In the midst of a deepening political crisis, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala gave his second Independence Day speech on Sunday. But for the first time since the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori, widespread protests and mobilizations against the government are gaining national momentum.
On Saturday, thousands of citizens gathered in the historical center of Lima. Protest organizers planned to march to Congress, but were blocked by the police, who repelled the crowds with tear gas and water cannons. It was the third massive mobilization in Lima in two weeks.
Public indignation broke out after the media outlet Perú21 published audio transcripts of under-the-table arrangements by congressmen from different parties to divvy up political appointments to the Constitutional Court and the Central Bank as well as the position of Human Rights Ombudsman.
Although the officials resigned and Congress annulled the appointments, public anger has not subsided. The scandal provided a spark for dissatisfaction with the Humala administration, who was elected in 2011 with promises of economic growth, social inclusion and “la gran transformación”—a great transformation of politics in Peru.
With two years in office complete, many of Humala’s promises have fallen short.
“The elections scandal was the straw that broke the camel's back,” said Carlos Gastelumendi, from the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Coordinator of Human Rights—CNDDHH). “Today we are not all protesting for the same reasons, but the elections made us all reflect.”
“There are several topics that are causing the youth to organize and protest,” said Sigrid Bazan, a former president of the student federation at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP). According to Bazan, protesters oppose the new Ley Universitaria (University Law) and the passage of a new code that puts the onus of sex education on parents, rather than schools and the state.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala swore in three new female Cabinet ministers on Wednesday, giving the Cabinet an equal number of male and female ministers for the first time in Peru’s history. Peru’s Cabinet now comprises nine female ministers out of a total of 18.
The three new ministers include Mónica Rubio, a former social protection specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), who replaced Carolina Trivelli as minister of development and social inclusion; Magali Silva, the former vice minister of production, who replaced José Luis Silva as minister of foreign commerce and trade; and Diana Alvarez Calderón, an advisor in the municipality of Miraflores and a former secretary general at the Ministry of Justice, who replaced Luis Peirano as minster of culture. All three of the ministers who were replaced cited personal reasons for stepping down.
Humala made these new appointments just days before he will mark the completion of his second year in office on July 28. In Peru’s 2011 presidential election, Humala ran on a platform of economic growth coupled with social inclusion and, among other issues, pledged to support greater equality for women.
The Cabinet’s other female ministers are Minister of Justice Eda Adriana Rivas, Minister of Education Patricia Salas, Minister of Health Midori de Habich, Minister of Labor and Employment Teresa Laos, Minister of Production Gladys Triveño, and Minister of Women and Human Development Ana Jara.
Yesterday, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala began a three-day visit to the United States, marking the first official visit since he took office two years ago. Today, Humala met with U.S. President Barack Obama as well as other U.S. officials; he will also visit the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to tour the school and sign agreements with school administrators.
Peruvian officials see the visit as coming at an opportune time, when Peru-U.S. relations are at a peak. Harold Forsyth, the Peruvian ambassador in Washington, called the visit “historic,” and said it “marks a new level of bilateral support between Peru and the United States.” Many Peruvians believe that the meetings will not only strengthen the two countries’ relationship, but will also help promote Peru’s emergence as a global player.
President Humala kicked off his visit yesterday with a public speech in Washington that highlighted the importance of Peru’s diverse natural resources, including agricultural and mineral exports, to the international economy. But he also acknowledged the country’s struggle with corruption and inequality.
“Today we are talking about creating a good government,” Humala said. “We’ve had to work to create trust, because Peru is in a place where the citizens do not believe in their government. They are not seeing the tangible results that will allow them to develop.”
Today, Humala met with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other U.S. officials. The conversations revolved around key topics such as education, security, energy and climate change, support for micro and small businesses, science and technology, and the fight against drug trafficking. Climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are particularly pertinent to Peru, as the country seeks to solve its massive pollution and urban transport issues.
