August 19, 2021

Latam

PERU: Political rollercoaster has way to go still as cabinet unravelling begins

BY Nicholas Watson

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( 3 mins)

The resignation yesterday, 17 August, of foreign minister Hector Bejar, 19 days after his designation, is unlikely to resolve the crisis hanging over President Pedro Castillo’s cabinet. Even if Bejar is replaced by a more moderate figure, the cabinet will struggle to win congressional endorsement next week. If the cabinet is approved (perhaps with additional changes to the line-up), the outlook is likely to be one of constant congressional pressure against ministers. That suggests a spell of high-turnover cabinets ahead, with attendant effects on policy coherence. Nor is Bejar’s departure likely to represent a fundamental shift to moderation or stability. Instead, confusion and uncertainty will remain the stamp of this administration. Finally, in what could end up being an important sign, the episode shows what can happen when an affront to the military and public outrage combine.

Bejar resigned after controversial remarks he made in 2020 came to light. Bejar had said that the terrorist violence of the 1980s and early 1990s was sparked by Peru’s navy, and not by the Shining Path (SL) Maoist guerrillas. Not only that, but Bejar said that he believed the SL emerged as part of a US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operation. He also claimed that government snipers, and not extreme ethnic nationalists led by the imprisoned Antauro Humala, killed four police officers in the 2005 so-called Andahuaylazo uprising. Bejar had also said that Peru suffers from “problems that cannot be resolved without a revolution.” It was his comments about the navy that generated the most outrage and catalyzed Congress into moving forward with motion of censure processes. The reality is that Bejar jumped before he was pushed.

Castillo’s ministerial picks are so controversial that Bejar’s departure is unlikely to satisfy most parties in Congress, which is scheduled to hold a vote of confidence in the cabinet on 26 August. Castillo’s pick for prime minister (PCM), Guido Bellido, represents the main complication. Bellido is now under investigation for terrorism, apology for terrorism, and asset laundering. The latest Ipsos poll from last week gives Congress ample room to justify a vote against the new cabinet; 50% of the public believe Congress should not endorse Bellido as PCM. To judge from the resumption of protests at the MMG-operated Las Bambas mine on 16 August despite a Bellido- brokered let-up, Bellido cannot even claim that his humble background and origins near Las Bambas give him unique abilities to resolve mining-related community conflicts.

If Castillo and/or the governing Peru Libre (PL) party were less disorganized and/or less in thrall to radicalism, the cabinet might stand a better chance of obtaining next week’s vote of confidence. However, the PL’s performance in Congress has been chaotic. The party failed to win the congressional commissions it wanted and could not block separate enquiries into the 2021 elections and the early days of Castillo’s presidency from being set up; both could provide smoking guns with which to constrain or actively pursue Castillo. Bellido’s best chance of being confirmed as PCM continues to be if Congress decides to avoid an immediate showdown over the cabinet by abstaining in large numbers on 26 August. The constitution effectively operates a two- strike rule by which if Congress strikes down two votes of confidence, the executive is empowered to dissolve the legislature.

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