Millions of Peruvians have lifted themselves out of poverty in the past two decades, thanks to a more open and market-oriented economy yielding fast growth. Socialists don’t like it. But they have been unable to reverse the laws underpinning the country’s progress. Now they’re using the latest political crisis to make another try.
Peru’s rampant corruption is again on the front burner. Coming amid the Covid-19 pandemic and a deep recession, it has raised the ire of the nation.
Yet it’s hard to see how an electorate that so often votes for populism at the polls can extricate itself from the grasp of crooked politicians. The hard left’s solution, which is to rewrite the 1993 constitution and give the state a larger role in the economy, would make things worse.
Francisco Sagasti was sworn in as interim president Tuesday. The center-left former lawmaker replaces interim President Manuel Merino, who only a week earlier had replaced President Martín Vizcarra, who in 2018 replaced President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who resigned amid allegations of corruption. With me so far?
The civilian government has mostly followed the law, the line of succession has been more or less respected, and an April election for a new president is on schedule. That’s the good news. But it’s been a bumpy ride.
Mr. Vizcarra had no vice president when he was impeached by a 105-19 vote in the unicameral legislature earlier this month. As the head of Congress, Mr. Merino was next in the line for the job. But Peruvians who didn’t approve of the impeachment took to the streets in protest. Two people died in violent clashes with police. In an effort to restore calm, Mr. Merino agreed to step aside and let Congress choose a caretaker president.
Hard-left lawmaker Rocío Silva-Santisteban ran for the post unopposed, but she couldn’t garner enough support from her peers to win when her candidacy was put to a vote. A day later Mr. Sagasti—of the moderate Purple Party, which had opposed Mr. Vizcarra’s removal—won congressional approval. The streets are calm—for now.
Vizcarra supporters say he is a victim of congressional abuse of power. But he may have made his own bed in September 2019 when he unilaterally dissolved Congress.
The constitution allows a president to send legislators home and schedule new elections if they give him two votes of no confidence. One had already occurred. Then, on Sept. 30, 2019, Congress named a new Constitutional Court justice—which is its prerogative—ahead of considering a judicial reform he had proposed. Piqued by the move, Mr. Vizcarra declared it a “de facto” second vote of no confidence even though no such vote had occurred. Scholars are still debating the legality of that decision, though the high court voted 4-3 in the president’s favor in January.
Mr. Vizcarra ruled by decree for five months. His relationship with the new Congress elected in January wasn’t much better. In September lawmakers released audiotapes that allegedly exposed witness tampering on the part of the president, but a subsequent impeachment vote failed.
After whistleblowers came forward alleging Mr. Vizcarra took bribes while he was governor of the Moquegua region from 2011-14, a second vote to impeach succeeded.
Technically Mr. Vizcarra was removed on grounds of “moral incapacity,” the same tool used to impeach President Alberto Fujimori in 2000. Mr. Vizcarra is crying foul because he has not been convicted of a crime. But impeachment in Peru is a political process, as it is in the U.S. and most other countries. Even the high court, which leans in Mr. Vizcarra’s favor, ruled last week that his removal is constitutional.
Plus, as a self-described champion of anticorruption, Mr. Vizcarra needed to be squeaky clean. A judge has barred him from leaving the country and prosecutors have charged him with aggravated collusion, bribery and illicit association to commit a crime. Mr. Vizcarra maintains his innocence.
Peruvians are frustrated. They have been told that by voting they can secure an honest government. But elected officials repeatedly turn out to be self-interested and corrupt. The public perennially mistakes its dashed hopes as a problem of the wrong people in the job. Yet as fast as they throw the bums out and bring in new ones, more scandals arise.
At the core of this dysfunction is a state with vast powers to redistribute wealth. The incentives to maintain the status quo are significant. Even voters who say they want less corruption may find that change conflicts with their self-interest. The siren song of populism draws them to politicians who can hand out plenty of government jobs and other goodies in a world of weak institutional checks.
That such power is abused is as predictable as human nature itself. So too is Peru’s grim future if the statist rabble-rousers demanding a new constitution prevail.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.
U.S., UK, Germany clash with China at U.N. over Xinjiang
The United States, Germany and Britain clashed with China at the United Nations on Wednesday over the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, angering Beijing by hosting a virtual event that China had lobbied U.N. member states to stay away from.
“We will keep standing up and speaking out until China’s government stops its crimes against humanity and the genocide of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the event, which organizers said was attended by about 50 countries.
Western states and rights groups accuse Xinjiang authorities of detaining and torturing Uyghurs and other minorities in camps. Beijing denies the accusations and describes the camps as vocational training facilities to combat religious extremism.
“In Xinjiang, people are being tortured. Women are being forcibly sterilized,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard told the event there were an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities arbitrarily detained.
In a note to U.N. member states last week, China’s U.N. mission rejected the accusations as “lies and false allegations” and accused the organizers of being “obsessed with provoking confrontation with China.”
