PERU. Lima: On Monday, parliament voted in favor of impeaching President Martín Vizcarra on grounds of “moral incompetence.” This was met with shock and widespread protests in the cities of Lima, Cusco, Arequipa, and Huaraz.
Though newly appointed Prime Minister Antero Flores-Araoz dismissed the protests as nothing more than a handful of angry opposition party supporters, Peruvians continue to storm the streets en masse out of fear for the future of their democracy.
Most of the protests began when President of Parliament Manuel Merino was sworn in as the new interim president earlier this week. Many have decried the event as nothing more than a coup staged by the congressional body.
“Was justice really what they were seeking?”
Javier Tovar Jaeger is a young man living in Lima who shared insight with Transcontinental Times about the public response to Vizcarra’s impeachment and implicit factors possibly behind the actions of parliament.
“It was a shock for us as much as the rest of the world. Vizcarra was very popular and actually tried to help us with COVID-19. That confidence has diminished in the last months due to corruption, but there is no Peruvian who is happy with this decision,” he stated adamantly.
Elaborating on the volatile profession of being a Peruvian president, Jaeger explained that corruption and legal troubles are an established norm. “I was born when the Fujimori dictatorship just finished. Since then, we started democratic times and have had democratic presidents. We elected all of those presidents and they have all had a lot of problems with the law. One even committed suicide because he was about to go to jail.”
He added that Vizcarra had problems with parliament since the beginning of his term as president back in March of 2018. “This was their fourth attempt at impeachment.¨ Jaeger also noted that Vizcarra was not an elected president, but rather took power after the resignation of former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. As acting vice president under Kuczynski, Vizcarra was sworn in under the law of succession.
With a democratic election set to take place in April of next year, and also a law that prevents Vizcarra from leaving the country for six months after the election, many Peruvians are wondering why parliament would proceed with corruption charges now.
Jaeger postulated, “Was justice really what they were seeking?”
Ominous timing and the influence of COVID-19
Luis Cano is from the town of Huaraz and also feels extorted by parliament´s decision to remove Vizcarra from office. “I don´t think removing our president with five months before the end of his government has been the best choice in these difficult times. I feel sorry to live in a country where our congress prioritizes internal issues that favor them and not Peru as a country.¨
When asked about how he felt Vizcarra´s administration handled COVID-19, Cano said, “The government handled the pandemic in a correct way and based on the reality of our country.¨
Jaeger chimed in with his thoughts on the role COVID-19 may have played, “I think COVID-19 is an excuse [for impeachment]. Of course, he could’ve done a better job, but I appreciate they did what they could. We have never faced anything like this before.”
Fears for the future of democracy
Highlighting constitutional processes that were not followed during the impeachment of Vizcarra, Jaeger said, “People are afraid we may be at the threshold of a new dictatorship.”
Jaeger also drew attention to the excessive police response demonstrated at the protests this week. “The police are doing basically whatever they want. They are confronting protesters very harshly and I have a friend who was put in the hospital by the police a few days ago.”
“This is a symptom of Latin American politics. We really have to go out to fight for our democracy. It’s not something given freely,” Jaeger paused before adding, “This is just the beginning of the situation.”