Peru’s political climate has been affected by deep structural problems due to the country’s peculiar democratic framework, with the hybrid presidential-parliamentary system prone to deadlock. There are promising signs of change, however, as the administration of President Martín Vizcarra Cornejo looks set to bring about an era of stability after a series of corruption scandals.
The April 2019 suicide of Peru’s former president, Alan García (in power between 1985 and 1990, and from 2006 to 2011), is the latest scandal to shake the political class. García shot himself in his home as police arrived to arrest him in relation to corruption charges pertaining to disgraced Brazilian infrastructure conglomerate Odebrecht. In 2016 the firm pleaded guilty in a US court to bribing state officials and companies in Latin American countries to secure lucrative contracts. García is one of several former presidents who have been implicated in the scandal, including Ollanta Humala (2011-16) and Alejandro Toledo (2001-06). Commentators have described García’s suicide as symbolic of the continued self-destruction of Peru’s political class. In May 2019 President Vizcarra called a confidence motion in Congress on political reforms to tackle corruption. On June 5 it was passed with 77 in favour, 44 against and three abstentions. The vote of confidence from the legislative branch breathes new life into the president’s anticorruption drive.
Standing as the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance candidate, García won the 1985 presidential elections and served a five-year term until 1990. He worked to reactivate the economy, end human rights abuses in the war against the guerrillas and get the upper hand in the fight against drug trafficking. However, his term took place amid consistently rising inflation, and resulted in a series of workers’ strikes. With García ineligible for re-election – as per the constitution – the 1990 elections were decided in a second-round runoff between author Mario Vargas Llosa and Alberto Fujimori. Vargas Llosa’s anti-inflation programme alarmed the lowest-income segments of society, while Fujimori proved popular among the middle class and won the final ballot. He implemented widely unpopular austerity measures, and in 1992 managed a self-coup with the help of the military and dissolved Congress. This preceded the election of a new legislature and the promulgation of an updated constitution. Fujimori pursued neoliberal economic policies and privatisation, and the economy eventually recovered. Under the new constitution, presidential re-election was permitted, and Fujimori won a second term in 1995. Among a number of important landmarks of his administration were the capture of guerrilla group Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán Reynoso in 1992 and the storming of the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Lima to free hostages taken by Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement members in 1996.
After standing successfully for a third term, Fujimori fell out of popularity when one of his senior advisers, and head of the secret police, Vladimiro Montesinos, was found guilty of bribery. After facing allegations of guilt by association, Fujimori fled to Japan. A caretaker administration took control until Toledo’s election in 2001. He was the first democratically elected Quechua-speaking president in Peru’s history, but without a majority in Congress, his administration struggled against the challenging economic conditions of a recession. However, he was successful in overseeing the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was charged with investigating and determining the extent of the killings and human rights abuses during the 1980s. In 2003 the commission released a report stating that the death toll from the conflict had reached around 70,000, twice the number that had been originally estimated.
In 2005 Fujimori returned to South America. Despite having been barred from holding public office until 2011, he arrived in Chile with the hope of organising a campaign to seek re-election in Peru. However, he was detained on outstanding warrants for corruption and human rights abuses. In 2007 he was extradited to Peru, where he was put on trial and found guilty of crimes including organising kidnappings and death squads, funnelling money to Montesinos, and engaging in wire-tapping and bribery. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison. García ran for president again in 2006 and won against his left-wing opponent Ollanta Humala, who had led a coup d’etat against Fujimori in 2000 but was eventually pardoned by Congress. García’s support was undermined by his vocal endorsement of the former president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, who had garnered support among the left-wing across Latin America but was also coming under criticism for his increasingly authoritarian approach. Controversially, García signed laws allowing foreign firms to exploit resources in the Amazonian region. These were conditional to the signing of a free trade agreement with the US, and were met with opposition from indigenous communities, who called for strike action in the north. This resulted in violent clashes with police and numerous fatalities, and in 2009 Congress revoked the law.
In 2011 Humala won the presidential elections in a competition against Keiko Fujimori, the former president’s daughter, in close election race. Humala received considerable support from the left, and distrust from the right and centrist cohorts, who were fearful he would model himself on Venezuela’s Chávez. His failure to do so alienated the left, who formed a new coalition to oppose him in the 2016 elections. Humala also faced opposition from conservatives regarding his proposal that Peru purchase a stake in Spanish oil company Repsol. His support continued to wane throughout corruption allegations and handling of social conflicts such as clashes between environmentalists and mining companies. In the meantime, Peru’s economy was suffering through a decline in international demand for industrial and precious metals. Humala also struggled with governmental instability and oversaw the tenure of seven prime ministers. Though constitutionally prohibited from running for re-election in 2016, Keiko Fujimori won in the first round against a crowded field. This was after the national elections body banned her biggest rival, Julio Guzmán, from running due to violation of electoral procedures. However, falling short of the 50% minimum needed to secure a victory, the elections went to a second round. Fujimori faced Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who was backed by her other challengers in the first round. Capitalising on Fujimori’s negative image stemming from her connections to her imprisoned father, Kuczynski won by a narrow margin, securing just 50.1% of the vote.
President Kuczynski’s term ran into problems rapidly, namely as corruption scandals implicated members of his Cabinet, including Carlos Moreno, his health policy adviser, who was captured on tape discussing plans to siphon off state funds. In 2017 President Kuczynski was implicated in the Odebrecht scandal, in which the Brazilian infrastructure conglomerate pleaded guilty in a US court to paying governments and companies across Latin America bribes to secure contracts. Former presidents Toledo and Humala were also implicated in the scandal. President Kuczynski was accused of having received $782,000 from Odebrecht through the investment firm he owned during his time in Toledo’s government. Despite surviving an impeachment vote in 2017, in March 2018 a leaked videotape was released that showed supporters of the president attempting to bribe members of Congress to cast their votes in his favour. He resigned ahead of the second impeachment vote and was replaced by Vizcarra, who had been vice-president and Peru’s ambassador to Canada.
Since President Vizcarra took office, the political and economic panorama have calmed. In December 2018 President Vizcarra held a referendum in which voters accepted three of his four proposals, including reforms to the National Justice Board, a constitutional reform to regulate political parties’ financing and another reform to ban the immediate re-election of lawmakers. However, his proposal to create a bicameral legislature was rejected.
Regional and municipal elections for regional governors and municipal mayors were held in October 2018. These saw a shift to the left throughout much of the country, in what was considered to be a result of growing discontent at the failure of the government to share the benefits of recent economic growth. The elections also saw Walter Aduviri, an anti-mining activist, win the governorship of Puno region. The exception, however, was Lima, where centre-right candidate Jorge Muñoz successfully won the mayoral election.
On the whole, 2018 was considered a recovery year for the nation’s economy, with investment in mining increasing by around 25% over the previous year. The outlook for 2019 is positive, with more large-scale investment in infrastructure and mining ahead. In addition, while Lima prepares to host the Pan American Games in July, there is optimism throughout the country that it will restore its image of economic prosperity with an investor-friendly framework and political stability.
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