Peru’s president faces impeachment vote amid pandemic turmoil

LIMA, Peru — Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra’s job is on the line Friday as opposition lawmakers push through an impeachment hearing criticized as a hasty and poorly timed ouster attempt in one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers appeared to be far short of the two-thirds majority vote required to remove Vizcarra from office, but even if he dodges the impeachment attempt, analysts warned that he would not escape the ordeal entirely unscathed.

His ability to carry forward the anti-corruption agenda he has sought to make the hallmark of his short administration could be further jeopardized if Vizcarra is perceived as having engaged in influence peddling himself.

“His credibility in carrying through that agenda is already problematic,” said Jo-Marie Burt, a senior fellow with the Washington Office on Latin America. “This really hangs in the balance.”

The political turmoil rocking Peru has briefly distracted attention from one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks and involves a cast of characters that could easily fit into a soap opera.

At the center of the ordeal is Vizcarra’s relationship with a little-known musician known as Richard Swing and nearly $50,000 in questionable contracts that he was given by the Ministry of Culture for activities like motivational speaking.

A covert audio recording shared by Edgar Alarcón — a lawmaker himself charged with embezzlement — appears to show Vizcarra coordinating a defense strategy with two aides, trying to get their stories straight on how many times the musician had visited him.

Vizcarra insists no illegal activity took place and he has not been charged.

Though Vizcarra is entitled to speak to Congress in his own defense, it was widely expected that he would be represented by an attorney. But while analysts have criticized the rushed procedure in which the impeachment proceeding was initiated within hours of the audio’s release, many agreed that the president owes Peruvians an explanation.

“The best thing the president could do is go to Congress, explain the audios and go hibernate,” said Alonso Cárdenas, a politics professor at the Antonio Ruíz de Montoya university in Lima. “Let his ministers take the spotlight until his government is up.”

As lawmakers began arriving at Congress Friday morning, several expressed doubt that the impeachment would succeed but cautioned that anything could happen.

“I’m hoping nothing changes,” legislator Gino Costa told local media.

Vizcarra became president in 2018 after Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned the presidency under pressure by Congress after the discovery of about $782,000 in undisclosed payments to his private consulting firm by Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, which is at the center of a regionwide corruption scandal.

New York Post

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