prosecution (included in Vizcarra’s package).
Even though Vizcarra was popular among Peruvians, he was never “loved” within the political sphere. Much of Kuzcynski’s followers looked at him as a traitor. He was alone. Vizcarra had also realized that jailed Keiko Fujimori still had much power over congress from prison (which made some journalists compare her to Pablo Escobar), so he decided to bring congressional elections forward one year. After congress had refused most of his policies (including advancing the elections), Vizcarra played one last card: he dissolved congress.
“What happened in Congress underscores the shamelessness to which parliamentary majority has fallen”, Vizcarra mentioned.
Vizcarra addressing the nation
In a televised message, president Vizcarrra announced the dissolution of Peru’s congress and called for new congressional elections within four months. In turn, congress president Pedro Olaechea answered by removing Vizcarra from the presidential chair by accusing him of “breaking the constitutional order”. Hours later, vice-president Mercedes Aráoz stepped up as Interim President; leaving Peru (once again) with a conflict between the executive and legislative powers.
Polarization has taken over the country. Entire protests are being held in more than one city to support one-or the other side of this conflict. The international community has not pronounced a word about unrecognizing Vizcarra (as it happened with Juan Guaidó in Venezuela), but it is certainly watching over any political shifts that may arise over the next weeks.
Due to high levels of impunity, few Latin American countries actually force their politicians to face the consequences of corruptive actions. The current situation of Peru demonstrates a social and political shift towards a more strict, less tolerant country. Peruvians are just too fed up with corruption.
Peru must define its political crisis soon if it expects to avoid any larger protests or even a coup d’état. Extremist groups may take advantage of the current weak political institutions to gain influence over the country. Conflicts between political powers tend to attract external forces to the table. If the Peruvian government does not demonstrate that it has the power and voice to control the country, its citizens may start looking somewhere else for hope.