Mired in Corruption Scandals, Peru’s President Resigns

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President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has resigned in the wake of a growing corruption scandal involving Brazilian construction company Odebrecht and allegations of bribing parliament members to avoid impeachment. We speak to City College of New York professor Gerardo Renique

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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski offered his resignation on Wednesday. The announcement comes in the wake of a growing corruption scandal involving not only the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, but also efforts to bribe legislators of Peru’s parliament to vote against Kuczynski’s impeachment. Let’s listen to a bit of his resignation on Tuesday.

PEDRO PABLO KUCZYNSKI: I don’t want to be an obstacle for our nation as it finds the path to unity and harmony that means so much.

SHARMINI PERIES: The scandal took a new turn this week when secretly recorded videos surfaced that showed legislators talking about receiving bribes in exchange for their support for Kuczynski in an impeachment vote. Prosecutors have now said that even if Kuczynski is no longer president, he should still be prosecuted for corruption. The scandal now casts a shadow over the Summit of the Americas that is expected to take place in Lima, Peru in April.

Joining me now to analyze the situation in Peru is Gerardo Renique. Gerardo is originally from Peru, and is Professor of History at the City College of New York. Thanks for joining us Geraldo.

GERARDO RENIQUE: Hi, how are you doing.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now Geraldo, the scandal involving former President Kuczynski have taken several complicated turns. Let’s take it step by step here. First, what was he accused of regarding the Brazilian construction company, Odebrecht? And it’s a company that had already taken down a number of politicians throughout Latin America from Brazil to Ecuador, and beyond. What was the Peruvian allegations, specifically?

GERARDO RENIQUE: Ok, Odebrecht is one of the largest construction companies in Peru, as it is in many other parts in Latin America.

Odebrecht has been involved at least, in the last 20, 20 something years in the development of the largest infrastructural projects, from…to highways. The [Transamazônica] highway, and in several major irrigation projects during the presidency of Toledo, Alejandro Toledo, Kuczynski was the minister of the economy, and as such, he also had at the same time a consulting company. And this consulting company was offering services to Odebrecht at the moment that Odebrecht was bidding for the development of one of these major construction companies. So, that problem came up in December, in mid December. And that lead to to affairs opening an impeachment process to President Kuczynski.

Later on, we find out, as you mentioned before, Odebrecht have a big scandal that involved… in Brazil in both our countries in Latin America. There’s a process going on against Odebrecht in Brazil, the Lava Jato case, “Clean the House” case. And one of the persons that it’s involving… is the former top executive of Odebrecht in Peru, Jorge Barata. So, Jorge Barata, let me give you the exact day, on December 21st. Barata gave new declarations. I’m sorry, this was in early January, but Barata gave a number of declarations implicating not only Kuczynski of having received money from Odebrecht for his electoral campaign, but had several other politicians from Alejandro Toledo to Alan García, who were the previous presidents of Peru, to … and Keiko Fujimori had received money from the Odebrecht company.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now Gerardo, from what I understand Kuczynski already was facing impeachment last December, but narrowly escaped it because members of the former President Fujimori’s party voted in his favor, that is Kuczynski’s favor. He then turned around and pardoned former President Alberto Fujimori, who was serving a 25 year prison sentence. So, it certainly looked like a quid pro quo kind of situation already. Now, how was this perceived in Peru and what did it mean for Kuczynski? Popularity, even if he had managed to bribe and win that impeachment vote, would he have withstood the popular will of the people to continue to serve as president?

GERARDO RENIQUE: Actually, together with the other Odebrecht scandal, the pardon of Fujimori was the other big issue unleashing the crisis of Kuczynski. In order to not be impeached, he managed to obtain the vote of 10 of the congressmen of Fujimorista congressmen, and also, the 10 congressmen that are followers of Kenji Fujimori. Kenji Fujimori is the brother of Keiko Fujimori, and between these two siblings, there’s a tremendous political rivalry for being the hater of the legacy of their father Alberto Fujimori. The response to the pardon of Fujimori was overwhelming. In the last 20 years, Peru haven’t seen demonstrations on the scale of the demonstrations, you know, and mass assemblies that follow the pardon of Fujimori.

So, that further erode really weak government of Fujimori… When Kuczynski takes office, he barely have 19 representatives in Congress, and Keiko Fujimori controls the majority of the Congress with 73 seats. So, this further erodes, not only the administration of Kuczynski, but also the roles. An already political system that was seen with good eyes by the majority of the population, and just to give you an example…a poll that was taken two days before this latest scandal of the videos came out, their rate of approval of Congress is 11 percent, and the majority of Peruvians were asking… that the president, and everybody, all the cabinet and all the Congress have to resign and new elections have to be called.

So, that’s to give you an idea of what’s going on in Peru. And today, this afternoon the Congress again, is going to reopen a debate if they’re going to accept or not the resignation of Kuczynski. On the other hand, you know, labor organizations or human rights groups, and the relatives of the people that were… by Fujimori are calling for large demonstrations this afternoon in Lima, and in different cities in the country.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Gerardo explain or at least describe what exactly took place in these secret videos that led to the offering of the resignation that you describe will be voted on today.

