By Jacqueline Fowks – Nov 18, 2022
The non-stop confrontation between the executive and legislative branches of Peru, which began in 2016 and has been accentuated since the rural teacher Pedro Castillo took office as the president, is growing more and more heated. The powers of the State are busy in their own dispute and, as a consequence, are neglecting the pressing situations experienced by a good part of the population. Unrest over the socioeconomic situation is growing and it is being felt in most regions of the country. During the last few weeks, the victims of a serious oil spill have held new demonstrations in front of the offices of Repsol, the president of the Council of Ministers, and the parliament. At the same time, women from the ollas comunes (community kitchens) marched to the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion to demand their inclusion in the budget for 2023. Added to this situation is the conservative counter-reform in education and social rights imposed by the parliamentary opposition to Castillo. This opposition is advised by the most experienced ex-congresspeople of Fujimorism.
The truth is that Peru was knocked out by the pandemic and has still not managed to get back on its feet. It is, in fact, the country with the highest number of deaths per million inhabitants in the world due to COVID-19. But the crisis does not end there: in 2020, 30% of the population was living below the poverty line, and although it dropped to 25% last year, informal employment rose to 78% in 2021.
Although at the beginning of Castillo’s government, the then Minister of Health Hernando Zevallos proposed the integration of public healthcare services—fragmented and precarious, something that the private health sector takes advantage of to have more clients, he lasted only six months in office. The following appointees at the Ministry of Health in these times have been the product of the quotas of Peru Libre, the party for which Castillo was a candidate and from which he ended up resigning. The next two health ministers used the state to do business, not to solve the problems of healthcare in the state facilities. Castillo, who came to the presidency offering a Constituent Assembly to declare health and education as fundamental rights, has not been able to make any progress in this matter due to the barriers placed by Congress and the mood of rejection towards a new Constitution by the economic and media elite: they consider it a step backwards and a way towards “communism.”
It is evident that, in his 15 months of government, Castillo has been besieged by political opposition, in a process well known in Peru. In the face of persistent attacks, those who lead the country are unable to manage the state apparatus due to the pressures imposed by their opponents in Congress.
Since 2021, Castillo has also faced serious allegations of corruption that have resulted in six public prosecutor investigations for awarding public works contracts that favored family and friends in order to collect bribes, for influence peddling in military promotions, and for concealment and obstruction of justice. The Peruvian president has three lawyers, but some ministers act as a lightning rod every time a new indication of illegality appears in the Lima press. Former Transport Minister Juan Silva and a nephew of Castillo involved in the rigged bidding scheme have been on the run since May, and a sister-in-law of the president was in prison for almost two months while the preliminary investigation was underway to prevent tampering of evidence, somthing that had already happened in case of others under investigation.
In this political tangle, the Peruvian state appears inoperative for the tens of thousands of people affected by the aforementioned oil spills—on the coast of Lima and in indigenous communities of the Amazon—caused by the Spanish oil company Repsol and the state-owned PetroPerú, respectively. The victims are mainly small-scale fishing communities and micro-traders in seaside resorts and restaurants, most of them informal. Workers linked to these sectors have not been able to return to their jobs.
In the Amazon, the most serious spills began in 2014 in a 50-year-old infrastructure: the Norperuvian oil pipeline. Between September and October this year, there were four new spills in indigenous zones in Loreto and Amazonas regions: the crude oil contaminates the water of rivers and lagoons that the people of these regions use for cooking and other household purposes, and prevents fishing that is their source of their food and work.
“It is a constant practice of governments not to keep their word,” said indigenous chief Alfonso López Tejada, president of the Kukama Association for the Development and Conservation of San Pablo de Tipishca. “The state should be the guarantor of people’s rights. We do not want to remove a president, but the state should put in place an intercultural healthcare system for the peoples affected by the spills. We are not beggars; we are living with heavy metals in our organs because the water is contaminated.”
The health of the Kukama-Kukamiria people is in danger since the spill of more than 2,000 barrels of oil in the communities of San Pedro and Cuninico. Small farmers are also affected by the political instability in Peru. In 2021, farmers and specialists had warned about fertilizer shortages that are now being felt acutely due to the war in Ukraine. The government offered to import fertilizers and deliver it at a fair price to farmers. However, three international purchase processes were canceled due to administrative problems and now there is a fourth call.
