Peru’s President resigns
Pedro Kuczynski, Peru’s President, stepped down amid accusations of corruption and accepting bribes. The opposition has released a video showing Kenji Fujimori and a few other members of Peruvian Congress trying to buy votes from party colleagues in the vote on initiating the impeachment of the president. The intended purpose was to keep Kuczynski in office.
Millions of dollars in bribes
“In the face of this difficult situation, it seems unfair to me that I should take the blame for an act which I have not committed. I find it the best solution to resign”, announced the 79-year-old Kuczynski in a speech broadcast by TV. He added that the atmosphere predominant in the parliament does not allow him to exercise his office. “I don’t want to be an obstacle on the road to harmony which our nation needs to follow so much. I don’t want our country to suffer either. I worked honestly for 60 years of my life”, said Kuczynski.
He is the first president to ever lose his office as a part of the corruption scandal involving the Odebrecht company. This construction business is accused of paying millions of dollars in bribes in over a dozen Latin American countries in exchange for state contracts. Last year, the company’s representatives revealed that they bribed three former Peru’s presidents as well as paid 4.8 million dollars to two companies connected to Kuczynski, while he was a member of the government. At first, the accused has denied any dealings with the Brazilian company. Later on, he was pointing out the fact that the contracts were legal. Kuczynski explained that he was not in charge of the companies himself as he was working in the public sector and that he cannot take responsibility for the decisions made by his business partner.
The Fujimori family
Last week the Popular Force, a Peruvian political party, released a video that showed how Kenji Fujimori, brother of the opposition party leader, along with other members of parliament are trying to buy votes in the vote over starting the impeachment of Kuczynski. They promised public investments in return. Kenji denied the accusations and claimed that the videos had been edited.
“Popular Force provides distorted information”, he said, adding that he merely talked about projects which he pursues while visiting other parts of the country. In his view, the only thing that the party wanted was to deprive the president of his post.
The vote took place on December 22nd 2017, when unclear links between Kuczynski and the construction company were brought to light. Keiko Fujimori, the leader of the Popular Force party (which has the majority in Peruvian Congress) then filed a motion to deprive him of the post despite the fact that she faces similar charges in connection with the very same company.
Keiko, since the very beginning of Kuczynski’s tenure (who defeated her in the election), was trying to exert pressure on the President in order to release her father Alberto Fujimori from jail. This former President of Peru ended up behind bars on charges of crimes against humanity.
Keiko, having government majority, managed to recall two prime ministers and a few ministers. Her brother, Kenji, who won the highest number of votes in congressional election, disagreed with his sister’s policy and was in favor of finding a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Only 87 votes were necessary to indite Kuczynski and deprive him of power. Keiko Fujimori’s party alone had 71 votes and could count on the support of a few members of other parties. The result, however, came as a surprise to everyone as it turned out that 10 members of the Popular Force party (including Kenji Fujimori) abstained.
A few days after the vote Pedro Kuczynski decided to pardon Alberto Fujimori. The ruling president explained that his decision was influenced by his predecessor’s poor health. Nevertheless the public assumed that his release was a price Kuczynski had to pay for staying in office. After the act of grace was published, hundreds of people took to the streets and a few ministers resigned.
President without obligations
One day after Kuczynski stepped down, the public prosecutor’s office demanded that he is banned from leaving the country for 18 months in order to answer questions regarding bank transfers from Odebrecht company. Hamilton Castro, a prosecutor who put forward this request, explained that he wanted to avoid a scenario which frequently occurred in Peru’s recent history.
“Since last century we have been witness to a sad spectacle of presidents who leave the country to never come back or are waiting to be extradited to Peru. Others return to continue their criminal activity. It should never happen again in our country. Kuczynski is a known businessperson, has numerous connections and can easily leave the country at any moment”, he said. The court agreed with this line of reasoning and allowed two Kuczynski’s houses to be searched.
“I confirm that I am ready to cooperate in the investigation. I am very interested in clearing my name and honor as well as disproving the accusations that I have been a victim of”, said Kuczynski.
President without political base
The new President of Peru is now Martín Vizcarra, former Kuczynski’s deputy, who, according to the law, will hold this post until the next presidential election in 2021.
“Holding the office will be a long journey. Every week I will travel to distant places, investigate the needs and implement solutions”, Vizcarra promised in his first interview with the Moquegua radio.
He will have to face his first challenges very soon, as the political crisis in Peru happened three weeks before the Summit of the Americas in Lima, a meeting which Kuczynski was supposed to host, is to take place. Donald Trump, Raul Castro and many others have announced their participation.
Many Peruvian analysts and economists believe that Vizcarra’s advantage lies in the fact that he is not a member of neither a political nor business elite. Although Kuczynski asked him to be his deputy, Vizcarra himself has no political affiliation. Only once was he running for mayorship of a city called Moquegua as a candidate of the Aprista party (to which his father belonged). Vizcarra himself, however, was not involved in political activities.
It is important from the symbolic point of view. “He is not a puppet of international corporations, nor is he affiliated with political or business circles in Lima”, said Francisco Durand, a sociologist who does research on Peru’s economically influential groups.