Peruvian President Ollanta Humala presided yesterday over the swearing-in of a new cabinet after Prime Minister Salomón Lerner resigned on Saturday. Lerner’s abrupt resignation—less than one week after he began negotiations with Indigenous groups regarding the Conga mine project that had ignited mass protests—is the biggest crisis to date in Humala’s presidency, not yet five months old. The outcome of Conga, a $4.8 billion project in the Cajamarca department, is viewed as a bellwether in Peru for future mining investment, a large driver of capital which mainly funds Humala’s social welfare programs.
Peruvian law mandates that if the prime minister resigns, the entire cabinet must do so as well. Lerner’s successor is Oscar Valdés, the former interior minister and an ex-army officer who taught Humala during his days in military school. As prime minister, Valdés is expected to push a harder line against the protests; he advocated for the 60-day emergency declaration that went into effect last Monday, which suspends some civil liberties and allows police to issue arrests without warrants and limit the right of assembly.
Humala kept eight cabinet members, including the ministers of finance and foreign affairs, but replaced the other ten. The most notable among the replacements is Susana Baca in the culture portfolio; Baca is a world-renowned singer and was the first Afro-Peruvian minister in the history of the republic. The new culture minister is Luis Peirano, a theater director and sociologist.
Humala’s press secretary tweeted yesterday, “Valdés declared that the new cabinet ensures a policy of economic development with social inclusion that the President is carrying out.”