On 15 July, President Martín Vizcarra swore in his new cabinet, with Pedro Cateriano at the helm as president of the Council of Ministers. With a number of members of the outgoing cabinet under fire in Congress, Vizcarra decided not to wait two weeks until 28 July, Independence Day, to announce changes.
Vizcarra will be hoping that the cabinet reshuffle will strengthen his administration as it enters its final year in office. How many members of the new cabinet will last until 28 July 2021, of course, remains to be seen. Under his government cabinet ministers have come and gone with even greater speed than under his predecessors, underscoring the difficulties involved in pushing policy forwards while satisfying the many critics, not least those in the Congress.
As we have mentioned in previous newsletters, relations with Congress have become increasingly tense in recent months, with the legislature seeking to take a more assertive role in policy matters. This reached a climax in the last two weeks over the question of parliamentary immunities: the executive wishes to eliminate this privilege which it sees as a conduit for corruption; the Congress defends what it sees as a key guarantee of their autonomy within the division of powers.
As has become customary, the choice of ministers is a careful balancing act, but the new cabinet seeks to reaffirm a commitment to the market economy and to appease powerful business lobbies. Cateriano first emerged in public life as a deputy for the right-wing Fredemo in 1990, and subsequently held ministerial posts under both Alejandro Toledo and Ollanta Humala. He emerged as a fierce opponent of Fujimori and fujimorismo. He is close to the business community and his appointment has been welcomed by Confiep, the influential private sector confederation (see PSG article).
For its part, the left-wing Frente Amplio sees the new cabinet as representing “more of the same”. In the words of Lenin Checco it is a cabinet “to the taste of large-scale business, those that have benefited from Reactiva Perú”. The new labour minister, Martín Ruggiero, is proving particularly polemic, with the CGTP (the main union confederation) mobilising protest at his appointment.
Vicente Zeballos thus steps down as prime minister following a turbulent spell in recent weeks with the increased conflict with Congress. There are 11 new faces, six who remain in office, and two who have moved from one cabinet position to another. Apart from the prime minister, new appointments (see list below) have been made in the ministries of foreign relations, interior, justice, health, labour, production, energy and mines, transport and communications, environment, and development and social inclusion.
Significantly, Maria Antonieta Alva, is retained as minister of economy and finance. As well as Cateriano, some figures are also fairly well-known such as Pilar Mazzetti, a former health minister and until now head of the national Covid-19 Command who returns to the health ministry. But many of the appointments come from an administrative rather than a political background, reflecting Vizcarra’s distrust of the political class.
With Covid-19 still rampant (see PSG article) and its dire economic consequences yet to be fully felt, the new cabinet will not be short of challenges. Eduardo Ballón, a well-versed political commentator identified four in conversation with La República:
- construction of channels for dialogue with social actors and the Congress;
- steps to alleviate the health crisis with the public health system now largely overwhelmed;
- dealing with the social conflict which will emerge with force as unemployment grows; and
- creating a propitious context for a new government after Vizcarra goes.
The full list of the new cabinet is as follows, an asterisk denoting those who have kept their posts:
President of the Council of Ministers (Prime Minister): Pedro Cateriano
Minister of Foreign Relations: Mario López Chávarry
Minister of Defence: Walter Martos*
Minister of Economy and Finance: María Antonieta Alva*
Minister of the Interior: Jorge Montoya
Minister of Justice: Ana Neyra
Minister of Education: Martín Benavides*
Minister of Health: Pilar Mazzetti
Minister of Agriculture: Jorge Montenegro*
Minister of Labour: Martín Ruggiero
Minister of Production: José Salardi
Minister of Foreign Trade: Rocío Barrios
Minister of Energy and Mines: Rafael Belaunde Llosa
Minister of Transport and Communications: Carlos Estramadoyro
Minister of Housing: Carlos Lozada
Minister of Women: Gloria Montenegro*
Minister of the Environment: Kirla Echegaray
Minister of Culture: Alejandro Neyra*
Minister of Development and Social Inclusion: Patricia Donayre