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Peru once again in political turmoil as pandemic rages on

and . Sep 14, 2020
peru congress Photo: Jose Sotomayor Jimenez/Shutterstock

Just 11 months ago, Peru witnessed a tug of war between President Martín Vizcarra and the country’s lawmakers. After anti-corruption legislation was blocked, Mr. Vizcarra dissolved Congress, and managed to block an attempt to remove him from office. But now lawmakers might get their way, as Mr. Vizcarra faces impeachment proceedings for “moral incapacity,” after he tried to obstruct a Congress-led corruption probe.

The case was called after the head of Congress, Manuel Merino, received leaked audio recordings in which the president appears to discuss ways to cover up the misuse of public funds.

</p> <p>In the audio clips, he is heard telling advisers to lie while giving their testimony to a parliamentary hearings committee — downplaying details of his office&#8217;s hiring of a little-known singer, <a href="https://gestion.pe/peru/politica/que-es-el-caso-richard-swing-y-por-que-pone-en-jaque-al-gobierno-de-peru-noticia/">Richard Cisneros</a>, to deliver pro-government motivational talks. Mr. Cisneros was reportedly paid PEN 175,400 (USD 49,500). To make matters worse, the contracts were made during the pandemic.</p> <p>The case could result in the end of an administration marked by chaos from the start. Mr. Vizcarra took office in March 2018, after then-President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-43492421">resigned</a> to avoid being impeached over corruption scandals.&nbsp;</p> <h2>The worst possible timing for a political crisis</h2> <p>Almost one year after Congress tried to declare the presidency vacant and swear in Vice President Mercedes Aráoz as the head of state, Peru finds itself in turmoil yet again.&nbsp;</p> <p>This latest attempt to remove the president arrives just as Mr. Vizcarra is trying to pass a bill that would make those convicted of corruption by Peruvian courts unable to run for public office. Just as Brazil, the Peruvian political landscape has been devastated by massive construction scandals involving Brazilian construction group Odebrecht. The country has seen all of its living former presidents investigated for corruption. Two have been arrested — a third <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-47965867">killed himself in 2019 to avoid a similar fate</a>.</p> <p>But this latest chapter comes precisely at a moment in which the coronavirus pandemic has worsened in the already badly hit country.</p> <iframe src="https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-data-explorer?zoomToSelection=true&amp;year=latest&amp;time=2020-03-01..latest&amp;country=MEX~BRA~PER~OWID_WRL~SouthAmerica~EuropeanUnion~USA&amp;region=World&amp;deathsMetric=true&amp;interval=total&amp;hideControls=true&amp;perCapita=true&amp;smoothing=0&amp;pickerMetric=total_deaths&amp;pickerSort=desc" loading="lazy" style="width: 100%; height: 600px; border: 0px none;"></iframe> <p>When the virus arrived in Latin America, Peru was one of the first countries to impose strict lockdown rules and set aside between 9 to 12 percent of its GDP for a major aid package to help vulnerable populations in coping with the economic effects of the sanitary crisis. Five months later, however, Peru leads the world in Covid-19 mortality rates, according to <a href="https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6">data</a> from Johns Hopkins University.</p> <p>So far, 730,000 Peruvians have contracted the coronavirus, and 31,000 have died . The Andean country now has 931 deaths per million people —&nbsp;far more than Brazil or the U.S., the worst-hit nations in absolute numbers in the Americas.&nbsp;</p> <p>Peru seems a textbook example of what we at <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> have commented on in our Explaining Brazil Podcast —&nbsp;the success of social isolation measures is limited in countries defined by <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/07/04/how-amlo-has-handled-mexico-coronavirus-crisis/">deep, structural inequality</a>.</p> <iframe src="https://open.spotify.com/embed-podcast/episode/6ZZeH86TSqcGeZOmJuf8ah" width="100%" height="232" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Why things got so out of hand in Peru</h2> <ul><li><strong>Deficiencies in the national healthcare system.</strong> According to Eduardo Gotuzzo, a professor emeritus at the Cayetano Heredia University, Peru invests very little in its healthcare system. The country lacks hospital beds (especially for intensive care), relies on overburdened and underpaid staff, and at the beginning of the year had only one lab capable of processing molecular tests.</li><li><strong>Bungled attempts to trace the coronavirus.</strong> Experts say Peru&#8217;s response to the coronavirus had one key mistake: it was centered on treating infections rather than preventing them. The country also did a <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-14/peru-s-surge-in-virus-cases-comes-amid-ten-fold-testing-increase">poor job with its testing</a>&nbsp;— prioritizing rapid tests, better for epidemiological control, over serological ones (which are considered to be the gold standard by the World Health Organization).</li><li><strong>Informal economy.</strong> About 70 percent of the Peruvian economically active population <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/07/27/understanding-latin-america-wave-informal-employment/">works in the informal sector</a> — meaning that they can&#8217;t stay home for long, and that the government&#8217;s efforts to aid vulnerable populations wouldn&#8217;t be enough on their own. Moreover, even getting aid to these people forced them into risking their health —&nbsp;as less than 40 percent of Peruvians have a bank account. The result was massive gatherings at bank branches across the country.</li></ul> <p>The Peruvian government has lacked self-reflection, saying that the dreadful numbers are more linked to the administration&#8217;s &#8220;transparency&#8221; than to an unmatched epidemic. &#8220;I don&#8217;t know any country that is as transparent as Peru in dealing with the number of deaths caused by the pandemic,&#8221; said Walter Martos, president of the council of ministers. &#8220;We are adding suspected cases in the death tally, which increases our totals.&#8221;

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Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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