Peru: mass protest against political class

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Lima on March 22, the day after Peru's scandal-embattled president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski announced his resignation. Clashes were reported in the city's downtown Plaza San Martín, with tear-gas used and several injured. The resignation came after months of political machinations in Peru's congress had put off Kuczynski's ouster, and the ire of the demonstrators was directed not just at the disgraced "PPK," but Peru's entire political class. Gerónimo López Sevillano, secretary general of the CGTP union federation, called for a constituent assembly to forge a "new social pact" after new elections are held, while echoing the popular slogan "que se vayan todos los corruptos" (throw out all the corrupt ones). The left-opposition party Nuevo Perú (which has two congressional seats) also called for a new constitution to "refound the country and devolve power to the people." (La República, InfoBae, March 23)

Eloy Zamalloa Campero, top magistrate of the Arequipa Superior Court and himself an anti-corruption crusader, warned in an interview with La República that incoming president Martín Vizcarra Cornejo would have to take serious measures to address the crisis and head off deepening unrest. He noted that the slogan "¡Que se vayan todos!" and general tone of protests sre "a little anarchist."

Kuczynski announced his resignation in a televised address just one day before a scheduled coghressional vote on his removal, the second in three months. Peru's Congress voted to re-open the matter and debate a second vote to remove Kuczynski on March 15. PPK narrowly survived a vote to remove him in December. He is primarilly accused of having accepted illegal payments from the scandal-mired Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. (NPR, March 22; Jurist, March 16) Anti-graft prosecutors have asked a judge to bar Kuczynski from leaving the country, a judiciary source told Reuters after the resignation.

Two days after his announcement, Kuczynski actually threatened to renege on his resignation on his Twitter account, oddly accusing Congress of misinterpreting his "resignation as a vacancy." But nothing came of the threat; his vice president Martin Vizcarra was sworn in that same day, pledging a "head on" fight against corruption. (BBC Mundo, NPR, March 23)

In an easy play to popular support, Vizcarra has also promised to boost government spending on rebuilding infrastructure and housing destroyed by severe floods across much of the country last year. (Reuters, March 27) Of course, the Odebrecht scandal itself concerned graft related to infrastructure projects.

Fujimori not out of the woods yet
Ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori, himself imprisoned for years for corruption and rights abuses, has figured prominently in the current crisis. He was pardoned by Kuczynski days after the December vote on his removal. A right-wing congressional bloc led by the dictator's son Kenji Fujimori abstained from the vote, allowing PPK to survive in office—and raising obvious accusations of a quid pro quo. In February, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights called upon Peru's government to overturn the pardon, saying it "contravened international committments." (El Comercio, March 2)

Peru's National Criminal Court Court B ruled Feb. 19 that Fujimori must stand trial for the killings of six small farmers in 1992 notwithstanding the pardon. The court held that the pardon did not preclude Fujimori from standing trial for crimes against humanity. Fujimori is considering appealing the decision to the Supreme Court. Additionally, 19 other former government and military officials have been charged in the case, concerning the massacre at Pativilca, a town north of Lima, in January 1992.  (Jurist, Feb. 22; La Ley, Feb. 19)

Summit showdown: Maduro gets Trumped?
Peru is almost certainly looking at more street protests around the Summit of the Americas, to be held next month in Lima. Kuczynski in February said that Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro is "not welcome" at the regional summit, citing rights abuses in his country. The left-opposition Broad Front (Frente Amplio) is meanwhile demanding that the government declare President Trump "persona non grata" iand unwelcome at the summit, insisting his policies are "contrary to human rights."  (TeleSur, Feb. 17; BBC News, Feb. 14)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (since removed by Trump) visited Peru on his tour of South America last month. On the eve of the tour, he explicitly invoked a new inter-imperial struggle for the continent. Seeminlgy heedless of his own irony, he criticized Chinese and Russian attempts to expand footholds in the region, saying:  "Latin America does not need new imperial powers that seek only to benefit their own people." (WSJ, Feb. 1)

Photo: Nuevo Perú