Castillo’s government has had seven interior ministers in 15 months, as well as dozens of changes in key ministries. Some of these changes in the cabinet were due to pressure from the opposition, but many were also because of his eagerness not to be removed from office due to “permanent moral incapacity” that Congress has threatened to use it multiple times. Castillo placed people in ministries who would assure him votes in Congress. The opposition needs 87 votes to remove him from office, and the first two attempts were unsuccessful.
This political instability affects the functioning of the state. The state has to solve urgent problems, such as the increase in the number of deaths at the hands of hired killers, the extortions by gangs such as the Tren de Aragua, and the rise in disappearances of women. According to the Ombudsperson’s Office, between January and August of this year there were 7,762 reports of missing women, of whom less than 50% were found. The newspaper La República reported that from January to September there were 199 murders at the hands of hired killers in Lima, while in 2021 the total figure was 219.
The Congress has managed to obstruct the government and, at the same time, to carry out a counter-reform on social issues. The parliamentary opposition has retired military officers in its ranks, such as the current president of Congress, José Daniel Williams Zapata, an army general who commanded anti-subversive patrols during the years of violence (1980-2000), and Martha Moyano, a former collaborator of opposition leader Keiko Fujimori. Both are promoters of the idea that terrorism in Peru was only carried out by the Maoist group Shining Path, and that the security forces were peacemakers and saviors of democracy. While 54% of the fatalities during the internal conflict were the responsibility of the terrorist actions of the armed guerrilla group, 37% of the dead and disappeared were the responsibility of security agents, according to the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
At the end of October, Congress approved a regulation for the Ministry of Education to implement a new “history of terrorism” course on “the atrocities of the Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) due to the alarming lack of knowledge of young people about their actions.” The bill was proposed by the fujimorista faction in parliament.
The law was approved against the contrary opinion of the National Education Council, which stated that 75% of the victims belonged to the poorest sectors of the population and that this showed a disregard for their lives on the part of the guerrillas and state security agents. Some Peru Libre congresspeople have united with the parliamentary opposition to carry out some of the counter-reforms: laws were approved that denaturalize integral sexual education in schools and enable ultraconservative parents’ associations to change the contents of school books on sexual education or on the history of the armed conflict in the country. The other setback promoted by this faction of Peru Libre is to replace the name of the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations with the Ministry of the Family. In the style of the Spanish neo-nazi party Vox and Bolsonaro of Brazil, the allusion to the family and the defenders of the homeland weakens human rights and gender equality in the country.
The Congress is also evaluating a charge of treason against Castillo and his disqualification for five years, due to the answer he gave in January to CNN when asked if he would allow sea access to Bolivia. The president answered that he would consult the people on the matter (in a referendum) and as a consequence a group of conservative lawyers—who in 2021 promoted the idea that there was electoral fraud—filed the complaint. The approach is so weak that even several parliamentarians and political analysts who do not support the president disqualify the complaint for its illegitimacy. Congress requires a simple majority (65 votes) to approve it, but it will also have to evaluate the political costs involved in forcing the charge of treason.
Why in these 16 months of government has Congress not achieved the 87 votes to remove Castillo from office? One reason is that, although weak, the alliance of the president with Peru Libre, founded by the self-styled “Marxist-Leninist” Vladimir Cerrón, still exists. The current Minister of Health Kelly Portalatino is a congresswoman of Peru Libre, and her ministry, as well as that of Housing and Transportation, appears to have become an employment agency for the close associates of the party.
Peru Libre had 37 seats in July 2021, but now has 15 due to an internal split into two groups: the Bloque Magisterial, made up of 10 former teachers, colleagues of Castillo in the teachers’ strike of 2017, and Peru Democrático, headed by six members who also vote in favor of the president. The president also has some votes from Somos Perú, the party to which the minister of labor, one of his most loyal supporters, belongs.
The president, in addition, usually invites independent parliamentarians—those without a party, to travel with him to inaugurate small infrastructure works in order to make them visible to his constituents and to secure their votes in this way. In order to armor himself in the Congress’ war against him, Castillo even appointed some representatives of the extreme right as ministers, but that did not help to reduce Congress’ eagerness to remove him from office and only aggravated his inefficient administration.
Jacqueline Fowks is a journalist. She has a degree in Communication Sciences from the University of Lima and a master’s degree in Communication from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She is currently a professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru.
scorinocohttps://orinocotribune.com/author/sahelicot92/December 3, 2022