Political crisis and protests in Peru one year away from its bicentennial

By Gloria Morales

On the Monday of November 9th, in the midst of a health and economic crisis, with political leaders being questioned for corruption, a motion of vacancy for President Martin Vizcarra was approved under the motive of "permanent moral incapacity" with 105 votes in favor and 19 votes against a highly-questioned congress.


Since then, Peru experienced eight days of massive protests in several parts of the country against the congress actions. Even though there were several claims and motivations behind the protests, these can be framed in two important reasons: (i) the violation of democracy and the rule of law (ii) the fed up with policies based on political calculations and particular interests and not on the welfare of Peruvians.


The De Facto government's violation of the protection of the rule of law


The UN defines the rule of law as a principle of governance where all people and public or private institutions are subject to the same laws, which must be compatible with international human rights standards and principles. Furthermore, equality before the law, separation of powers, non-arbitrariness, and procedural and legal transparency (2004).


The designation of Manuel Merino, former president of Congress, as De Facto president and his cabinet led by Antero Flores-Aráoz, former defense minister during the "Baguazo", not only reduced the independence of the legislative and executive powers, it also increased the risk of a political takeover of the Constitutional Court because Congress has an active Special Commission for the election of these leaders.


A second risk identified is that of the weakening of public reforms, mainly the education laws. One of the reasons is that Congress is proposing modifications to the educational reforms, the main improvements of which will affect teachers' careers and university education. As evidence of this, on November 13th, the Education Commission approved the legislation project that indicates the automatic university bachelor's degree during the years 2020 and 2021, regardless of the disagreement from the Ministry of Education and SUNEDU, who promotes innovation and research. (2020)


Finally, the De Facto government represented a danger to freedom of expression. In this regard, there had been an attempt to censor the National Institute of Radio and Television of Peru (IRTP), which was stopped by the denunciation of the director of that medium through his letter of resignation. According to that letter, he received a petition to reduce the visibility of the repression and excessive use of firearms and violence by the Peruvian National Police in the marches. (El Comercio, 2020)


Fed up with existing politicians and an absent state by an active citizenship


Motives behind citizens are diversified because they do not respond to a single political organization or movement as many may have suggested. Instead, they brought together diverse demands, pre-existing rages, or by the term of Peruvian political scientist Alberto Vergara, citizens without a Republic who demand representatives and services that respond to their demands.


By preliminary estimates, the marches have been the most massive in Republican history, outstripping those called for in the fall of Alberto Fujimori's regime in 2000. The generation protesting most actively is reportedly composed mainly of young people in their 20s and 30s, who are filling the streets, but also the social networks. (BBC, 2020)


The indignation expressed by the citizenship has only been further exacerbated by the Merino cabinet, who not only did not listen, but minimized the claims of the population. On Saturday, November 14, in interviews with RPP, the premier and the De Facto president said that the protests were due to the fact that the citizens have been long confined by the Coronavirus and that the protests are for lack of work and not against their government (2020).


Unfortunately, on the night of Saturday 14th, 100 people were reported injured and dozens of people were reported missing. The Health Ministry reported the deaths of 2 of the thousands of young people who went out to march: Inti Sotelo Camargo, a 24-year-old, and Bryan Pintado Sánchez, a 22-year-old. According to the Peruvian Prosecutor's Office, the first died from the impact of 10 lead shot (skull, neck, face, arm and chest) and the second received 4, one of them direct to his heart. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has condemned these acts and has demanded that the cases be investigated and those responsible found. (BBC, 2020)


Results of the marches were evident. A reduction in the risk of violation of the rule of law was achieved. Beginning with Congress's reversal of the appointment of the members of the Constitutional Court and the pronouncement of the United Nations (UN) condemning police violence to suppress protests. Finalizing with the resignation of the recently ousted ministers and, later, of Manuel Merino to the presidency of the republic. (BBC, 2020)


