Peru: The Streets Call for a New Constituent Process

By Carlos Aznarez on November 14, 2020

The situation in Peru once again shows the great instability that certain governments in the continent are going through. To talk about what happened this week – many speak of a parliamentary coup – in which President Martín Vizcarra was “vacated” or removed from office, we interviewed José Carlos Llerena, a militant of ALBA Movements, Peru Chapter, and a member of “La Junta,” a popular social and political organization. We asked him if what had happened was really the chronicle of a situation that had already been announced and revealing the decay of the political class.

As you mention, it is not something surprising, because what has just happened on Monday, November 9, responds to a political crisis that in Peru has been dragging on, sharpening and intensifying since 2017. It coincides with the investigations of the Odebrecht case, which basically generated a crisis in the state apparatus, a dispute among the dominant elites, which has the consequence, for example, that all the former presidents elected in democratic periods are preventively detained and investigated for cases of corruption. Categorical evidence has been found of criminal organizations in the heart of the Judicial Power, which was articulated by the political class that has been entrenched in the Peruvian Parliament since the 1990s and responds to different dominant economic and political interests.

It also emphasized something that was perhaps new in Peru; the role of big business in corruption schemes, and the passive response of the media to it. That is the scenario of the political crisis that in these times of pandemic catches us with a very deep social crisis, which led to this cessation of the office of President Martin Vizcarra. It is not the first time that this has been attempted, and from the characterization of the popular movements and political organizations, we define it as a Parliamentary Coup. There has been a very whimsical constitutional use of the laws that enable and operate the recourse of the presidential vacancy, but it is a coup d’état where the offensive of a right-wing group that is in crisis is being played out. This coup, marks an offensive towards the state apparatus to fulfill various agendas, among them that of the big business groups and political groups that have also dominated the state apparatus for decades.

Obviously, it is the clash of two political mafias, with the people on the sidelines, and that is why there is protest in the streets. Who are these people out there? I suppose not the new President Manuel Merino, because he represents more of the same.

The people in the streets are outraged; we are just beginning to express it with everything. From the very first night of November 9, thousands of people mobilized at the Congress. Let’s say that at the beginning the mobilization was characterized by a huge number, so the left that doesn’t have the strength that we would like it to have, we were there. The next day when the coup d’état was consummated, organized youth came out to participate, mobilizing with an anti-corruption narrative along with anti-Fujimoro forces, which surpasses the left because it reaches groups that do not coincide with our agenda of the national and popular project, but which is large. It is based on an anti-Fujimori agenda, which is a broad block that includes intellectuals, labor organizations. Little by little more people are moving, but it is not in defense of Vizcarra or in support of Merino. The slogan is clear, “Out with Merino”, “Down with the coup” and another more strategic slogan is beginning to be heard; the demand for a “Constituent Assembly”.

It is important that this slogan emerges as a possibility for progress. From what you say, it is the result of growing disenchantment with the current way of doing politics.

That’s right. Although a political crisis was already underway, the neoliberal scaffolding that was imposed in blood and fire during Fujimori’s dictatorship does not provide any way out. On the contrary, with the social and economic crisis that has been unleashed by the pandemic, Peru is exposed as the country with the highest death rate in the world. It is clear that we have nothing, we have no healthcare, we have no jobs, we have no pensions, we have absolutely nothing. The people link it to that neo-liberal regime that has the same1993 constitution as its basis that was carved out in an authoritarian manner. Recently some polls came out where more than 50 percent of the people wanted a new constitution. So, some of the slogans are moving around, the street is a strong incubator to repudiate the coup d’état.

The mobilization and the struggle is taking place, not only in Lima but in all of Peru, because it is precisely due to the confinement and social isolation that the people are coming together in their neighborhoods and districts, that is unprecedented in the history of the left. Many times our central squares are the classic and traditional places of protest. And this runs parallel to citizen pressure on the Constitutional Court, which has to rule on whether this vacancy was legitimate or not. From the legal point of view, it has already been announced that it is not, because this coup-plotting Congress has called for the use of Vizcarra’s “permanent removal from power”.

