Economy & Trade, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

PERU: President Admits Corruption Has Tarnished Government

Ángel Páez

LIMA, Jul 29 2010 (IPS) - In his Independence Day speech in the Peruvian Congress, which was broadcast nationwide, President Alan García admitted that corruption has tarnished his administration, although he lectured the judicial branch for delays in punishing those responsible.

The president, who is entering his fifth and last year in office, mentioned influence peddling in favour of foreign companies seeking oil contracts that was discovered when illegal recordings of wiretapped conversations were aired on television, as well as cases of illegal distribution of land to members of the governing Peruvian Aprista Party (PAP).

Former prime minister Jorge del Castillo, who was also secretary general of the PAP, was implicated in the wiretapping scandal and resigned together with his entire cabinet in 2008. The improper sale of land, meanwhile, led to the resignation in April this year of PAP deputy secretary general Omar Quesada, who was head of COFOPRI, the state agency issuing land titles.

Both men were sacked from their leadership positions in the PAP.

In Wednesday’s speech García, in office since 2006, acknowledged that corruption is the main concern of Peruvians, and as he has regularly done throughout his presidency, reasserted his determination to eradicate corrupt practices in the state apparatus. But he failed to announce any concrete measures.

“You can have 1,000 honest, capable employees, but if five or 10 become corrupt, the whole system is tarred with the same brush,” he complained.

He lay the blame on others for the continued impunity enjoyed by offenders. “I urge the judicial branch to speed up the examination of evidence, and expedite resolutions and sentencing, as Peru cannot wait so long for offenders to be punished, because it harms democracy,” García said.

“We were hoping to hear more about concrete measures against corruption for the last year of his government, in the form of frontal attacks on a scourge that has plagued his administration and even brought down an entire cabinet. Instead, he gave a disappointing political speech,” opposition lawmaker Renzo Reggiardo, chair of the parliamentary Audit Commission, told IPS.

In 2007, Reggiardo discovered that government officials were personally profiting from the humanitarian aid sent to victims of the earthquake that devastated the area around Pisco in August that year.

“Blaming the justice system for delays in punishing those guilty of corruption is crowd-pleasing rhetoric. The truth is that García has let the people down,” he said.

García himself was involved in a high-profile political scandal Dec. 11, 2009, when he pardoned, for supposedly humanitarian reasons, José Enrique Crousillat, a television channel owner who was found guilty on corruption-related charges.

In 1999, Crousillat was videotaped receiving part of a 25 million dollar bribe from then presidential adviser Vladimiro Montesinos, in exchange for supporting the re-election of former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000).

The public outcry against the pardon granted to a notoriously corrupt figure led García to reverse his decision. But Crousillat is now a fugitive from justice.

The alliance between PAP lawmakers and the pro-Fujimori group of legislators in parliament has also led the governing party to oppose a Supreme Court request to strip pro-Fujimori lawmakers Cecilia Chacón and Carlos Raffo, who face corruption charges, of parliamentary immunity.

“Above and beyond the analysis, which any Peruvian could have given, President García’s speech failed to present any proposals for clear and concrete actions to fight corruption during the last year of his administration,” said Inés Arias, coordinator of the non-governmental Grupo de Trabajo Contra la Corrupción (GTCC, Work Group against Corruption).

“García did not mention the need to approve the bills to fight corruption that are before parliament, such as one that stipulates that crimes of corruption are not subject to any statute of limitations,” Arias said.

“Instead, in an attempt to gloss over his responsibility for his government’s incapacity to deal with this problem, he spoke about corruption as a problem that has spanned the last six administrations, to try to clean up his image as president in the face of concrete cases involving people who are close to him,” she said.

On Tuesday, for the fifth time in a row, the alliance between the government party and the pro-Fujimori bloc won control of the Congress board of spokespersons, which has wide powers to set the agenda in parliament. This means that Chacón and Raffo will not be handed over to the justice system for at least another year.

“I expect the judicial branch to act promptly and with maximum severity. Our democracy must punish them severely, with no room for cronyism,” said García to unanimous applause from pro-government legislators.

García, who was president from 1985 to 1990, has not ruled out running for a third presidential term in 2016 (by law, he cannot stand for a consecutive term in 2011). If he wins he would be in office again from 2016 to 2021, the year of Peru’s independence bicentennial.

In his message to the nation Wednesday, the Peruvian president also spoke vaguely of cracking down harshly on drug trafficking and money launderers.

According to the chief of the anti-drug police, Rómulo Pizarro, over 3.2 billion dollars a year are laundered in Peru.

Yet this month the governing PAP party nominated Mirna Soria to run for councillor in the regional government of Ucayali, an Amazon jungle province. Soria is the wife of the former mayor of Pucallpad, Luis Valdez, who is being tried for allegedly masterminding the murder of journalist Alberto Rivera.

Valdez also stands accused of laundering drug money, as does Soria. When the press brought the charges against them to light, the PAP removed Soria from their list of candidates.

“During García’s administration, in spite of his talk about cracking down on the laundering of drug money, no major drug baron has been arrested,” Jaime Antezana, an expert on the drug trade, told IPS.

“In fact, there is no government plan against money laundering, and so far, only front men and drug mules (small time carriers) have been arrested, not the ringleaders,” he said.

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