On his first official trip to the United States since his 2011 election, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala is meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House today. According to a Peruvian government press release, Humala’s three-day visit is aimed at strengthening bilateral relations and mutual cooperation between the countries—particularly in the areas of education, capacity building, support to small businesses, and technology.
Humala will also hold private meetings with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Peruvian president is traveling with Foreign Minister Eva Rivas, Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano, and Foreign Trade and Tourism Minister José Luis Silva Martinot.
Humala is scheduled to give a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce later today. On Wednesday, he will travel to Boston to visit the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he will sign several cooperation agreements with the university.
Humala is the second Latin American president to visit the White House in a month, following Chilean President Sebastián Piñera’s visit on June 4. Obama and Piñera discussed opportunities for U.S.-Chile cooperation in areas such as economic growth and job creation, transparency, human rights, and the rule of law.
Obama also met recently with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and other regional leaders during his trip to Central America in early May. Read AQ’s exclusive interview with President Obama about his trip to Mexico and Costa Rica here.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Venezuela’s CNE confirms April’s presidential election results; President Humala arrives in the United States; U.S. senators visit Guantánamo prison; Brazil’s FUNAI director resigns amid Indigenous protests; Nicaraguan Congress expected to vote on building a canal.
Venezuelan Audit Backs April Election Results: Venezuela's Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) confirmed the victory of Nicolás Maduro in the country's tightly-contested April 14 presidential election. A CNE official on Sunday reported that Maduro beat rival Henrique Capriles by a narrow 1.5 percent of the vote. Capriles, whose request for a full recount of the results was denied, called the audit a farce and has challenged the election results at the Supreme Court. An official report of the audit results is expected to become available sometime this week.
Humala Visits Washington, Massachusetts: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala begins a three-day visit to the United States on Monday. He will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday, as well as Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other U.S. officials and political leaders. Along with Humala’s trip to Washington, he’ll also travel to Massachusetts to visit the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This will be Humala's first official visit to Washington since he became president of Peru two years ago.
U.S. Senators Visit Guantánamo: U.S. Senators John McCain of Arizona and Dianne Feinstein of California reiterated the need to close the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba after the two made a surprise visit to the facility on Friday with President Barack Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough. The visit by McDonough was the first by an administration official since 2009. Currently, 104 of the 166 prison inmates are participating in a hunger strike to protest conditions and what they say are invasive searches by prison guards. Forty-one prisoners are currently being force-fed, according to military authorities. On Friday, McCain and Feinstein said prisoners were being treated in a "safe and respectful" way.
Brazil FUNAI Director Steps Down amid Indigenous Protests: Marta Azevedo, the president of Brazil's Fundação Nacional do Índio (National Indian Foundation—FUNAI) announced her resignation on Friday, citing health problems. Violent protests have erupted in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul over a dispute between Indigenous groups and landowners in which one person has already been killed. Last Thursday, 200 protesters demonstrated in Brasilia to call for a return of Indigenous ancestral lands, while landowners told the government that they expect to be paid at least $1 billion reais to leave the area. Brazilian troops were sent to the site of the dispute last week.
Nicaragua to Debate Alternative Canal: Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega hopes to gain congressional support this week for a canal that would connect the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans through a canal in Nicaragua. The project, in which the Nicaraguan government would partner with Chinese company HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment co. Ltd., would take approximately 11 years to build and is expected to cost $40 billion. The government would grant the Chinese company a concession for 100 years to run the canal. The proposed canal in Nicaragua would be three times longer than the Panama Canal, which is currently being expanded and is expected to be completed next year.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala concluded a five-day visit to the People’s Republic of China after meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and representatives of top corporations on Monday. The objective of the meetings is to boost bilateral relations and attract strategic Chinese investments in Peru.
China is Peru’s main source of foreign investment, and the two countries signed a Free Trade Agreement on April, 2009. For Peru, increasing trade with China is a key way of diversifying its export economy. For China, Peru is an important source of minerals, primarily copper. Noting the mutual interests of the two countries, Li Keqiang called on the Peruvian leader to enhance collaboration in fields such as trade and investment, finance, infrastructure, technology and human resources.
