Straight Out of a Telenovela: Recent Violence in Peru


Riot police block a street in Lima, Peru, as protestors march to the government palace to denounce the swearing in of Manuel Merino. Photograph by: Aldair Mejia/EPA (Source: The Guardian)

Despite all of Latin America being characterized by political instability, Peru is a an epitome of this volatility. Controversy has plagued President after President and there seems to be no end to the political turmoil this nation suffers. The constant drama is like something straight out of a telenovela. This year alone, Peru has seen three Presidents with the most recent being sworn in during the past week, amid large-scale mass protests and despite coronavirus limiting people's ability to gather publicly. The crisis facing Peru, experts say, is the worst the country has seen in decades.

Francisco Sagasti is the fourth President in Peru in less than five years and the second in a week. In September, the Peruvian Congress voted to impeach popular ex-President Martin Vizcarra over corruption allegations. These corruption allegations held Vizcarra accountable for taking bribes, to the order of $634,000, in exchange for helping construction firms during his tenure as regional governor (2011-2014). Though he denied these allegations, he accepted the result of the impeachment.

In a report published by CNN, Denisse Rodriguez-Olivari, a Peruvian political scientist at Humboldt University, Germany, says that the current crisis comes in the wake of years of political struggle between the Peruvian President and the Congress, controlled by the opposition. When Keiko Fujimori, leader of the right wing Popular Force party, lost the 2016 presidential election by a thin margin and secured a lead in the Congress, she had vowed to "turn the proposals from our manifesto into laws".

Picture Credit: TV6

Institutional arrangements in Peru have long fuelled tension, resulting in a tumultuous relationship between the President and Congress. Vizcarra’s term was no exception.

In 2019, he dissolved Congress after the lawmakers repeatedly tried to hinder his efforts at curbing corruption and reforming the higher education. He also tried to do away with lawmakers' right to parliamentary immunity which had allowed corrupt officials to remain in power without any accountability. Vizcarra had accused Keiko Fujimori of using democratic institutions for personal gain. Peru saw its people taking to the streets even last year to pressure the Congress to leave.

The ironic manner in which Vizcarra’s been ousted and successively Manuel Merino’s incumbency incited mass protests in which two civilians have lost their lives and dozens have been injured. This has raised various allegations against Merino regarding human rights abuse which forced him to step down. The people in Peru are rallying against what they believe is a parliamentary coup and an erosion of constitutional democracy. Hundreds of demonstrators had gathered to protest the swearing in of Merino. Many of these demonstrators held Peruvian flags and signs saying “Merino is not my President”. Analysts and public figures describe the impeachment as iillegitimate. His resignation saw people taking to the streets for celebrations but the protests continued.

Tributes are laid at the place where university students Inti Sotelo and Jack Pintado died during the November 14 protests. Photograph by: Paolo Aguilar/EPA. Source: The Guardian.

Sagasti now has five months in office wherein he will have to ensure that the April 2021 Presidential elections run smoothly amid a seemingly endless pandemic. Sagasti represents the Purple Party, who as a bloc voted against Vizcarra's impeachment. Observers hope that his centrist stance will be able to placate public discontent. In his first speech upon taking office, the ex World Bank official asked for "forgiveness in the name of the state". It will also be on Sagasti to ensure that the protests do not escalate further into violence.

The significance of these protests has widened. These protests may be seen as a culmination to the growing disillusionment among Peruvians with their ruling political elite and the widespread corruption among them. Though widespread corruption within the state machinery in Peru is hardly new, it does have a renewed significance since the beginning of the 21st century.

Vizcarra’s tenure as President was preceded by four Presidents who had been accused of

accepting bribes from a construction firm, Odebrecht. However, the most notorious was President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000). Some believe that under his government, political corruption became institutionalised and refined in a way it had not been before.

Patron-client relations that often fade into corruption have long characterised the relationship between state and society, not just in Peru but, in countries around the world. Corruption along with Peru’s notorious political class has made for an incredible political history.


Authors: Sanjukta Bose | Mallika Anand

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