Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Peruvians Protest 'Politics as Usual'

Backlash over the appointment of a controversial new ombudswoman and several questionable figures to Peru’s top court has continued this week, and the announcement that lawmakers would hold an extraordinary session to annul last week’s election was not enough to prevent large-scale protests breaking out in Lima on Monday night.

As mentioned in last Friday’s post, last week Peruvian lawmakers voted to appoint a new head of the Defensoria del Pueblo, six new members to the Constitutional Tribunal, and three new members to the Central Reserve Bank’s board of directors. Because of the political background of many of the appointees, this election was seen as the result of negotiations between Peru’s major political parties rather than a decision based on merit. Civil society groups opposed the appointments, and President Ollanta Humala called for the election to be annulled.

On Monday, Congressional President Victor Isla announced in a press conference that lawmakers would be holding an extraordinary session Wednesday (today) to annul the election. However, El Comercio reports this did not stop young Lima residents from taking to social media sites to organize “#Tomalacalle,” a demonstration bringing together some 4,000 people dissatisfied with Peru’s congress. Eleven people were arrested in Monday's protests, and similar demonstrations are being organized for July 27 and 28.

Peruvian political scientist Carlos Melendez described this movement to El Comercio as a new kind of protest, rooted in a “crisis” of representation. “The discourse of ‘out with them all’ has come to Lima,” said Melendez. “It is a demonstration against the political class, against political representation. When parties are not representative, when politicians are not representative, the percentage of people in the streets increases.”
Journalist Claudia Cisneros, who participated in the protests on Monday, told Peru21 that, beyond the appointments, the protests were about the “degrading way in which politics is carried out in our country.”

In remarks to Spain’s El Pais, Harvard University Professor of Government Steven Levitsky described them as the first major anti-corruption protests in months, claiming that they were a victory for both Peru’s media and the country’s budding middle class.  

Meanwhile, some of the most controversial appointees have gotten the message already, ahead of Congress’ extraordinary session. Pilar Freitas said she would not accept the post of Ombudswoman in an announcement on Monday, though she denied any wrongdoing. This morning, La Republica reports that Rolando Sousa, a Fujimorista lawyer who has consistently defended soldiers linked to rights abuses, also sent a letter to Congress turning down his appointment to the Constitutional Tribunal.


News Briefs
  • While controversial reforms to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) backed by the ALBA bloc were shot down in an OAS General Assembly last March, they have not been completely abandoned. El Universo reports that Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has said he intends to present reform proposals during an ALBA summit on July 30 in Guayaquil.
  • Although Pope Francis’ vehicle was smarmed by supporters after his driver took a wrong turn after his arrival in Rio de Janeiro on Monday, Brazilian police officials rate their handling of security during the pontiff’s visit as positive, according to the AP. The BBC, however, notes that after a protest broke out during the pope’s visit to the Rio governor’s palace, clashes broke out between protesters and security forces, prompting criticism of excessive use of force from human rights groups. Julita Lemgruber, director of the Centre for Studies on Public Security and Citizenship at Candido Mendes University, told the BBC that much of the blame for many recent clashes lies with the confrontational culture in Rio’s military Police, saying “If you police the streets with the idea of war, you are going to deal with the people in the streets as enemies.”
  • While the pope’s embrace of social justice messages, and calls for a more humble Church have reverberated with many Catholics in Latin America, some in Argentina are still suspicious of his past. McClatchy has an overview of lingering allegations that Pope Francis has failed to come clean about the Church’s role in the country’s “dirty war.”
  • El Tiempo reports that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos accepted the resignation of Colombia’s ambassador to Washington yesterday, after the diplomat was implicated in a case of land theft. Leftist Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo and his Polo Democratico party have accused the ambassador, Carlos Urrutia, of illegally acquiring some 100,000 acres of land in central Colombia.
  • On Tuesday, Santos said he would not allow former Senator Piedad Cordoba, who has long served as an intermediary with FARC rebels, to facilitate the release of a former U.S. soldier captured last month by the guerrillas, a likely bid to prevent it from becoming a media spectacle.
  • Andres Allamand of Chile’s conservative Renovacion Nacional party has rejected calls to renew his candidacy in the country’s presidential race, La Tercera reports.  This leaves Evelyn Matthei as the undisputed conservative candidate, and the main challenger to former President Michelle Bachelet.
  • The New York Times looks at the reception in Cuba of President Raul Castro’s recent speech criticizing the decay of traditional values and conduct. Although the AP initially characterized the speech as “a diatribe that could have crossed the lips of many a grandfather,” the NYT notes that the speech resonated with many Cubans, who perceive an increase in corrupt activity on the island. Others blame this alleged shift in values on the economic hardship caused by the so-called “special period” following the collapse of the Soviet Union. As one father said put it: “How could I raise [my son] with the same morals, when just to put rice, beans and pork on the table requires all kinds of illegalities? I had to teach him the values of survival.”
  • In an essay for Foreign Affairs, Julia E. Sweig and Michael J. Bustamante argue that, due to recent economic changes, “Cuba has entered a new era, the features of which defy easy classification or comparison to transitions elsewhere.” While progress is slow, they claim this reflects the cautious self-assessment of its leaders rather than resistance to reforms or stubborn adherence to a crumbling economic model.
  • Outgoing Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano met with Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong in the border city of Matamoros yesterday to discuss border security issues. Despite recent reports that President Enrique Peña Nieto is scaling back cooperation with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement in its fight against drug cartels, the two announced plans for a bi-national security communications network and corresponding patrols between U.S. Border Patrol and Mexican Federal Police, according to the Washington Post.