Spying and corruption claims shake Peruvian democracy

28 June 2013

Brazil is not the only South American country where self-serving political elites are under fire. Politics in Peru have long been a dirty business, with ethical standards conspicuous by their absence; but recent weeks have seen mutual recriminations among leading politicians reach new heights, casting further aspersions about the political class among a deeply alienated public.

Opinion polls have long shown that Peruvian politicians and political institutions engender deep distrust among the electorate. The annual Latinobarómetro survey has routinely placed Peru near the bottom of the league of Latin American countries when it comes to asking people what they think of their elected representatives. Among most people, the political class is regarded as self-seeking and corrupt.

Recent revelations do nothing to improve that image. Two former presidents – Alejandro Toledo (2001-06) and Alan García (2006-11) – have come under fire for using political power for personal gain, or for favouring friends and relatives. A third former-president, Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), who is serving a lengthy sentence for corruption and human rights violations, has just had his appeal for a presidential pardon turned down.

Toledo has come under scrutiny for how much he knew about real-estate dealings involving his Belgian octogenarian mother-in-law. Two high-ticket property acquisitions were financed through paper companies in Costa Rica. Doubts remain as to how much Toledo knew about the deal, involving close friends, and whether he stood to benefit. Although the former president stated before Congress that he has not been involved in any corrupt activities, a number of questions remain unanswered. Whether the allegations are true or not, the rumour mill is working overtime, fed in part by Toledo’s political adversaries. This is doing nothing to enhance Toledo’s hopes of returning to the presidency in 2016. He had been one of the front-runners in the early stages of the 2011 elections, but in the event came fourth. As politicians fix their sights on 2016, even key members of Toledo’s Perú Posible party are distancing themselves from their erstwhile leader.

On the other side of the political divide, García – who makes no secret of his ambition to become president for the third time in 2016 -- is also under attack. A special parliamentary commission has been investigating allegations of wrong-doing during his five-year administration (2006-11). One of the more recent accusations to be levelled at the former president is that his government sold pardons (indultos) to people jailed on drug trafficking charges. Garcia has energetically refuted these and other allegations, arguing that they form part of a government-inspired strategy to blacken his reputation in advance of 2016. Garcia has also been questioned with respect to how he funded a number of house purchase of his own, both in Peru and abroad. Previous enquiries into the former-president’s financial affairs failed to establish any guilt, however.

Former president Alberto Fujimori, of course, has been successfully convicted for egregious wrong doing and is serving a 25-year sentence for crimes for human rights and corruption offences committed during his ten years in office. President Ollanta Humala last month turned down an application by Fujimori and his family for an indulto on medical grounds. In doing so, he upheld the recommendations of a specially-appointed commission which had decided that Fujimori’s claims to be suffering a terminal illness were baseless and that the conditions in which he is held cannot be construed to be prejudicial to his health. Meanwhile questions have also been raised about some of the business connections of Fujimori’s son, Kenji, a leading congressmen for the fujimorista Fuerza Popular party, and whether his daughter Keiko, the leader of FP, is living in a house that was improperly acquired by her relatives. Questions have long been asked how she funded her university education in the United States.

The present government of Ollanta Humala is not immune from allegations of wrong-doing either. It has recently been accused of acquiring sophisticated eavesdropping equipment with which to spy on the activities of its political opponents. Toledo’s former interior minister, Fernando Rospigliosi, who enjoys privileged access to those working in the murky world of surveillance, has been in the lead in accusing the government of such activities. For its part, of course, the government denies the validity of such claims.

In these circumstances, Peruvians can be forgiven for thinking that leading politicians do not merit much trust. However, one thing is for accusations to emerge in the public sphere – and the Peruvian media do a great job in fanning the flames – another (with the important exception of Fujimori) is for them to be proven in courts of law. All too often claims of wrong-doing are just part of the weft of everyday political exchange. But the effects are highly damaging to the reputation of the democratic process in the country.  

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  • PSG Aims

    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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    Over the past century Peru has suffered a series of autocratic governments and a civil war in which nearly 70,000 people died. Many of the country's ongoing political and social problems are a legacy of its somewhat turbulent past. 

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