Peru’s president asks Cabinet to take anti-corruption pledge

AP Photo/Guadalupe Pardo
Peruvian President Dina Boluarte, center front, and newly named cabinet members wave as they pose for a group photo after their swearing-in ceremony, on the steps of the government palace in Lima, Peru, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022.

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Peru’s newest president, Dina Boluarte, swore in her Cabinet on Saturday just three days after becoming the country’s first female head of state and asked each minister to pledge not to be corrupt while in office.

The 17 ministers picked by Boluarte, who on Wednesday was elevated from vice president to replace the ousted Pedro Castillo as the country’s leader, will be key to further inflaming or calming a South American country experiencing a seemingly endemic political crisis.

Boluarte presented her centrist government amid demonstrations across Peru calling for her resignation and the scheduling of general elections to replace her and Congress.

She asked each of the nine men and eight women to swear or promise to perform their duties “loyally and faithfully without committing acts of corruption.” All Cabinet members knelt before her and wore red-and-white sashes tied around their waists. A large crucifix was placed in front of most Cabinet members when they responded to Boluarte’s question.

Fluent in Spanish and Quechua, Boluarte was elected as vice president on the presidential ticket that brought the center-left Castillo to power last year. She was minister of development and social inclusion during the 17-month administration of Castillo, a rural schoolteacher with no previous political experience.

Boluarte, 60, replaced Castillo after he stunned the country by ordering the dissolution of Congress, which in turn dismissed him for “permanent moral incapacity.” He was arrested on charges of rebellion. His failed move against the opposition-led Congress came hours before lawmakers were set to start a third impeachment attempt against him.

She addressed the nation after Saturday’s ceremony and promised Peruvians a government open to dialogue. She said her team will work for the country’s economic reactivation and social justice and walk “the path of progress.”

“I want to assure you that I have worked hard to form a ministerial Cabinet for unity and democratic consolidation (and) that is at the level of what the country requires,” Boluarte said. “… The national unity government will be for all Peruvians.”

Castillo cycled through more than 70 Cabinet members during his administration. Some of them have been accused of wrongdoing.

Boluarte has said she should be allowed to hold the office for the remaining 3 1/2 years of his term. But protesters are demanding new elections. Some of those demonstrating in favor of Castillo have called her a “traitor.”

Boluarte’s Cabinet includes lawyers Pedro Angulo, an anti-corruption prosecutor who was named prime minister, and Alberto Otárola, who will serve as minister of defense, a job he held a decade ago. She also swore in Alex Contreras and Ana Gervasi as ministers of economy and foreign affairs, respectively. They both previously served as deputy ministers in those agencies.

She is yet to appoint ministers of labor and transportation.

On Saturday, people protesting Castillo’s detention broke the windows of a police station in a community in the Andes as they tried to storm into the building, according to state media, which showed footage from inside the facility. A state news channel reported that protesters briefly detained two police officers.

Some people were injured in the demonstration by about 3,000 people in Andahuaylas. Anthony Gutiérrez, director of a local hospital, told The Associated Press that 16 people were being treated for concussions, with one of them in serious condition.

Andahuaylas is a remote city in the Andes, where a rebellion against then-President Alejandro Toledo took place in 2005.

Former army Maj. Antauro Humala was sentenced to 19 years in prison in connection with the uprising. Humala, the brother of former President Ollanta Humala, called on Boluarte to hold early elections.

“With the departure of Pedro Castillo, if the right believes that the crisis has been solved, they are totally wrong. It has done nothing but worsen and enter a chapter to another degree,” Antauro Humala told reporters Saturday in Lima. “Here, the only thing that can lower the social pressure is the announcement of the advancenment of elections.”

Meanwhile, several highways were still blocked by protesters calling for the closure of Congress, the resignation of Boluarte and new elections. In Lima, about a 1,000 Castillo supporters gathered to call for his release.

“Congress has given us a kick and has mocked the popular vote,” said protester Mauro Sánchez in Lima, where police have used tear gas to end demonstrations that began Wednesday. “Let’s take to the streets, let’s not let ourselves be governed by this mafia-like congress.”

Peru has had six presidents in the last six years, including three in a single week in 2020 when Congress flexed its impeachment powers.

The power struggle in the country has continued as the Andes and its thousands of small farms struggle to survive the worst drought in a half-century. Without rain, farmers can’t plant potatoes, and the dying grass can no longer sustain herds of sheep, alpacas, vicuñas and llamas.

The government also confirmed that in the past week, Peru has seen a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections. The country has recorded about 4.3 million infections and 217,000 deaths since the pandemic began.

Boluarte lacks support in Congress. Like Castillo, she was kicked out in January of the far-left party with which the pair was elected as president and vice president.

Omar Coronel, political science professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, said an important variable for Boluarte’s government will be her ability to manage the waves of discontent and generate a coalition in Congress that can sustain her but that at the same time “is not aberrational for the left.”