Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Vizcarra impeached, critics call it a coup (Nov. 10, 2020)

Peru's Congress voted to impeach President Martín Vizcarra over impeachment allegations. Vizcarra said he will step down, though the lawmakers' move provoked public anger. The president was widely expected to survive this latest round of impeachment proceedings. But, opposition lawmakers from nine parties in the unicameral congress banded together: in total 105 of Peru’s 130 lawmakers voted to remove him. (Guardian, Reuters)

In Peru, lawmakers can remove a president on the vaguely defined grounds of “moral incapacity.” In their speeches yesterday, lawmakers went beyond the corruption allegations and pointed to the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic as well.

Vizcarra rejected the basis for his impeachment, but said he would not pursue legal challenges in an effort to prevent further instability. His mandate ends in July of next year, and elections will be held next April. Head of Congress, Manuel Merino, an agronomist and businessman from the minority Popular Action, is expected to assume the presidency today. Merino called for calm after the vote and said the April presidential election would go on as planned.

Thousands of Peruvians poured out in the streets last night, banging pots and pans in support of Vizcarra, whose anti-corruption push has contributed to making him one of the country's most popular leaders in recent history. (Associated Press)

The Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL) condemned the impeachment as a Congressional coup d'état against the constitutional order. IDL condemned the actions of lawmakers -- many of whom face grave corruption accusations themselves -- and said Vizcarra should be allowed to finish his mandate and that prosecutors should simultaneously investigate the allegations against him.

Many observers questioned the move, and said the charges don't necessarily amount to an impeachable offense even if true. Vizcarra is accused of accepting bribes worth $641,000 from companies that won public works contracts when he was the governor of the southern region of Moquegua. “This is a coup in disguise. We need calm, but also a lot of citizen surveillance,” George Forsyth, a mayor and one of the early front-runners for the 2021 election, said on Twitter. 

WOLA fellow Jo-Marie Burt said the impeachment is “terribly destabilizing for Peru.” Yesterday's action could spell a new chapter of uncertainty for the country, which has the world’s highest per capita Covid-19 mortality rate and is facing a deep recession. The step lawmakers took is risky: Vizcarra is popular and Congress is not, reports the Associated Press. Only 20 percent of Peruvians supported Vizcarra’s impeachment, according to an Ipsos poll late last month, and he also enjoyed the support of the country’s Armed Forces, a traditional arbiter of power in Peru, reports the New York Times.

The 105 votes in favor of impeachment yesterday far exceeded the 87-vote threshold out of 130 needed to remove him from office. There were 19 votes against his ouster and four abstentions. Vizcarra has suffered from not having a party of his own in Congress, and has been locked in battle with lawmakers angling for his ouster for over a year. Lawmakers have bitterly opposed Vizcarra's efforts to overhaul the country’s political and judicial system.

A September push to impeach Vizcarra over separate corruption allegations failed. Vizcarra’s government clashed with Merino in recent months over accusations that he tried to invoke the military in his request for Vizcarra’s removal. (See Sept. 16's briefs.)


Evo Returns

Former president Evo Morales made a triumphant return to Bolivia yesterday, a year after he was ousted from office amid protests and pressure from the armed forces. He walked across the border from Argentina, accompanied by the neighboring country’s president, Alberto Fernández, and a retinue of close allies, reports the New York Times

“We have recovered our democracy, without violence, and we have once again reclaimed our homeland,” Morales told a crowd of miners and indigenous citizens. The return suggests his four-decade political career may be far from over, reports the Guardian.

But Bolivians are anxious to move beyond the political turmoil of the past year. Leaders of Morales' MAS party, including President Luis Arce and Vice President David Choquehuanca, have sought to distance themselves from their former boss and vowed to limit his influence in government. Morales also promised to stay out of government, and said yesterday he would dedicate himself to labor activism. However he remains the head of the MAS and is likely to continue to hold considerable sway in the party, notes Reuters.

Morales' legacy is complicated for those who seek to divide leaders into Manichean categories. Alma Guillermoprieto analyzes the nuance of "Bolivia's tarnished savior" in the New York Review of Books, and the Arce's political challenge:

"For the moment, what is left of Evo’s rule is the party he built. It is impossible to overstate how tough the MAS militants are. They know how to bring down governments. Arce may be in charge of the country, but within his rambunctious party he represents a minority. He will have to take on the evangelicals, the right-wing separatists, white rabblerousers of wealthy Santa Cruz province, and Mesa’s middle-class and educated elite; reconcile with the military and police; and, perhaps most difficult of all, unify the party under his command. He has some tough years ahead, but he won his election with five points more than Evo won his a year ago."

News Briefs

  • U.S. authorities have drastically stepped up deportations of unaccompanied children to Guatemala, reports the Guardian. Advocates accuse the Trump administration of using the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to deprive minors of asylum protections. The U.S. has deported more than 1,400 unaccompanied minors to Guatemala since March, when migration controls were tightened, in October the numbers was 407. In comparison, the U.S. deported 385 unaccompanied minors to Guatemala in all of 2019.
Regional Relations
  • Venezuela's legitimacy challenged President Nicolás Maduro said he would work to resume “decent, sincere” political dialogue with the United States, once president-elect Joe Biden takes office in January -- Al Jazeera.
  • Tropical storm Eta lashed Cuba. Government officials said 8,000 people were in evacuation centers, but reported no injuries, deaths or significant property damage. (NBC)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s support has fallen in some of Brazil’s biggest cities, suggesting a popularity bump earlier this year was short-lived, reports Reuters.
  • Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa said it has suspended clinical trials of China’s Sinovac coronavirus vaccine, long expected to be one of the first to be approved in the country, following a “severe adverse event.” (Wall Street Journal)
  • Paraguayan authorities have announced historic sanctions against Brazilian banking giant Itaú. (InSight Crime)
  • Honduran presidential hopeful Nasry “Tito” Asfura, currently mayor of Tegucigalpa, has been named in a government investigation into the embezzlement of more than a million dollars in city funds. He is the second presidential candidate for next year's election to be accused of financial crimes, reports InSight Crime.


  • Latin America leads the world in gender quotas for lawmakers, a chapter that started with Argentina in 1991. "The big lesson from these 30 years is that just having a quota is not enough — the design of the quota itself matters tremendously," writes Jennifer Piscopo in Americas Quarterly.


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