Peru still has a lot of room to grow in terms of non-traditional exports such as squid, grapes, seaweed, wood, liver and frozen foods. According to the Chamber of Chinese-Peruvian Commerce (Capechi), Peruvian exports to China are expected to increase by 25 percent in 2013. China’s growing demand for energy has led to plans to build and operate a natural gas pipeline—the Southern Peruvian Gas Pipeline—which will provide gas to Cusco, Arequipa, Puno, Moquegua and Tacna.
A stronger partnership with Peru is part of a greater Chinese effort to consolidate its presence in Latin America. During his tour through Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile in 2012, former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao advocated for the creation of a China-Latin America cooperation forum, a platform to improve market conditions and increase political trust between China and Latin American nations. Today, China is the leading commercial partner of Brazil, Chile, Peru and Argentina; and the second of Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay.
President Ollanta Humala is on a three day visit to France, Spain and Portugal as part of his effort to strengthen Peru’s ties with European countries. On Thursday, Humala met with his counterpart in France, François Hollande, where both leaders signed agreements related to student exchanges programs and mutual recognition of diplomas.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala indicated Wednesday that his government had received no formal request from former President Alberto Fujimori’s family for an official humanitarian pardon from the state. However, according to Fujimori’s lawyer, César Nakazaki, Fujimori is planning to ask for a pardon sometime this week, with legal documents expected to be submitted this Friday.
Fujimori is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for human rights violations that occurred during his 1990-2000 presidency. The sentence was handed down in 2009 after Fujimori was linked to the massacre of 25 people by the Grupo Colina paramilitary death squad in the early 1990s and the kidnapping of a businessman and a journalist in 1992. About 70,000 people died in Peru’s internal conflict, which occurred as the government launched an offensive against the Maoist-inspired Shining Path rebels.
Fujimori, 74, is currently suffering from oral cancer and has undergone five operations since 1997, according to his daughter, Keiko Fujimori, who ran for president in 2011. In September, Fujimori’s family said that the former president would seek a humanitarian pardon. “I will continue to fight for my health, my liberty and my innocence,” the elder Fujimori said in a letter.
Humala has said he will not grant the former president a pardon unless he or his family expressly requests one. “There’s nothing written on this topic, and therefore, it’s not on the government’s agenda right now,” said Humala during a press conference at a hotel in Miraflores.
Fujimori’s son, Kenji Fujimori, said his father would not ask for forgiveness for crimes that he didn’t commit, but that he may be willing to admit he was at fault for certain “errors” during his administration.
The Fujimori family says that the former president is focusing on his health, but some Peruvian politicians have speculated that the elder Fujimori could re-enter politics in 2016. “For grave crimes against humanity, Fujimori was only sentenced to 25 years; there was no permanent disqualification [from politics]because the Public Ministry never asked for one,” said Congressman Heriberto Benítez.
The Peruvian Congress gave their vote of confidence to President Ollanta Humala on his new cabinet early Tuesday morning—Peru’s third cabinet under President Humala, who has one year in office remaining. After 10 hours of debate, 73 legislators voted in support of the new cabinet and 38 opposed it.
The debate largely focused on how the new cabinet will work to address the social conflicts that have plagued the country recently—specifically mining conflicts in Cajamarca—as well as security issues and budget expenditures to respond to increasing social demands.
The prime minister, Juan Jiménez, presented the potential cabinet members to Congress on Monday afternoon. The new cabinet members will have a significant role to play in the forthcoming months since many ministries plan still have yet to spend almost 80 percent of their budgets.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Chávez travels to Brazil for Venezuela’s formal incorporation into Mercosur; Foreign mining to continue in Peru, as Humala marks one year in office and reaffirms commitment to social spending; Cuba set to further open its economy; Argentina tightens control over energy industry; and Colombia’s economy slows.