GERARDO RENIQUE: OK. They are, and again, to put it very simply, this…congressman that is part of the group of Keiko Fujimori offering to the representatives of President Kuczynski’s Congress the vote to favor the impeachment that was supposed to be voted today. Right? So, in this meeting we have on one side of the table, we have these representative Mamani, he come from the southern part of the country, and on the other side of the table, negotiating on behalf of the government are the lawyer of President Kuczynski, two congressmen, that at the same time, occupy positions in Kuczynski’s government, and Kenji Fujimori trying to convince Mamani, offering him money, offering him project development, project for his region in exchange for his vote, rejecting the impeachment that was going to be brought to day.

So, all the things are set up. The thing was set up by Keiko Fujimori, and you know, this Mamani Congressman, it’s in the videos and it’s the one that they were trying to buy their vote. He’s already implicated in corruption cases in the regional government of Puno, the region that he represents in Congress. Keiko Fujimori is under indictment for having taken money from Odebrecht. So, all this is a big farce. There’s a tremendous cynicism on the political elite because it’s very evident with this case. So, as you can understand this Saturday, the tremendous anger and rejection of the government. But on the other hand, there’s no viable alternative to this. It has proved that the moment that the political elite is in disarray. And despite the fact that they’re going to be in disarray though, Keiko Fujimori will still have the control of Congress. It’s a very complicated you know political situation

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. So, then what happens, let’s say this afternoon, they accept the resignation of Kuczynski and then what happens? Does the vice president take over?

GERARDO RENIQUE: The vice president is going to be, [sworn] in Friday. The vice president is going to take the position Kuczynski, but Congress is going to vote if they accept the impeachment, or if they accept the resignation of if they are going to impeach Kuczynski. You know, there was very similar situation to what happened with the president Alberto Fujimori. Fujimori… in the year 2000 after a US wave of popular mobilization. You know he went away, he was on [an] official state visit in Asia, and he sent his resignation by fax. Congress didn’t accept his resignation and he was kicked out of office. So, it is very likely that President Kuczynski will be kicked out of office. I doubt that Congress is going to accept the resignation. You know, I’m sure he’s going to be immediately indicted. You know, the courts already have put restrictions for President Kuczynski to leave the country. And on the hand, the congressman that were involved in the buying of the vote to favor, to reject the impeachment are going to be kicked out of Congress. And that’s going to be favored because they want to be replaced by, they’re going to substitute by people that are more favorable to Keiko Fujimori.

So, what we’ve seen is what opens sounds a very uncertain moment that it will pretty much depend on of the level of demonstrations in the street, and the willingness on not of the vice president…will be the president’s this time tomorrow… to one or either side of the political opposition. Is he going to lean towards Keiko Fujimori, that Keiko Fujimori sort of have the government of Kuczynski captured by the majority in Congress or President…will try to approach the political opposition that are on the popular movement.

Let me just to remind to listeners is that they left in Peru is the second force in Congress. They have 20 representatives, although the left is also divided in two parts. One fractioned with 10 votes, the other is fractioned with 10 votes, both of them, both of these fractures are in favor of the impeachment. So, it’s a very unclear situation, extremely fluid. The left, I think that their challenge is now to the left. The left. sort of has been lagging behind. You know, this problem there has been a problem between these two different fractions, these different sectors of the of the right. The right is going to come out very weakened by these who hold the political control of Congress. So, the situation is very extreme.

SHARMINI PERIES: And finally, Gerardo, what happens to the Summit of the Americas? The two main topics on the agenda ironically is corruption and Venezuela. And given that the crisis in Peru and the general disdain in Latin America for President Trump, what will happen at the Summit of the Americas?

GERARDO RENIQUE: That’s also extremely uncertain because I was already reading the newspapers,have to decide if President Kuczynski is going to attend the meeting. So, this, I think that the fate of this is pretty uncertain. The latest that I heard was, that what I told you about… and that… have gained contact the president of Colombia, it seems that the president of Colombia will not attend the summit. So, more likely if …I really want to know what to do under these circumstances because this weak government that calls a summit, that…the issue of corruption after this scandal is sort of extremely contradictory. And on the other hand, more likely is that the summit is going to be received by massive demonstrations. So…If I were…I would suspend the summit. So, this is uncertain. I think that between today, the debate starts this afternoon at 4, by tomorrow noon. You know, we’re going to have a clear idea of what is going to happen. What is going to be the position of the new president Vizcarra, his announcement is going to be tomorrow sometime around noon because he’s taking office at noon. So, he should be issuing some sort of speech or something, that I’m sure he’ll address this issue of the Summit of the Americas, but at this moment it’s uncertain.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Geraldo. It looks like we’ll coming back to you very soon again. I think you so much for joining us today.

GERARDO RENIQUE: Thank you very much. Have a nice day, bye.

SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.