Humala and Heredia's release highlights judicial inequities

5 May 2018

The release from prison on 30 April of former president Ollanta Humala and his wife Nadine Heredia has sparked new discussion about the double standards and abuses committed by the Peruvian judicial system.

Humala and Heredia were jailed in July last year without any charges presented against them. The justification for their imprisonment was that they might seek to escape or otherwise influence the verdict. There does not seem to have been much justification for either concern.

They were freed following a four-to-three decision of the Constitutional Tribunal that their incarceration had violated their constitutional rights. They had been jailed for 18 months while investigations continued into the way their Nationalist Party (PNP) had funded its election campaigns in 2006 and 2011.

Revelations by senior executives from Odebrecht of how the Brazilian construction firm funded most presidential candidates in successive elections underlined the unfairness of the measures taken against Humala and Heredia; they were jailed while other candidates got off scot-free, including Alan García, Keiko Fujimori and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

Public sympathy for Humala and Heredia, even among some of their bitter critics, has no doubt increased because of their treatment and because they accepted the verdict against them with apparent equanimity. While Humala was given preferential treatment as a former president, this was not the case of Heredia who was sent to the women’s jail in Chorillos. They may use this new sympathy to re-launch the PNP.

Their release also refocuses public attention in Peru as to the inequities within the Peruvian justice system. Those with political power influence judicial decisions, whereas those who lack parties with representation in Congress (like Humala), end up defenceless. As Gustavo Gorriti writes in the Spanish paper El País, this generates a sort of ‘Judicial Darwinism’ in which, irrespective of justice, the fittest survive and the weakest go to the wall. 

Whether Humala and Heredia are able to use the sympathy they have generated to make a political come-back remains to be seen. As Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, the founder of APRA, showed back in the 1940s and 1950s, there can be political mileage in martyrdom.

Furthermore, the case of Humala and Heredia opens up discussion about the over-use of preventative detention in the Peruvian justice system. For many observers, preventative detention should only be used in exceptional cases where there is a very real risk of the person suspected evading justice. It has to be remembered that a large proportion of the prison population in Peru are held on this basis; in part because of the inefficiency of the judicial system, thousands of prisoners are held for years before their cases see the light of day in court and, as Nadine Heredia will attest, the conditions in which they are held are deplorable.

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    The Peru Support Group exists to promote social inclusion, sustainable development and the observance of human rights in Peru. To that end the PSG highlights shortcomings in observance of established norms, whether international or local in nature, in its research, advocacy and publications. In so doing, it underscores the relationships that exist within the political system, how institutions work, and the effectiveness of policies that aim to reduce poverty and inequality within the context of sustainable development.

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