Politicians exploit COVID-19 in Peru, Bolivia


Peru’s right-wing opposition leader Keiko Fujimori, who had been jailed in January while¬†corruption charges are pending against her, was released from pre-trial detention at Lima’s Chorrillos prison¬†on May 4, ostensibly on fears she could be exposed to the coronavirus. Fujimori will be under “restricted release,”¬†meaning she cannot leave Lima without prior authorization and must check in every 30 days with judicial authorities. Of course there has been no general discharge from Peru’s dangerously overcrowded prisons, and one leading anti-corruption prosecutor in the Fujimori case,¬†Rafael Vela, is protesting her release as “illegitimate.”¬†(Milenio,¬†Japan Times, Diario Uno)

Ironically, just two days earlier,¬†the Peruvian government¬†issued a¬†decree¬†authorizing¬†mining operations¬†to resume in the country‚ÄĒsupposedly with¬†strict health and safety protocols. Operations at Peru’s mines, critical to the country’s economy, had been suspended in mid-April in response to the pandemic.¬† (Mining.com)

The administration of President Martín Vizcarra has won a degree of support from the popular classes for its handling of the crisis, which has now claimed some 1,400 lives. Finance Minister Maria Antonieta Alva is especially hailed for crafting an ambitious recovery package that emphasizes aid to small businesses and ordinary citizens. (Bloomberg, NYT)

But struggling family businesses, along with migrant workers, are disproportionately impacted by the government’s harsh lockdown orders.¬†Market-stall operators have repeatedly protested being shut down and even having their goods confiscated as police fumigate premises. Evicted merchants held a street demonstration outside La Paradita market in Lima’s Victoria district May 5, demanding the return of their seized inventory.¬†(Diaro Uno, Diario Uno)

Bolivia meets the new boss
Bolivia’s Mining Minister Carlos Huallpa also announced a multi-ministerial resolution May 2 allowing operations to resume at the country’s mines, which had likewise been idled as a measure to contain the pandemic. Companies will have to seek individual approval from the ministry for their “biosafety” protocols. (Mining.com)

The COVID-19 crisis is also contributing to Bolivia’s general crisis of legitimacy. After last November’s ouster of¬†Evo Morales, it was assumed that interim president¬†Jeanine A√Īez would be in power for only a matter of weeks, until new elections could be held. Since then, excuses have mounted to postpone new elections. After repeatedly stating she would not run in the new polls,¬†A√Īez changed her tune in January and threw her hat into the ring. Elections which had been initially scheduled for this week have been indefinitely postponed.

On April 30, the country’s congress passed a law stating the poll must be held by Aug. 2, but A√Īez vetoed it, saying the election should be held “when the pandemic allows us to.” Morales noted cynically from exile in Argentina that¬†the pandemic fit her plans “like a ring on a finger.” There have been 59 coronavirus deaths in Bolivia. (Financial Times, Nodal)

This is ironically redolent of the constitutional shenanigans Morales used to extend his tenure in office, and many of the social contradictions that sparked protest under his rule are only deepening under the new regime.

Wildfires that devastated much of the eastern lowlands last year, helping to fuel popular unrest in the region, have not abated. In the first four months of 2020, Bolivia registered more than 15,000 wildfires‚ÄĒa figure three times higher than that for the same period last year. Bolivia’s¬†Fundaci√≥n Amigos de la Naturaleza warned that this year “threatens to repeat” the grave environmental damage that the country’s rainforests suffered in 2019. (AFP)

Photo: Diaro Uno

  1. Police raid on Lima disco sparks deadly stampede

    At least 13 people suffocated to death in a crush sparked by a police raid on a nightclub in Peru’s capital where a party was being held despite a ban on such gatherings under pandemic emergency measures. The illegal birthday party was organized on social media and drew a crowd of around 120.¬†(AFP)

  2. Peru Congress opens way for impeachment of president

    Peru’s Congress launched impeachment proceedings against President Mart√≠n Vizcarra who is accused of trying to obstruct a corruption investigation.¬†The move was backed in a 65-36 vote. Lawmakers are expected to debate next week whether Vizcarra should be removed for “moral incapacity.”¬†He is accused of misusing public funds and then trying to cover this up.¬†Vizcarra denies any wrongdoing and accuses Congress of staging a political coup.

    The Sept. 11 session was called after the head of Congress, Manuel Merino, was given leaked audio recordings in which Vizcarra appears to discuss ways of covering up the alleged misuse of public funds.¬†The recordings are of conversations between Vizcarra and government aides.¬†He is heard telling aides to downplay details of his office’s hiring of a singer, Richard Cisneros, to deliver pro-government motivational talks. Cisneros was reportedly paid $49,500.¬†The opposition accuses the presidency of wasting resources when ordinary Peruvians face economic hardship from the coronavirus crisis.

    More than 30,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Peru, which has one of the highest death rates in the world. (BBC News)

  3. Peru president survives impeachment vote

    Peru’s Congress unsuccessfully attempted to¬†impeach¬†President Mart√≠n Vizcarra on Sept. 18¬†on the grounds of “moral incapacity.”¬†Vizcarra faced the impeachment hearing despite his appeal to delay congressional efforts to remove him from his office. His appeal was¬†rejected¬†by the Constitutional Court one day before the congressional vote. (Jurist)

  4. Peru: protests erupt as president impeached

    Protests are reported from Lima,¬†Trujillo, Chiclayo, Huancayo, Arequipa and other cities across Peru following the impeachment of Preisdent¬†Mart√≠n Vizcarra on dubious charges that he accepted bribes for public-works contracts as governor of¬†Moquegua region in 2014. The 105 votes far exceeded the 87-vote threshold out of 130 needed to remove him from office. There were 19 votes against his ouster and four abstentions.¬†Although rejecting the claims as “baseless” and “false,” Vizcarra immediately stepped down.¬†The head of Congress,¬†Manuel Merino of the centrist Popular Action party, has been sworn in as the new president. (RPP,¬†RPP,¬†InfoBae,¬†BBC News,¬†Reuters)