New cabinet welcomed by Fujimoristas

24 September 2017

The new cabinet, sworn in on 17 September, appears to have improved relations between the executive and the majority Fuerza Popular (FP). However, it remains to be seen how long this detente will last.

Although most of the previous cabinet members were ratified in post and none of Keiko’s immediate circle was offered a cabinet seat, the new appointments have been welcomed both by leading members of FP and by APRA.

The cabinet will now need to pass a vote of confidence in Congress on 10 October. Were this to be refused, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski would have the constitutional right to dissolve Congress and call fresh legislative elections. But this seems a remote possibility.

  • Mercedes Aráoz replaces Fernando Zavala as president of the council of ministers. She occupies the position also of second vice-president. She was the minister of foreign trade and tourism (2006-09) during the government of Alan García and, as such, responsible for the negotiation of the free trade deal with the United States. Subsequently, she became minister for production and then finance minister (2009-10).

  • Claudia Cooper becomes the new minister of economy and finance, a powerful cabinet position. She replaces Zavala who had held the post since Alfredo Thorne had been obliged to resign last June. She was previously a vice-minister in the MEF. It seems that Zavala will exert strong influence from behind the scenes as a presidential advisor in the field of economic policy.

  • Fernando D’Alessio was appointed health minister, replacing Patricia García. García had been under pressure for months, and her replacement comes as no surprise. D’Alessio was formerly a vice-admiral, and subsequently head of the Centrum business school in Lima.

  • Carlos Bruce was sworn in as housing minister, a position he had held during the Toledo administration. Bruce is also a leading member of Congress for Kuczynski’s Peruanos por el Kambio (PpK) party.

  • Idel Vexler was appointed education minister, replacing Marilú Martens. He has occupied the position of vice-minister in the education ministry during the governments of Alejandro Toledo and Alan García. However, his appointment is controversial given the opinions he has recently been expressing criticising the educational reforms proposed by his predecessors.

  • Enrique Mendoza is the new justice minister, replacing Marisol Pérez Tello. He has previously been president of the judicial branch, where his reluctance to pursue root and branch reforms make his appointment somewhat inconsistent with Kuczynski’s stated policies to root out judicial corruption. Pérez Tello’s removal comes as no surprise.

The only Fujimorista who was present at the swearing-in ceremony was Kenji Fujimori, providing further evidence of the breach that has developed between himself and his sister, Keiko.

Aráoz’s appointment was not such as to offer much of an olive branch to the Fujimorista opposition, still less a white flag. Although someone with a technocratic background, Aráoz is also someone with political experience and she campaigned strongly against Fujimorismo during last year’s general election. She will carry weight in Congress and, alongside that of Bruce, her appointment is designed to beef up the cabinet’s political credentials. However, she carries negative baggage as one of those held responsible for the 2009 killings at Bagua.

The appointments of Vexler, D’Alessio and Mendoza suggest the attempt to appease both FP and APRA: the first two because they are likely to pursue a much more conservative agenda than their predecessors; the last because he is a close ally of Alan García and may therefore give him influence in certain judicial matters close to García’s interests.

The rapprochement with the pro-Fujimori camp may give rise to Kuczynski offering a pardon on grounds of ill health to Alberto Fujimori. As we went to press, Juan Sheput, a close ally of Kuczynski, made it known that the president was actively studying the relevant documentation concerning Fujimori's situation.

For its part, the left-wing Frente Amplio has complained that the new cabinet represents little change in substantive policy terms, claiming that the appointment of Cooper to the MEF will simply perpetuate neoliberal economic and investment policies that impact negatively on indigenous communities.

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