The parliament elected a new Board of Directors chaired by Francisco Sagasti (Purple Party) and made up of congressmen who were against the vacancy. By constitutional succession, Sagasti assumes the position of president of Peru, giving Mirtha Vásquez (Frente Amplio) as president of Congress. (El Búho, 2020) Following his assumption of the post of president, Sagasti presented a conciliatory speech in which he emphasized his apologies to the families of the young people who had died, and his commitment to restoring confidence and hope to the citizens. Furthermore, he stressed that his government will be transparent, will promote education and will be subject to legislative oversight. (El Comercio,2020)


The developments will continue to change, the political crisis is not yet over, but it is more stabilized. Although there are still issues to be discussed, the population is waiting for answers such as justice to reach those responsible for the death of 2 young people and hundreds of wounded, the exoneration of life benefits for Manuel Merino from being president for 6 days, the derogation of the law of parliamentary immunity and the pronouncement of the TC on the definition of "moral incapacity". (Enfoque de derecho, 2020)


There is no security if the actions of politicians change. It is, without a doubt, regrettable that we were only listened to after the death of two young people who went out to march peacefully. Unfortunately, despite what has been achieved, nothing will bring Inti or Bryan to life. However, something that we hope will remain present is this new generation that protests, is outraged and has seen the power of their voices in less than a week. A generation that seems to be more active, more connected, more outraged and probably more critical. A generation that has already been called the bicentennial generation.

References:

EL BÚHO (November 17, 2020) Francisco Sagasti promised to give hope back to the citizens. Retrieved from:

https://elbuho.pe/2020/11/francisco-sagasti-prometio-devolverle-esperanza-a-la-ciudadania-al-vuelo-noticias-peru-arequipa/


EL COMERCIO (November 14, 2020) IRTP press manager resigns after denouncing "intention to censor and manipulate" news coverage. Retrieved from:

https://elcomercio.pe/politica/gerente-de-prensa-de-irtp-renzo-mazzei-renuncia-tras-denunciar-intentos-de-manipulacion-y-censura-respecto-a-cobertura-de-protestas-contra-vacancia-presidencial-manuel-merino-nndc-noticia/?ref=ecr


EL COMERCIO (November 18, 2020) Francisco Sagasti: these are the most outstanding phrases of his speech. Obtenida en:

https://elcomercio.pe/politica/gobierno/francisco-sagasti-estas-son-las-frases-mas-destacadas-de-su-discurso-nndc-noticia/?ref=ecr


BBC (November 15, 2020) Protests in Peru: what is behind the massive demonstrations after Vizcarra's departure from the presidency? Retrieved from:

https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-54897687


BBC (November 15, 2020) Wave of protests in Peru leaves two dead and 100 injured and puts the government of President Manuel Merino in check. Retrieved from:

https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-54948270


BBC (November 16, 2020) Manuel Merino resigns: Inti Sotelo and Bryan Pintado, the young people of the "Bicentennial Generation" whose death in the protests in Peru accelerated the fall of the president. Retrieved from:

https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-54960439


UN (2004) The Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies Retrieved from:

https://undocs.org/es/S/2004/616


PERU21 (November 12, 2020) TC: president of the special commission maintains that the process of selection of new judges will not be stopped. Retrieved from:

https://peru21.pe/politica/tc-presidente-de-comision-especial-sostiene-que-no-se-detendra-proceso-de-seleccion-de-nuevos-magistrados-noticia/?tmp_ad=30seg


REDACCIÓN LP (November 13, 2020) The Education Commission approved an automatic baccalaureate for the 2020 graduates. Retrieved from:

https://lpderecho.pe/proponen-bachiller-automatico-estudiantes-universitarios-egresen-2020-2021/


RPP (November 12, 2020) Attorney General Daniel Soria revealed that the Minister of Justice asked him to resign. Retrieved from:

https://rpp.pe/politica/estado/procurador-general-daniel-soria-revelo-que-ministra-de-justicia-le-pidio-su-renuncia-noticia-1303983