Peruvian Congress Ousts President Martín Vizcarra

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A majority in Congress voted on Monday to remove Peruvian President Vizcarra from office following corruption allegations. The impeachment will worsen the political crisis in one of the countries worst-hit by the pandemic.

Former Peruvian president Martín Vizcarra makes a speach while wearing a facemask.

With 105 of 130 votes in favor, the Congress of Peru on November 9 resolved to impeach and remove President Martín Vizcarra from office for “moral incapacity.” The president has been accused of receiving bribes to award contracts to construction companies in the southern department of Moquegua, where he was regional governor from 2011 to 2014. Vizcarra denies the charges. 

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The impeachment vote came on the heels of revelations about Vizcarra’s relationship with former Agriculture Minister José Hernández, a figure linked to the corruption. Leaked messages and phone conversations between the two show that Hernández helped coordinate meetings and served as intermediary between the construction consortium OBRAINSA and Vizcarra. OBRAINSA ultimately gave 2,300,000 soles — $800,000 — to Vizcarra to obtain contracts for a hospital and irrigation work. Hernández denounced Vizcarra to the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office, hoping to win immunity for his testimony. 

Hours after the vote, Vizcarra gave a press conference in the Government Palace accompanied by some of his cabinet members. He accepted the decision of Congress, but denied the allegations, instead portraying himself as a victim of the impeachment process. In a tweet, he said, “I leave with a clear conscience, my head held high and my duty accomplished.”

Article 115 of Peru’s Constitution states that in the case of impeachment, the head of Congress will assume the presidency until new elections are held. Accordingly, Manuel Merino de Lama is expected to take office today, November 10, and serve until July 2021 when Vizcarra’s term would have ended. Merino will have the power to dissolve the cabinet and appoint a new one. 

Merino is a businessman and member of Acción Popular, one of the parties that received the most votes in last January’s parliamentary elections. He is one of the conservatives and neoliberals who are now in the majority in the Peruvian Congress, which is why, over the course of his administration as congressional leader, he endorsed all of Vizcarra’s pro-business economic measures that hurt the working class.

The campaign for president and Congress is already underway, with the election slated for April 2021. This was called months ago by Vizcarra and was recognized by Merino after the presidential ouster was approved.

Although Vizcarra accepted the impeachment and Merino will take office, these events take place at a tumultuous time for the Andean country. Peru, hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, has one of the world’s highest per-capita mortality rates  — with nearly 1 million confirmed cases and 35,000 deaths. It also faces one of the worst recessions in the region, with GDP expected to shrink by 12 percent this year. As such, much uncertainty and political instability remains. 

Vizcarra joins a long list of politicians in Peru linked to corruption. The Peruvian Congress, now responsible for governing the country, is one of the most discredited political institutions and represents no change for working people. Within this framework, Vizcarra’s departure does not end the present political crisis; rather, it opens a new scenario in Peru as the set of neoliberal institutions that were established in 1993 as part of the regime of Alberto Fujimori continue to crack.

Originally published in Spanish on November 10 in La Izquierda Diario

Translation: Otto Fors