Peruvian government in crisis

Saturday, October 11, 2008 - 11:00

Peru's entire cabinet tendered their resignations to President Alan Garcia on October 9 in the wake of a corruption scandal involving kickbacks in return for oil contracts.

The scandal has already forced out mining minister Juan Valdiva and two other high-ranking energy officials, Alberto Quimper and Cesar Gutierrez, and implicates other prominent members of Garcia's ruling APRA party.

The resignations came just days after thousands of Peruvians took to the streets across the country on October 7 to protest corruption and the economic policies of Garcia's administration.

The national day of action was organised by the Social and Political Coordinating Committee.

The CSP unites Peru's two largest trade union federations, the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP) and the Unitary Confederation of Workers (CUT), together with social organisations and left-wing political groups including the Nationalist Party (PN).

The protests were initially called weeks ago to demand a general wage increase and a reversal of the government's privatisation policies.

However, occurring only days after audiotapes surfaced of telephone conversations showing Quimper and Romulo Leon, agricultural minister during Garcia's first administration, discussing payoffs for directing contracts towards Norwegian oil company Discover Petroleum, the protests also reflected growing popular discontent over corruption in the Garcia administration.

In the face of a massive police presence in the capital Lima, more than 15,000 workers marched on Congress demanding the entire cabinet step down, chanting, "While APRA is stealing, the people are struggling" and "No to the Free Trade Agreement".

"Something stinks", declared Mario Huaman, leader of the CGTP to crowds in Cuzco as marchers held signs calling Garcia's party "Corrupt as ever", Reuters reported on October 7.

The scandal is particularly galling to the majority of Peruvians — workers, indigenous, peasants and the poor — who have seen little or no benefit from Peru's seven-year mining boom as a result of Garcia's pro-business, anti-poor policies.

The demonstrations, which also protested the governments failure to deliver on 34 different agreements signed by the authorities over the past two years, coincided with a 24-hour national strike by teachers demanding higher wages, an ongoing three-week strike for higher salaries and increased funding in the public health sector. There were also as well as regional strikes in Cuzco, Arequipa, Ica and Amazonas.

In another unpopular move viewed as a crackdown on internal dissent, the executive authorised the use of the military to "maintain public order" during the day of action,

However, despite a few isolated incidents the protests were largely peaceful.

The corruption scandal continued to grow throughout the week as new tapes emerged over October 7-8 in which Leon allegedly told Discover representative Fortunato Canaan that cabinet chief Jorge del Castillo would be open to supporting Discover's bid to land oil contracts in Peru.

Both Discover and Castillo deny any involvement in the scandal.

In a comment slammed by opposition legislators as "arrogant", Castillo said the cabinet members offered up their positions with "an absolutely clean and calm conscience", according to an October 9 Associated Press report.

The move came as Congress was poised to pass a no-confidence vote in Garcia's cabinet.

The Congress is now investigating the September 10 public auction in which Discover won five oil exploration contracts.

Although it has moved to minimise fallout from the scandal by cancelling Discover's contracts the Garcia administration is under fire from all sides, as both the right-wing National Unity party and the leftist Ollanta Humala, who nearly beat Garcia in the 2006 presidential elections, echoed calls from the protesters for the entire cabinet to resign.

"What is happening in the country is a crisis of government that requires the removal of this cabinet", Humala said on October 7.

As Green Left Weekly goes to print, Garcia has accepted the resignations. A new cabinet is expected to be appointed soon.

In a September 16 statement, Humala criticised Garcia, saying, "He acts with arrogance, as if he had the support of more than 50% of the population. Garcia doesn't represent the majority of the Peruvians ... he only represents those people who do not want most of us, Peruvians, to benefit from the economic growth."

In the context of a continental-wide rebellion against US domination, the pro-US Garcia is the most unpopular president in Latin America. The latest results of polling firm Ipsos Apoyo show his approval rating at its lowest point ever at 19%.

"The people are clamouring for the recall of his mandate", Huaman told Peruvian daily La Primera on October 5.

The CGPT, CUT and CPS are evaluating the legal and constitutional possibilities of a recall referendum to remove the president from office.

The decision on whether or not to call for a referendum will be taken to a national Peoples' Assembly on November 4 scheduled to coincide with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

The Ipso Apoyo survey also showed that Humala has taken the lead as preferred presidential candidate with 19% support.

Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori, is second with 17%, followed by centre-right mayor of Lima Luis Castaneda with 15% and former president Alejandro Toledo with 10%.

The poll indicates, however, that in a prospective second round run off, Humala is still trailing both Castaneda and Fujimori.

From GLW issue 770