February 5, 2009
The aftershocks of a scandal involving the state oil company PetroPeru continue to be felt in Peru, four months after the news first broke. The entire cabinet of Peru submitted their resignations in October, after some of the ministers were accused of rigging oil contracts for their own benefit. They were evidently trying to take advantage of the big spike in global petroleum prices last year. Among those implicated was Jorge del Castillo, who was obliged to resign his post as prime minister. (He is a former mayor of Lima, often seen as a rival of President Alan Garcia in the ruling party, APRA.) The president replaced del Castillo with Yehude Simon, a provincial governor who was formerly associated with the left-wing guerrilla group known as the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. The fact that Garcia had to solicit someone from outside his own party shows how weakened he and APRA have become in the wake of this scandal.
The corruption came to light because a group of naval officers (active and retired) had done wire-tapping work on the side for a private security firm, and they sold the audio tapes to journalists. As BBC reports, "Local media are speculating that Mr Garcia himself may also have been a victim." Charges against eight of those officers have been filed by the attorney general of Peru, in what may be seen as a case of political retribution.
Garcia has been put on the defensive because protests stemming from the revelations of corruption have begun to increase once again in recent weeks. (For more on the initial wave of protests against APRA and Garcia's government in October, see the Peruvian Times.) Garcia's first government (1985-1990) was badly tainted by various corruption scandals, and until recently it was thought that Garcia had learned his lesson and would not let that happen again.
Also, the Fiscal de la Nación (attorney general of Peru), Gladys Echaiz, was attacked in her automobile by a group of gunmen. She survived with minor injuries. It was initially thought to be a mere robbery attempt, but the coincidence with the ongoing criminal investigations that Sra. Echaiz is conducting make some people think that some kind of mafia underground is using violent means to intimidate justice officials. The Minister of Interior, Remigio Hernani, announced that police have arrested a suspect, Michael Portales, but are still investigating the case. Some members of Congress called for Hernani's resignation, for failing to assure the security of top government officials, but political motivations cannot be ruled out. See El Comercio of Peru.
Taken together, these events cast a shadow over Peru, which has had one of the most successful economies in Latin America over the past few years. A period of political instability as seems to be emerging poses a grave threat of undermining all the progress that has been made.
And if all that wasn't enough, on Sunday Peru experienced an earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale, but there were no deaths or major damage reported. It was centered about 110 miles southeast of Lima. See FOX News.