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Peru Is In Crisis As The Country Searches For A New President Amid Protests And A Police Crackdown

Peru is facing one of the greatest crises the nation has faced. Just as the country seemed to be emerging from the worst of its battle against the Covid-19 pandemic, the country has entered a severe political crisis.

In less than a week, the country is on the verge of seeing its third president – if legislators can find someone able and willing to take the job. In the meantime, protesters are making their voices heard in cities all across the country and police are using violence and oppression to silence them.

For a country that was turning the bend on the pandemic, how exactly did Peru end up crashing into one crisis from another?

Peru’s interim-President has resigned just days after assuming the office.

Peruvians woke up on Monday morning still wondering who would be their new head of state after lawmakers failed overnight to name a replacement to become the country’s third president in a week.

It was less than 24 hours earlier that the country’s interim leader Manuel Merino was forced to resign. Following a week of protests against the removal of former President Martín Vizcarra, police responded with increased force over the weekend.

Saturday’s protests in Lima, which are mostly being led by young Peruvians, were largely peaceful but clashes broke out towards the evening between police and protesters. Police reportedly fired tear gas and shotgun pellets to repel demonstrators, some of whom had thrown fireworks and stones. Two students, Jack Pintado, 22, and Inti Sotelo, 24, were killed in the protests.

Politicians immediately called for Merino’s resignation following the violent crackdown. In fact, twelve of his own ministers (of his recently appointed cabinet) resigned in protest against police brutality and his handling of the crisis.

“I want to let the whole country know that I’m resigning,” Merino said in a televised address.

It’s still not clear who will be selected to take over the country until elections can be held in April.

Credit: Roberto Agn / Getty Images

On Sunday, legislators failed to approve Rocío Silva-Santisteban, a leftist human rights defender, as the next interim leader – even though he was the only name put forward for consideration.

The country’s fragmented and unpopular legislature will vote again on Monday when another name will be on the list: lawmaker Francisco Sagasti, a 76-year-old industrial engineer and former World Bank official.

Peru’s political upheaval adds to the uncertainty facing the country as it was already hit devastatingly hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many fear that the ongoing crisis will lead to the worst economic contraction the country has seen in more than a century.

The political crisis started just last week when the elected president was impeached and removed from office.

It was just last week that the nation’s elected leader – ex-President Martín Vizcarra – was impeached and removed from office by Congress over allegations of corruption.

Since taking office in March 2018, Vizcarra was embroiled in a bitter battle with Congress, which is made up of rival parties. During his presidency, he worked to combat corruption throughout the country’s legislature. Half of the lawmakers are under investigation or indictment for alleged crimes including money laundering and homicide.

And as president, he enjoyed support among the public and voters but it was ultimately the allegations of bribery that brought him down. He has denied allegations that he accepted bribes worth 2.3 million soles ($640,000) when he was governor of the southern Moquegua region.

The former president has asked the country’s highest court to weigh in. “It can’t be that the institution that got us into this political crisis, that has for five days paralyzed Peru, with deaths, is going to give us a solution, choosing the person who they best see fit,” Vizcarra said, according to The Associated Press.

The country was just emerging from what seemed the worst of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Credit: ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP via Getty Images

Many are concerned about the country’s short and long-term future, as a growing political and constitutional crisis seems likely. At the beginning of the pandemic, Peru imposed one of the earliest and strictest lockdowns in Latin America to stop the spread of coronavirus – but has still seen cases rise rapidly.

It has so far reported nearly 935,000 infections and more than 35,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University – making it the country with the third highest rate of deaths per 100,000 people in the world.

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