The Dream of Independence That Has Become a Perpetual Crisis
¡Viva la Patria!, ¡Viva la libertad!, ¡Viva la independencia!
Don José de San Martín
On July 28, 1821, the general Don José de San Martín, as part of his liberating expedition, proclaimed the independence of Peru in the Plaza de Armas of Lima, ending almost three centuries of viceroyalty, thus marking the end of Spanish colonial rule. Since then, Peru has been considered a completely independent Republic with a democratic state. However, in recent years Peru has found itself in the midst of a collapse of its entire political system, and the traditional parties and leaders are no longer perceived to have the legitimacy to sustain that system.
So how did the successful dream of independence turn into a perpetual political crisis?
Peru is facing a complicated political scenario. Since 2018 five presidents have been ousted from power in five years. On March 29th, the then Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was forced to resign over credible evidence that he had received a bribe from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. Odebrecht sparked Latin America’s biggest graft scandal by admitting publicly in late 2016 that it had secured lucrative contracts across the region with bribes. Since then, Peruvian judges have ordered several politicians, including Kuczynski and the ex Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo, to be jailed before trial.
His vice president Martin Vizcarra, who became president after Kuczynski resigned, was forcibly removed from office two and a half years later, in November 2020, by Peru's Congress, which declared that the president's actions demonstrated his "moral incapacity" after he decided to dissolve Parliament and call for congressional elections in 2020.
Vizcarra was succeeded by Manuel Merino, who lasted only five days as president before being forced to resign after massive marches against him that resulted in the death of two young people. He was replaced by Francisco Sagasti, who served as interim president until Peru's two-round elections that elected the country's current president, Pedro Castillo.
Fujimorismo: the rupture of democracy that has not yet been forgotten
The 2021 presidential elections were supposed to mark the beginning of the return to stability, but it was a polarized contest, between contenders who were late to define themselves for a second round and with the lowest voting percentages since the return of democracy. Castillo's opposition in the second ballot was represented by Keiko Fujimori, whom a large part of Peruvian society was not ready to consider as a solution to maintain democracy in the country. For many, the former "first lady" of the autocrat former president Alberto Fujimori still represents the reincarnation of Fujimorismo, the authoritarian party that ruled Peru between 1990 and 2000.
Who is Pedro Castillo?
Castillo is a former schoolteacher who had never held elected office before. He came to power through a regional party, Peru Libre, without technical cadres or solid bases, nor government experience. Since taking office on July 28, Castillo has not only gone through two attempted vacancy motions for "moral incapacity", three cabinet changes and seven interior ministers but he is also about to celebrate his first year as president with four open cases in the Peruvian Attorney General's Office for allegedly committing crimes of concealment, influence peddling and corruption.
Economic miracle and institutional debacle
Peru celebreated its 201 years of independence with an unstable political situation. Nowadays the entire political class is under serious scrutiny and social discontent led 71% of Peruvians to have a negative image of Congress and 82% disapprove of President Castillo. However, it's not all bad news for the Andean country. This nation of 33 million people consistently defied expectations and chronic political vertigo by growing robustly while keeping inflation in check, spending moderate and investment flowing. Not even the abundant emergency cash (12% of Gross Domestic Product) that Peru distributed during the COVID-19 pandemic has derailed government accounts. The fiscal deficit has been reduced to 2.6%, thanks in part to rising metal prices, but also to good budget management of the country's Central Reserve Bank. In a continent full of red numbers, Peru's public debt is expected to decline this year.