On 27 October, the minister responsible for development and social inclusion, Jorge Meléndez, resigned in the face of accusations about nepotism and illegal timber extraction and marketing. He did so to limit the damage to President Martín Vizcarra’s reputation as a fighter against corruption.
Meléndez, a congressman elected in 2016 and who had been a minister during Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s government, is the brother of the former Loreto regional governor (2015-2018).
Two weeks ago, Janet Sánchez, former president of the congressional ethics committee accused Meléndez of having recommended the hiring of the mother of his child as an aide from June to August last year. Congressional rules forbid the hiring of persons related to members of Congress. Since Meléndez was not married to the mother of their child, they were not legally related. Vizcarra used this technicality to avoid firing his newly appointed minister.
A week later, the online site La Mula revealed that police phone taps of a criminal organisation, known as ‘Los Cumaleros del Oriente’ had revealed that in 2018 the then congressman Meléndez had used his political influences in the Loreto regional government and the ministry of agriculture to arrange for the delay of inspections by the forestry supervisory agency (OSINFOR), enabling the gang to remove all traces of their illegal operations.
Police claim that regional government officials granted fraudulent permits to cut and sell timber from prohibited areas. This involved 1,000 truckloads of timber year per year, valued at about US$13 million. Faced with this evidence, Meléndez felt obliged to resign.
The political columnist Rosa María Palacios has argued that, in the transition to a newly elected Congress next year, the Vizcarra government should appoint an essentially technocratic cabinet capable of implementing government policies and programmes rather than a cabinet of politicians accustomed to the traditional play of corruption and special interests. The experience with Meléndez gives credence to her advice.