Chavarry on the ropes?

5 January 2019

The New Year brought a dramatic development in the conflict between Fuerza Popular and the government with the retraction by the Chief Public Prosecutor (Fiscal de la Nación) of a previous edict sacking the two prosecutors most closely involved in anti-corruption activities. On 2 January the Fiscal Pedro Chávarry issued a resolution reaffirming the positions of José Domingo Pérez and Rafael Vela, the two prosecutors in charge of investigations into the Lava Jato corruption enquiry, the two he had sacked only three days earlier on 31 December.

The restoration of Pérez and Vela takes on added importance in view of new revelations from Brazil (as a consequence of an agreement between the Peruvian judiciary and the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht) of new details about which Peruvian politicians received how much for help with securing specific works contracts over the last two decades. The announcement by Odebrecht may now be delayed but President Martín Vizcarra has personally urged that the plea bargaining with Odebrecht be maintained. When Odebrecht spills more beans, it is thought likely further to compromise Alan García and Keiko Fujimori, as well as some other key political figures.

Chávarry’s earlier announcement removing the two key anti-corruption prosecutors was widely expected. In the event, he took advantage of the end-of-year celebrations in the hope that it would cause less of a political stir. The Fiscal de la Nación has close relations with the leaders of both APRA and Fuerza Popular, and his removal of Pérez and Vela was widely seen as providing a lifeline to Fujimori, currently in jail at the behest of Pérez, and to García who has been judicially prohibited from travelling outside Peru until suspicions of corruption are properly investigated.

Not for nothing, then, was Chávarry’s decision roundly criticised by all and sundry (including Vizcarra, Cardinal Barreto, senior jurists, leading newspapers, politicians of all stripes except APRA and Fuerza Popular and even the formerly Fujimorista president of Congress) and his resignation demanded. The problem was that it would fall to Congress, where Fuerza Popular and APRA still command a majority of seats, to remove him.

Public opinion is clearly mounting for Chávarry to go. There was a massive demonstration on the streets of Lima on 3 January and similar protest marches in many other cities nationwide.

Chávarry’s decision on 31 December was clearly intended as a reposte to Vizcarra’s success in last month’s referendum in which the electorate voted massively in favour of reforms to cleanse the body politic of corrupt influences. Chávarry has consistently ignored demands for him to resign, and is widely seen as major obstacle standing in the way of judicial reforms. On 4 January, he even rejected appeals from other senior prosecutors to step aside.

Clearly infuriated by Chávarry’s attempt on 31 December to get rid of Pérez and Vela, Vizcarra cut short his presence in Brasilia for Jair Bolsonaro’s inaugural ceremonies on New Year’s Day, returning to Peru to deal with the situation. Back in Lima, he announced that he would present emergency legislation to Congress to place the Public Ministry (the administration behind the public prosecutor’s office) in a state of emergency. He declared that “we are seriously concerned at the doings of the Fiscal de la Nacion; his decision places obstacles that put at risk the whole process of investigation, undermining the struggle against corruption”. 

Chávarry’s ability to survive is now seriously in doubt. Vizcarra appears determined to push ahead with his reform agenda, validated by the referendum but still tenaciously opposed by the congressional supporters of Fujimori and García and by their allies in the judicial establishment who fear for their future. Up to now, reforms of the judiciary have been effectively blocked by the argument that, under the separation of powers, only the judiciary can reform itself. In view of Lava Jato and scandals involving senior jurists in corruption in Callao, that argument appears to be on the brink of collapse. And without a compliant judiciary, the Fujimorista and Aprista opposition will be deprived of a strategic ally in defending itself from attack. Is this the end of the road for the so-called Fujiapristas, as some have predicted?

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