While China urged countries “NOT to participate in this anti-China event,” a Chinese diplomat addressed the event.
“China has nothing to hide on Xinjiang. Xinjiang is always open,” said Chinese diplomat Guo Jiakun. “We welcome everyone to visit Xinjiang, but we oppose any kind of investigation based on lies and with the presumption of guilt.”
The event was organized by Germany, the United States and Britain and co-sponsored by Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other European nations. Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said countries who sponsored the event faced “massive Chinese threats,” but did not elaborate.
British U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward described the situation in Xinjiang as “one of the worst human rights crises of our time,” adding: “The evidence … points to a program of repression of specific ethnic groups.”
She called for China to allow “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” to U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.
Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth called out Bachelet for not joining the event.
“I’m sure she’s busy. You know we all are. But I have a similar global mandate to defend human rights and I couldn’t think of anything more important to do than to join you here today,” Roth told the event.
Ravina Shamdasani, deputy spokesperson for the U.N. Human Rights office, said Bachelet – who has expressed serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and is seeking access – was unable to participate.
“The High Commissioner continues to engage with the Chinese authorities on the modalities for such a visit,” she said, adding that Bachelet’s office “continues to gather and analyze relevant information and follow the situation closely.”
(Reporting by Michelle NicholsEditing by Chizu Nomiyama, Alison Williams and Elaine Hardcastle)
Ex-finance minister breached ethics rules in charity dealings
Former Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau breached conflict-of-interest rules by not recusing himself when the government awarded a contract to a charity he had close ties to, independent ethics commissioner Mario Dion said on Thursday.
In a parallel probe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was cleared of having broken any ethics rules when WE Charity was tapped to run a C$900 million ($740.9 million) program to help students find work during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
The charity later walked away from the contract.
Trudeau and Morneau both apologized last year for not recusing themselves during Cabinet discussions involving WE.
Trudeau’s wife, brother and mother had been paid to speak at WE Charity events in previous years, but Dion said this appearance of a conflict of interest was not “real”.
Morneau, on the other hand, was a friend of Craig Kielburger, one of the charity’s founders, Dion said. The charity had “unfettered access” to the minister’s office that “amounted to preferential treatment”, a statement said.
No fines or penalties were levied.
Morneau said on Twitter he should have recused himself. Trudeau said in a statement issued by his office that the decision “confirms what I have been saying from the beginning” that there was no conflict of interest.
Ahead of a possible federal election later this year, the opposition could use the ruling to underscore the government’s uneven track record on ethics. Trudeau has been twice been found in breach of ethics rules in the past.
In August 2019, he was found to have broken rules by trying to influence a corporate legal case, and in December 2017, the previous ethics commissioner said Trudeau had acted wrongly by accepting a vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island.
In a statement, opposition Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said: “To clean up Ottawa, Conservatives will impose higher penalties for individuals who break the Conflict of Interest Act and shine a light on Liberal cover-ups and scandals, ending them once and for all.”
The controversy over Morneau’s ties to the charity was a factor in his resignation in August last year, when he also left his parliamentary seat, saying he would not run again. Chrystia Freeland was named to take over for him a day later.
($1 = 1.2147 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jan Harvey)
EU prepares new round of Belarus sanctions from June
The European Union is readying a fourth round of sanctions against senior Belarus officials in response to last year’s contested presidential election and could target as many as 50 people from June, four diplomats said.
Along with the United States, Britain and Canada, the EU has already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on almost 90 officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, following an August election which opponents and the West say was rigged.
Despite a months-long crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Lukashenko, the EU’s response has been narrower than during a previous period of sanctions between 2004 and 2015, when more than 200 people were blacklisted.
The crisis has pushed 66-year-old Lukashenko back towards traditional ally Russia, which along with Ukraine and NATO member states Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, borders Belarus.
Some Western diplomats say Moscow regards Belarus as a buffer zone against NATO and has propped up Lukashenko with loans and an offer of military support.
Poland and Lithuania, where opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya fled to after the election she says she won, have led the push for more sanctions amid frustration that the measures imposed so far have had little effect.
EU foreign ministers discussed Belarus on Monday and diplomats said many more of the bloc’s 27 members now supported further sanctions, but that Brussels needed to gather sufficient evidence to provide legally solid listings.
“We are working on the next sanctions package, which I hope will be adopted in the coming weeks,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting.
The EU has sought to promote democracy and develop a market economy in Belarus, but, along with the United States, alleges that Lukashenko has remained in power by holding fraudulent elections, jailing opponents and muzzling the media.
Lukashenko, who along with Russia says the West is meddling in Belarus’ internal affairs, has sought to deflect the condemnation by imposing countersanctions on the EU and banning some EU officials from entering the country.
“The fourth package (of sanctions) is likely to come in groups (of individuals), but it will be a sizeable package,” one EU diplomat told Reuters.
More details were not immediately available.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels, additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin, editing by Alexander Smith)
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