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Andean priest and spiritual leader, Don Fabian Champi Apaza. Photo by Tom Pablo, Andes & Amazon Semester.

So What Exactly Is Happening With This Congress Thing in Peru?

Hola friends and family!

As you have probably heard by now, around 6 pm local time on Monday evening, Peru’s President Martín Vizcarra dissolved Peruvian congress. In other words, as of about 48 hours ago, Peru has no congress, and will continue to have no congress until January 26, 2020 when congressional elections will be held. As one can imagine, this is a pretty historic moment for the country that surely will be in textbooks in the years to come.

But what exactly does this mean? one might ask. Monday’s move to dissolve congress was actually legal, according to Peru’s 1969 constitution. Vizcarra called to do so after members of Congress attempted to appoint new members to the constitutional tribunal, many of whom had no congressional nor judicial experience and one in particular who is the son of the then-current president of the Congress. This move urged Vizcarra to dissolve the congress, something that Peru’s president has the constitutional power to do. Though the dissolution means momentary political uncertainty, the majority of Peruvian’s support Vizcarra’s move — congress for a long time has been viewed by the public as corrupt and controlled by the Fujimori family and party.

Monday night, immediately following the announcement, people of Cusco flooded the Plaza de Armas — the central square in Cusco — to show their support of the motion. For many Cusqueñans and Peruvians, this is the realization of something a long time coming. Peru’s congress has been majority-Fujimorista since former dictator Alberto Fujimori fled the country in 2001 due to various corruption scandals and human rights violations. Following suit, Peru’s congress has been Fujimori-majority and has been wrapped up in various scandals itself, most notably with ties to Odebrecht, the giant grafting scandal tied to an oil company in Brazil. Meanwhile, as congress has remained Fujimori-majority, the image of Alberto Fujimori and the Fujimorista party has nose-dived in the eyes of the Peruvian public. Alberto Fujimori and his daughter, Keiko Fujimori, are both in jail due to human rights violations and corruption, respectively. Yesterday and today, many of these Fujimorista congressmen packed up their bags and fled to Miami or Madrid, hoping to avoid potential trials and jailings themselves.

Monday’s dissolution of congress is the most recent step in a process that Peru has been undergoing for the last approximately two years, and is part of Vizcarra’s anti-corruption agenda. Vizcarra himself is president only because he was vice-president when Peru’s former president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, stepped down in April 2018 in anticipation of his own corruption-related impeachment. In fact, every Peruvian president since 1990 is either in jail, in house arrest, or dead via suicide because of corruption scandals. Since Vizcarra assumed the presidency last year, he has taken on the helm of the anti-corruption movement as his primary political discourse. Last December, he held an anti-corruption referendum that had an unexpectedly high turnout. Six months prior, in July 2018, Peru’s supreme court president, as well as four other judges, stepped down due to corruption. Peru’s political purging is fairly unprecedented in terms of corruption in Latin America and globally, and for many, it represents change and hope.

As for the political climate here in Cusco, things are calm. The manifestations in the central plaza are peaceful and celebratory. People are smiling and discussing how this moment has finally arrived. In every little street shop, owners and customers alike watch the TV and smile. Yesterday the students attended an academic talk by Peruvian anthropologist Ramón Pajuelo, and he had this message for the students and their families: “Your parents are surely seeing the news and wondering about your safety. You can tell them this — this moment of political crisis is luckily not a violent crisis, nor an economic nor social crisis. Rather, it is a peaceful moment of democratic transition, and one that is joyful for Peru.”  If anything, this is an amazing opportunity for the students to experience. It is sure to go down in history, and in a few years time our Dragons students can say, “I was there!”

We will send any updates as things unfold, but for now, all is peaceful — and celebratory — here in Cusco. Until next time!