Impeached, Jailed, Wanted: President Is a Dangerous Job in Peru
(Bloomberg) -- Even in Latin America, a region known for chronic political instability, Peru stands out.
Every president elected since 1985 -- with the exception of one interim leader who served for just eight months -- has either been impeached, imprisoned or sought in criminal investigations.
On Sunday, Manuel Merino became the latest when he was forced to resign after just six days following violent street protests. He’s now the target of a probe into human rights abuses. Merino himself oversaw an impeachment process to remove Martin Vizcarra over allegations that he received bribes from construction companies.
Two ex-presidents are currently under house arrest, and another is barred from leaving Peru as he awaits trial. Yet another, Alan Garcia, committed suicide when officials sought his arrest early last year.
It’s a remarkable history, and one that pundits attribute as much to the Peruvian political class’s thirst for retribution as they do to the corruption that is deeply entrenched in the country’s democratic system. The pattern also highlights a fraught institutional arrangement that pits the president against congress and fosters constant feuding.
Here’s a quick look back at each of those episodes:
Manuel Merino (Nov. 10-15, 2020)
The attorney general’s office opened a probe into Merino and two cabinet ministers for abuse of authority and the deaths of two protesters during the violent repression of demonstrations against the ouster of Martin Vizcarra. Two university students were killed and dozens more were injured in protests in Lima on Nov. 15 to call for Merino’s resignation, which came the following day. Centrist lawmaker Francisco Sagasti will take over the office until July 2021.
Martin Vizcarra (2018-2020)
Prosecutors in October began probing allegations he took 2.3 million soles ($634,000) in bribes in exchange for helping construction firms win contracts when he was a regional governor, from 2011 to 2014. He’s also implicated in a separate investigation into the hiring of a little-known singer to give motivational workshops to government officials. He had survived a first impeachment attempt on this last case less than two months earlier.
Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (2016-2018)
Kuczynski is one of four Peruvian ex-presidents implicated in a probe into Brazilian builder Odebrecht SA, the company behind the largest corruption scandal in Latin America in decades. Prosecutors allege he helped the firm win two infrastructure contracts while serving as a minister in the government of former president Alejandro Toledo. He quit the presidency in early 2018 on the eve of an impeachment vote and was placed under house arrest last year.
Ollanta Humala (2011-2016)
Prosecutors accuse Humala and his wife of taking $3 million from Odebrecht to finance his successful 2011 presidential campaign, as well as laundering money during his failed 2006 bid. He’s the country’s first former president to be indicted as part of the probe and is currently awaiting trial and banned from leaving Peru.
Alan Garcia (1985-1990/2006-2011)
In Garcia’s case, prosecutors alleged he led a ring of corrupt officials during his second government, collecting bribes and helping Odebrecht win contracts that included a billion-dollar light-rail line. A court ordered his arrest in April 2019, and he shot himself when police arrived at the door of his home in Lima.
Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006)
Toledo is under house arrest in the U.S. while he awaits extradition to Peru, where he’s wanted on charges that he received as much as $30 million in bribes from Odebrecht. U.S. Marshals arrested him in July 2019 with $40,000 in cash in a suitcase. He was released from jail earlier this year after a judge ruled he was at risk of contracting coronavirus if he remained in custody.
Valentin Paniagua (2000-2001)
Paniagua was a lawmaker who presided over a transitional government after President Alberto Fujimori fled the country in 2000, with the main task to organize elections the following year. He’s held in high esteem by Peruvians for his role in restoring democracy and his legacy is untainted by graft allegations. He died in 2006 after suffering from a lung infection.
Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000)
Fujimori remains a deeply divisive figure in Peru after flashing an autocratic streak as he launched a successful campaign to tame hyperinflation, stabilize the economy and crush a brutal guerrilla insurgency. He is currently serving a 25-year sentence for commanding the killing of alleged terrorist sympathizers and was also convicted on graft-related charges. He was pardoned by Kuczynski in 2017, but the decision was later overturned by the country’s supreme court.
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