Chávez travels to Brazil: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez travels to Brasilia today—his first official foreign trip of the year—to attend Tuesday’s Mercosur summit. The gathering has been convened to formalize Venezuela’s entry into Latin America’s largest trade bloc, whose members include Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Paraguay’s membership was suspended on June 28 following the ouster of President Fernando Lugo. For six years, Venezuela’s entry had been blocked by the Paraguayan parliament, but once suspended, the other three countries quickly moved forward with Venezuela’s membership. Still, questions remain about the process in which Venezuela has joined Mercosur: “Suspending Paraguay due to Mercosur’s determination that it undemocratically removed President Lugo, and then using the opening created to then welcome in Chávez is a double standard. Clearly, realpolitik won out over ideology,” says AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak. It is expected that Chávez will use the visit as a sign of his good health and strength to compete in Venezuela’s presidential elections on October 7.
Mining—and associated controversies—to continue in Peru: Production is expected to resume in the next few days at the La Oroya metallurgical complex in the Peruvian Andes, after the plant—owned by the U.S.-based company Doe Run—had been shut down for three years. Rocío Chávez, the manager of Doe Run Peru, said operations will begin with the zinc-processing circuit and continue with the processing of lead and copper.
The announcement that metallurgical operations would resume in the small mountain town of La Oroya, where economy has long depended on mining but where residents have suffered from exposure to the plant’s toxic wastes and emissions, coincided with President Ollanta Humala celebrating one year in office. With his approval rate having fallen to an all-time low of 40 percent—largely a result of social unrest over mining (today there are more than 250 disputes nationwide over natural resources)—Humala vowed to ramp up social spending for the poor and spread the benefits of Peru’s economic boom to all its citizens.
Cuba to continue opening its economy: Following last week’s meeting of the National Assembly, Cuba will begin implementing a series of reforms that will continue moving its economy in a more market-friendly direction. A new tax law—to be published next month and to go into effect next year—will replace an old Soviet-style system and eventually require everyone to pay income and property taxes for the first time since the 1960s, according to Marino Murillo, head of the Communist Party commission responsible for implementing reforms. Murillo also announced that an unspecified number of state-owned companies will be partially deregulated by the end of the year. They will be allowed to make day-to-day business decisions without awaiting government approval and will be evaluated on “four or five indicators” such as earnings and productivity. In addition, 222 small- to medium-size businesses will become cooperatives—previously an option only available in the agricultural sector.
Read more about Cuba’s economic opening in the latest issue of Americas Quarterly.
Controversy over government intervention in Argentina’s energy industry: Controversy over the state’s role in the economy is likely to continue this week in Argentina, following Deputy Economy Minister Axel Kicillof’s announcement last Friday that the federal government will assume greater control over private oil companies. According to a decree published in the Official Gazette, oil companies operating in Argentina will have to present an annual investment plan by September 30 and could face fines or other sanctions if they fail to comply with this and other rules. This morning, Planning Minister Julio de Vido denied that the government is “intervening” in the energy sector, calling the new regulations “planning, pure and simple,” but that is unlikely to put Argentine and foreign business communities at ease.
Colombian economy at risk of downturn: Economists and administration officials are likely to be keeping a close eye on Colombia’s economy as prices for oil—the country’s top export—continue to decline. On Friday Colombia’s central bank unexpectedly reduced its overnight lending rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent—the country’s first interest-rate cut in two years. Central Bank president Jose Dario Uribe said, “Global economic growth continues to weaken more than expected;” the bank adjusted its forecast for economic growth in Colombia in 2012 to 3 to 5 percent, down from its previous target of 4 to 6 percent. Andres Langebaek, senior economist at Banco Davivienda SA, who correctly predicted the cut, forecasts that the Central bank will cut rates a further 0.75 percentage point by year-end. Analysts will be on alert for inflation, although the risk is “really benevolent,” said Camila Estrada, chief analyst at Bogotá-based Helm Bank SA.