MS Risk Blog

Peruvians Seek Justice for Political Corruption and the COVID-19 Crisis

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Peru has faced a rough couple of months, after following a political crisis starting with President Martin Vizcarra’s impeachment in November. The protestors saw Vizcarra’s impeachment as politically motivated, carried out to halt the anti-graft initiatives he sought to implement. The protests have also been inflamed by the alleged police brutality that led to the deaths of 2 demonstrators. Following Vizcarra’s impeachment on 9th November, Speaker of Congress Manuel Merino assumed the presidency. Nevertheless, Merino announced his resignation on 15th November, less than 5 days since taking office, following the death of 2 students amid a police crackdown on the continued protests against Vizcarra’s impeachment; pressure on Merino to resign increased after 13 of his Cabinet’s 18 ministers resigned in protest against these deaths and the police response to the demonstrations. Responding to Merino’s resignation, Peru’s Congress returned to deliberations, ultimately voting 97-26 in favour of electing Francisco Sagasti of Partido Morado as interim President the following day.

However, the political crisis is not the only matrix to agitate Peruvians. In fact, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic almost certainly played a role in bringing about the recent unrest in Peru. The country has had more coronavirus deaths per million people than other countries in the region like Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Bolivia. The pandemic and lockdown measures against it have led to a significant contraction in the country’s economy of around 30.2% in the second quarter of this year. Consequently, aside from the corruption allegations against him, Vizcarra’s opponents in Congress also seized upon these statistics as justification for his impeachment. It is likely that the COVID-19 pandemic also played a role in spurring the protests against Congress’ decision.

As a consequence, discontent was perceived by many who decided to protest for similar reasons but in different ways. On January 13, health workers started going on a hunger strike in Lima, as they demanded a better national health budget and access to vaccines. About a dozen medics from the national social security union have been taking part in protests there as the health system struggles to cope with the second wave of Covid-19. The strike would last until Peru’s Labour Minister removes the head of the country’s Health Social Security, Fiorella Molinelli, who oversees government efforts to set up temporary health and isolation centres for Covid-19 patients.

The hunger strike is just one of many protests by Peru’s medics and health workers in recent days, as the second wave of Covid-19 engulfs the population. In fact, dozens marched through the streets of Lima on January 28 protesting against the latest lockdown ordered by the government. Protesters oppose the closure decreed in the capital and other regions of the country because they say it will harm business and livelihoods, many also believe that the virus only attacks vulnerable people.

The capital and several regions have started a strict lockdown from January 28 lasting until February 15, as the government aims to reduce the burden in hospitals that are unable to provide enough space and care for coronavirus patients. It is the second time in ten months that Peru returns to strict confinement rules. The first quarantine lasted 106 days, causing significant economic losses, with the gross domestic product falling 12 points in 2020. The Andean nation of 33 million inhabitants awaits the arrival of a million doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine to inoculate health personnel. There is no vaccination date for the rest of the population. More than 40,000 have died and more than a million inhabitants have been infected in Peru since the pandemic began.

However, Peru is not the first country to go on a hunger strike with healthcare workers protesting for poor working conditions and citizens tired of endless lockdowns. Protesters around the world have taken to the streets in recent weeks to reject government-imposed COVID-19 lockdowns, as countries race to vaccinate their most vulnerable groups and stem the spread of new variants of the coronavirus.

President Francisco Sagasti, as a response to medic strikes, approved a decree to finance the set-up of more than sixteen temporary isolation centres across the country and to hire additional staff to expand health services. However, this is not enough to appease the discontent of the population as dates for vaccination programme still remains a mystery and as a consequence the government does not seek to ease restrictions, forbidding social interactions whereas possible. The Peruvian protests will be an example for the rest of the world of how situations can be changed until the majority’s voices are heard.

A solution for the Peruvian Covid-19 crisis, in order to avoid more protesting in the near future and stop the spreading of the virus during these manifestations the government must provide clear and consistent messaging around the coronavirus, lockdowns and the vaccines to build trust among residents.

On the other hand, a proper resolution to Peru’s political crisis over the long term is likely to necessitate deep and comprehensive reforms. If Sagasti is able to effectively manage the transitional government it is likely to prove advantageous for Julio Guzmán, who is likely to represent Partido Morado in the 2021 elections. It is also possible that if Vizcarra’s impeachment is found to be illegitimate, he may be able to compete in the next elections; given his popularity, it is likely that he would stand a good chance of victory. Either way, the next President of Peru is likely to be from one of the newer centrist political groupings like Partido Morado or an independent like Vizcarra given the political damage self-inflicted by Peru’s larger parties like Acción Popular and Fuerza Popular in the face of their support for Vizcarra’s impeachment.