Vizcarra speaks to legislators.
On September 18th, Peru’s Congress voted against impeaching President Martin Vizcarra. While the Peruvian legislature needed 87 votes to impeach Vizcarra, ten hours of deliberation culminated in a 32 to 78 legislative vote against impeachment. Fifteen legislators abstained from voting.
The impeachment process began on September 11th when Peru’s Congress voted to begin impeachment proceedings against Vizcarra under charges of “moral incapacity.” The proceedings occurred after the discovery of government contracts to a singer, Richard Cisneros. It was widely presumed Vizcarra had a hand in awarding Cisneros contracts, abusing his government position.
Cisneros, also known as Richard Swing, had been given close to $50,000 from the Peruvian Ministry of Culture for activities such as motivational speaking. An audio clip from legislator Edgar Alarcón revealed that two of Vizcarra’s aides attempted to determine how many times the president and musician had met. Alarcón had released a series of recordings after being threatened with parliamentary immunity revocation; he had been accused of embezzlement.
The exact nature of Vizcarra and Cisneros’ relationship has remained private. Peru’s Parliament and auditor general are currently investigating Cisneros’ contracts and Vizcarra’s relation to them. While President Vizcarra has acknowledged meeting Cisneros, he has vehemently denied his alleged involvement with the Ministry of Culture.
On Friday, in a twenty-minute speech before Congress, Vizcarra said, “I am here, with my head high and my conscience clear.”
Previously, Vizcarra expressed an unwillingness to run for re-election. However, he has also refused to resign over the Cisneros contracts. In a little over half a year, Peru will have a new leader, but it looks like Vizcarra will remain president until then. He has also accused Peru’s speaker, Manuel Merino, of “conspir[ing]” against him under the guise of impeachment. Merino would have replaced Vizcarra for the rest of his term had he been impeached.
The relationship between Peru’s president and Congress has always been strained, marred by presidential scandals. Peru’s Congress has tried to impeach a president three times in the last five years.
In 1990, former President Alan García committed suicide before being arrested for allegedly receiving more than $100,000 from Oderecht, a Brazilian construction company. His successor, Ollanta Humala, is currently serving jail time for bribery. In 2018, former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned after more than $782,000 in bribes from Odebrecht were discovered in Kuczynski’s personal accounts. As vice president, Vizcarra succeeded Kuczynski.
Vizcarra’s relationship with many legislators has been particularly tumultuous. Last year, he dissolved Parliament over a legislative disagreement with his anti-corruption reforms, leading to snap elections. Directly before, though, lawmakers who voted to impeach Vizcarra were told that their votes would be nullified. People protested these snap elections, refusing to leave their seats. Vizcarra has been called dictatorial in the past. He is currently claiming impeachment proceedings against him were a Congressional plot.
While a successful impeachment vote would have further divided the country, the failed impeachment vote spells equally devastating consequences. Public opinion towards the president continues to sour; a month after escaping impeachment, Vizcarra finds himself embroiled in a new scandal. Ironically, this latest scandal is concerning bribes from a construction company.
Many Peruvians will also surely question their President and Congress’ ability to continue political collaboration during a time of crisis. Indeed, the country currently reports 850,000 coronavirus cases, the eighth highest rate in the world. Although the government purchased more than 1.6 million antibody tests in March, they have been mostly ineffective due to the high false-positive/negative rate and their inability to detect early infections. What is worse, the economy is projected to shrink by 12% next year. Tourism is still on the decline as cases throughout Latin America top ten million, and experts have expressed further concerns about a second wave. If the country wants to recover, Vizcarra and Peru’s Congress will need to cooperate. Right now, it is unclear if they will be able to.
Photo from Shutterstock.