It is clear that there is strong evidence that Martin Vizcarra has been participating in acts of corruption, but the mobilization wants him to be judged, not to be given a congressional eviction. In that sense, the Constitution has provisions to prosecute Vizcarra like any Peruvian citizen, but what the coup-plotting Congress has done is to interpret this case to attack him in an inconsistent and absurd way, for two main reasons. The first is that more than 50 percent of the congressmen in this Parliament are under investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office for acts of corruption and do not have any leg to stand on when it comes to speak about an anti-corruption struggle, which is the flag they have used. On the other hand, from a legal point of view, this cause of permanent removal does not have anything to do with a question of ethics, but, if it is investigated it comes from the 19th century to the 20th, it has to do with the capacities of discernment. In other words if the president loses his faculties of judgment, or if a person has loses of consciousness, that is the reason for this rule.

Who is Merino, the new president of Peru?

Merino is an instrument in this scenario; he is a puppet who becomes president by 5,000 votes. Peru has 30 million people, and his party only got 5,000 votes, it seems like a joke. A district authority has more votes than this alleged usurper president. He comes from the Popular Action Party, which, by the way, is in crisis because of an internal dispute, and they have distanced themselves from him. He has been a congressman before, and also his family is under investigation for very suspicious economic activities in the Peruvian Amazon. Merino is a person who, from my personal point of view, is not to be trusted, and he gives no guarantee that he will take any lead in any fight against corruption.

But worse than that is who he responds to. In this political crisis it is very difficult to characterize the dispute at the level of parties or political subjects: they are unequal and have combined interests that are in that dispute. If there is a group that can synthesize those interests that Merino represents, it is an NGO, a civil association called Coordinadora Republicana. Everything from Fujimorism to the big mining companies, including Opus Dei, is represented there. There is a report that analyzes that during the whole time of the dispute between the Parliament and the Executive of Vizcarra, different actors related to this Coordinadora were involved. It is not surprising that we were without a government for 48 hours and the Cabinet that is being formed is similar to this Republican Coordinating Committee that represents the most conservative, racist, sexist and homophobic oligarchy and everything that stands opposite to popular interests.

What about the left, what possibilities does it have to recompose itself with strength?

First, as in many countries, like Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia itself in the 2019 coup, a process of expanded mobilization began to be generated. Chile is surprised at the time of Covid, and with a political crisis that unfortunately has slowed the left. Unfortunately in Peru the Frente Amplio is divided, there is much fragmentation, and in this scenario of pandemic we have been losing the streets.

However, since before, at the beginning of the pandemic, work has been done to promote a constituent process, precisely a new constitution that responds to all these demands not met during the pandemic. Also, another of the worrying points of the right wing offensive is that the last polls before the April 2021 elections, which were called by Martin Vizcarra, have a very open scenario. So, for a long time, the groups in power do not have control over what will happen in that electoral scenario, and the right wing is also fragmented and with a low legitimacy.

Therefore, it is intuitive that this usurper government will try to postpone the elections with the excuse of the pandemic and that would take away from the left the possibility of taking advantage of this electoral dispute to not only mobilize votes but also to build this constituent process that will not be born out of nothing, but will be developed from organization and mobilization. I believe that this is a very strategic moment to define the enemy; it is an enemy that affects all of us in Peru.

Another piece of information in the current controversy is the appointment of a questionable Prime Minister.

The new prime minister of this usurper government is Ántero Flores-Aráoz a person who represents the most colonial and racist positions that exists. The working class, the popular Peruvian class is complicated and affected by this election, because he is a premier who is linked to the business unions that came out to put a cold shoulder to the mobilization. The Peruvian peasantry is also affected, because these big groups represent the agro-export model, the students are also extremely affected because this right-wing offensive is prioritizing the economic interest of the private universities that have very low quality. Women, sexual diversities are extremely affected by this decision, because a very conservative wing is arriving.

And finally, our indigenous peoples, especially those of the Amazon, the Andean people, are totally affected because this premier has made statements on many occasions, in which he has negotiated free trade agreements with the United States, has denounced the strength of the original peoples and disrespected them in the media. The possibility is emerging that the left will build on that anti-Fujimori experience that is still going on and in fact it is the majority of the people who are in the streets. These are not people who define themselves as leftists, but they are annoyed that Fujimorism is returning because behind this is the possibility that Fujimori will be pardoned. There are many political and economic interests at stake that are being addressed by the Coordinadora. These interests are being brought together and it is time to be able to take advantage of this accumulation to build and unite groups and popular organizations, as the Chilean, Bolivian, US, Haitian and Ecuadorian people have already demonstrated. It is our way out, to go forward in the construction of a national, popular, sovereign and social justice movement.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano, translation North America bureau