Friday, November 13, 2020

Peruvians protest Vizcarra ousting (Nov. 13, 2020)

 Peruvian protesters poured out on the streets in Lima and other cities yesterday, angered by the abrupt impeachment of former president Martín Vizcarra earlier this week. Protests have been ongoing for days. Dozens of demonstrators were detained, and police dispersed crowds with tear gas in Lima's plaza San Martín, where more than 15,000 people gathered. (EFE) Police used rubber bullets and a fews journalists were wounded, reports El Comercio. The Instituto de Prensa y Sociedad tweeted a picture of a press worker bleeding from a leg injury and denounced "brutal and disproportional" police reactions to the protests.

President Manuel Merino, who orchestrated the ouster as the head of Congress, accused political opponents with presidential aspirations of inciting disturbances. Merino swore in his cabinet, largely composed of technocrats, yesterday. (Reuters)

Protesters see Vizcarra's impeachment as a power grab by establishment politicians who opposed the popular leader's push to enact broad anti-corruption measures. Many international observers agree. “The allegations against Vizcarra should be investigated, but the legality of his ousting is highly dubious and seems driven by legislators’ own interests in evading accountability,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

Technically lawmakers didn't impeach Vizcarra -- the Peruvian constitution severely limits impeachment. Instead, Congress cited an obscure constitutional provision that allows it to declare the presidency has been “vacated” if the president resigns or faces “physical or moral incapacity.” It's a stretch, but is based on the precedent of Alberto Fujimori's post-resignation ouster in 2000. (Americas Quarterly explains.) 

Peru's Constitutional Court may reinterpret that article next month when it rules on a lawsuit filed by Vizcarra’s administration during a September impeachment effort, reports Bloomberg. The Organization of American States expressed concern this week and said it expects the court to opine on the “legality and legitimacy” of Vizcarra’s impeachment. Human Rights Watch urged the OAS to urgently convene a meeting of its Permanent Council and closely monitor the situation.´

There is concern that Merino could postpone April's general elections, or direct government spending in ways that will benefit certain candidates, reports the Economist. Twenty-four people have declared their candidacy for the presidency. None is backed by a strong political party, and it is very likely the eventual winner will face a fragmented Congress unwilling to cooperate with the executive.

The latest crisis is a symptom of a democratic system in agony, writes Alberto Vergara in a New York Times Español op-ed. A long-standing corrupt political balance was upset by revelations of Odebrecht corruption, that beheaded establishment leaders, leaving equally corrupt amateurs. "The foreign reader will think it is ridiculous to oust a president when there are only five months before general elections, but in the Peruvian system, the illogical thing would be not to do it. It is pickpocket politics. And under the rules of pickpockets, Vizcarra has accepted his expulsion."

On a practical level, Congress is currently in the process of appointing justices to the country’s Constitutional Tribunal, even as the court considers the constitutionality of the president’s ouster, explains Human Rights Watch. On November 3, a group of lawyers said that Congress had arbitrarily excluded them as candidates. 

"It seems the main objective of the vacancy coalition is, then, dismantling the rule of law and maintaining privilege, sinecure, and impunity," sums up Vergara.

News Briefs

  • John Briceño swore in as Belize's new prime minister yesterday, after his People’s United Party (PUP) won a resounding victory in parliamentary elections earlier this week. The PUP, which spent three successive terms in the opposition, swept up 26 of the 31 seats that were up for grabs on Wednesday, reports the Associated Press.
  • Briceño benefited from corruption allegations tainting the previously ruling United Democratic Party, and the government's coronavirus response. In choosing Briceño, Belize followed Guyana and Suriname's anti-incumbent trend, according to the Latin America Risk Report.
El Salvador
  • A Salvadoran court has asked the prosecutor’s office to investigate whether President Nayib Bukele and his defense minister blocked a judicial inspection of military archives aimed at uncovering evidence connected to the 1981 El Mozote massacre, reports Reuters.
  • El Salvador's police chief failed to carry out his duties to the National Assembly, and could face a trial and jail time, reports El Faro.
  • Xenophobia against Venezuelan immigrants in Colombia is reaching dangerous levels as public officials use immigrants as scapegoats for growing insecurity. This combined with Covid-19 related budget shortfalls,  means risks for violence against migrants are growing warn Sergio Guzmán & Juan Camilo Ponce in Global Americans.
  • Costa Rica created a special refugee category for asylum seekers from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. (Deutsche Welle)
  • Corruption in Mexico's highest levels of government grabs headlines, but under the radar there is a crisis of governance at the local level in many parts of the country, where mayors and police chiefs have formed alliances with cartels. The town of Amacuzac, in Morelos state, was literally run by a jailed mayor, a case study in the connection between local politics and the criminal underworld, reports the Washington Post.
Regional Relations
  • U.S. acting Department of Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf is planning a Latin America trip in December, with stops in El Salvador, Panama, Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador. But critics question the trip's necessity within the pandemic context, reports the Washington Post.
  • The incoming U.S. Biden administration will likely maintain a hard stance against Nicaragua's Ortega administration, reports EFE.
  • Biden might also make Brazil the first country on a new "climate outlaw" list, reports Vox. Bolsonaro retorted that "diplomacy is not enough [...] there must be gunpowder." (Reuters)
  • More women candidates than ever, including Black women, are set to contest municipal elections this weekend in Brazil -- part of a movement that started in the wake of Marielle Franco's assassination in 2018. (Open Democracy)
  • In all the Central American countries battered by Eta doctors and aid workers fear that coronavirus infections will rise as people cram into shelters where distancing measures and disinfection are impossible, reports the Economist. "The combination of Donald Trump and covid-19 had largely stopped the flow of migrants heading from Central America to the United States. It could be restarted by Eta, plus the belief that Joe Biden, the American president-elect, will be friendlier to immigration."
  • Bolivian President Luis Arce is the latest in a spate of "proxy presidents" in the region. They were made possible, according to the Economist, by a combination of term-limits and the commodities boom that kept presidents popular. "The gambit sometimes backfires."
  • Argentina legalised the growing of cannabis for medical use by individuals and networks, as well as the sale of creams and oils made from the plant in pharmacies. The new presidential decree this week significantly expands the reach of a 2017 law that legalized medical marijuana in an extremely restrictive fashion. (New York Times, Buenos Aires Times, Infobae)
  • Yesterday I accidentally said the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is hearing the case of Vicky Hernández, a transgender woman killed on the streets of San Pedro Sula in 2009. The case is currently being heard by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Cattrachas Lesbian Network, a Honduran LGBT rights organization, filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2012, alleging state responsibility in Hernández’s murder. In December 2018, the commission found Honduras responsible for violating rights in the case, including the right to life, the right to equal protection and nondiscrimination, and the right to judicial protection. The commission submitted the case to the court in April 2019 due to Honduras’ lack of compliance with the commission’s recommendations (Human Rights Watch)

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