Peru’s New Prime Minister Fails to Shake Things Up

President Unpopular: García Insists on Not Changing his Spots

On October 12th President Alan García appointed Yehude Simon as the new prime minister of Peru, following the solicited resignation of García’s entire cabinet. These political rumblings came in response to charges of corruption and mismanagement that have marred the President’s administration and in particular his political party, the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA). An alleged bribery scandal involving preferential treatment accorded to Discover Petroleum, a foreign oil company, led to the removal of García’s Minister of Mines and Energy as well as other top energy and state oil officials earlier this month.

Simon’s appointment is being heralded in the press as a solution to the government’s legitimacy crisis, a move aimed at building confidence among citizens and social sectors which currently view the executive branch in a very poor light. Peruvian congressman Raúl Castro asserted that “the change was necessary to recuperate trust [in the government]. Yehude Simon will generate that trust.” García declared that Simon would initiate a “democratic renovation” and work to “eradicate corruption” in the government. However, despite this rhetorical glow surrounding the new appointee, it appears unlikely that he will bring about the substantial change that Peruvians seek. After all, Simon has managed to survive for years in the thicket of Peruvian sectarian politics.

Over the past few days Simon has alluded to a number of changes that he plans to make as prime minister, but he has neglected to address many of the key issues plaguing his country. He told La Republica that, apart from fighting corruption, he would “put immense importance on agriculture, decentralisation and the strengthening of the provinces.” However, Simon also has spoken in favor of Peru’s economic policies, which are a primary cause of the government’s sinking approval. The new prime minister supports free trade negotiations with China, and has prioritized the upcoming Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit to be held in Lima next month.

Simon’s lackluster brand of reform became clearer on October 15th when he and García announced the new presidential cabinet. Only six of the incumbent members were replaced (Ministers of the Interior, Production, Energy and Mines, Agriculture, Women and Development and Health), while ten previous ministers were reinstated. Among those restored to the cabinet was Minster of the Economy Luis Valdivieso, further indication that no changes will be made to Peru’s current “market-friendly” economic policies.

Simon already has been criticized on the left for maintaining the economic status quo at whatever cost. Ollanta Humala, leader of Peru’s left-leaning Partido Nacionalista party, told Bloomberg that the government’s problems go much deeper than the recent corruption scandal, and in fact are rooted in “the failure to fix the economic model, to make redistributing wealth a priority and to help poor, marginalized people.”

Indeed, García’s approval ratings had sunk to 19 percent even before the Discover Petroleum scandals were exposed. The country’s recent economic growth has led to an increase in economic inequality, which has in turn fueled resentment and frustration among the working-class and farmers. Peruvian economist Humberto Campodonico told the Christian Science Monitor in July that “many feel the government is just favoring the rich and the investors.” Earlier this month, thousands of protesters marched in five major cities across Peru, specifically denouncing the government’s economic policies. One labor leader, Olmedo Auris, accused Garcia’s government of ignoring “a real situation of hunger, injustice, and loss of purchasing power.”

Director of Peru’s Instituto de Opinión Pública Fernando Tuesta argued that only the look, not the substance, of García’s administration has changed. The replacement of a few ministers, though it may lend credence to the appearance that García is fighting corruption, does not supply sufficient heft to address the real issues affecting Peru today. Without a shift in the economic direction of García’s government, it is likely that his sinking popularity will continue to chip away at the President’s fading legitimacy.