Hanging by a thread

24 February 2018

Will he stay? Will he go? The next two weeks should make clear whether or not President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski remains in office. Lima pundits blow hot and cold.

A major determinant of Kuczynski’s fate will be the evidence provided by Jorge Barrata, due to be offered up on 27 and 28 February. Barata faces questioning under plea-bargaining rules over who received what, and when from Odebrecht when he was the Brazilian construction giant’s representative in Lima.

It is to be expected that the questioning will be mainly oriented towards Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori, not (for some reason) towards Alan García and Kuczynski. But Barata may also offer more information on payments given to companies owned by Kuczynski while he occupied ministerial posts under Toledo.

Additional incrimination evidence would further fuel a second impeachment vote, already drafted by members of Congress belonging to the left (Frente Amplio and Nuevo Perú). Whether in this case supporters of impeachment will amount to the requisite 87 members of Congress is unclear. The Nuevo Perú group will vote for (it abstained last time) but it is possible that members of Fuerza Popular (FP) and other small parties will abstain (or vote against) in numbers sufficient to save Kuczynski’s bacon.

Then Kuczynski faces the verdict of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the legality of his presidential pardon of former president Alberto Fujimori. This is likely to be announced in the first week of March before the current session of the Court finishes. Peru will think twice before disobeying the Court if it declares against the pardon, not least because of its hosting the hemispheric summit in April. But to put Fujimori back in jail would be a major humiliation that would, in addition, complicate the government’s relationship with its new allies led by Kenji Fujimori, the disgraced president’s youngest son.

Further, there is the question of the Pativilca killings (see PSG article) which could also lead to Fujimori having to relinquish his ‘get out of jail free’ card.

Punditry in Lima remains divided over Kuczynski’s political life expectancy, but many observers bet that he will have gone by the time of his government’s second anniversary in July. This appears not to be lost on Vice-president Martín Vizcarra who has made clear that he will not resign if Kuczynski is impeached. Vizcarra is currently Peru’s ambassador in Ottawa, perhaps conveniently out of the political limelight as his boss fights for his political life.

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