Magazine article NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs

Problems Continue to Mount for Hobbled Peruvian President Ollanta Humala

Magazine article NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs

Problems Continue to Mount for Hobbled Peruvian President Ollanta Humala

Article excerpt

Pummeled by major setbacks in Congress, defections by a growing number of government-coalition lawmakers, a corruption scandal involving the first lady, and a sharp decline in public support, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala finds himself on ever shakier ground as has he limps toward the July 2016 finish line of his presidency.

On Oct. 22, Congress voted by a clear majority --with backing from the governing Gana Peru bloc--to approve legislation giving control of Peru's largest oil block, Lote 192, to the state oil company Petroperu. In doing so, the legislature ignored formal objections presented Sept. 25 by the president's office, which opted earlier in the year to award Lote 192, in the Amazonian department of Loreto, to a Canadian company.

The legislation (Dictamen 4749), set to become law in the coming days, exempts Petroperu from Article 6 of the two-year-old Ley 30130, which prohibited the state company from participating in new hydrocarbon investment projects until it finished upgrading the Talara oil refinery in the department of Piurna, in northwestern Peru (NotiSur, Sept. 18, 2015). Only one of the president's parliamentary allies, Santiago Gatanadui, voted against the legislation, a fact lawmaker Maurico Mulder of Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA) cited as "further proof of [Gana Peru's] enormous political weakness."

The same day it approved Dictamen 4749, Congress challenged the president a second time by overturning a legislative decree that sought to modify the Ley General del Patrimonio Cultural (cultural heritage law) by giving public and private companies authority to administer certain heritage sites. The measure had drawn fierce objections from the regional president of Cusco, Edwin Licona, and many citizens there who thought it would lead to the privatization of archeological sites.

Prior to the vote, the Federacion Departamental de Trabajadores del Cusco (FDTC), a major labor union, organized a two-day strike (Oct. 21-22) to demand that the "anti-heritage" decree be struck down. Thousands of Cusco residents took to the streets and, echoing an announcement made by Wilfredo Alvarez, the FDTC's secretary general, threatened to extend the strike indefinitely if Congress failed to answer their call.

The strike took place even though Culture Minster Diana Alvarez Calderon made it clear that week that the decree allows the state to "optionally" promote private participation in the management only of archeological sites that do not have world or national heritage designations. As such, the decree does not apply, she explained, to Cusco archeological sites such as Machu Picchu, which is a World Heritage site.

"This is a victory of the people. We applaud the decision of Congress, which opted to protect our heritage," FDTC leader Alvarez told the press.

Deputy Veronika Mendoza, who supported overturning the decree because, in her opinion, it opened up the possibility of cultural heritage being treated as a commodity, said it was now time to debate the Ley de Patrimonio Cultural as a whole.

The impetus behind both congressional votes came from the streets, where citizens gathered en masse to protest laws that do not favor them and that, in the case of the "anti-heritage" decree, was imposed without prior consultation. The success of those movements offers further evidence of just how weak the Humala administration has become.

"Turncoats and rats"

The two historic decisions in Congress were made with support from the majority of the 27 lawmakers representing Gana Peru, which ties together the Partido Nacionalista Peruano (PNP)--headed by first lady Nadine Heredia--and various left-wing parties.

In the past three years, no fewer than 20 legislators have defected from the Gana Peru bloc. The first to withdraw, in June 2012, were leftists Rosa Mavila, Veronika Mendoza, and the late Javier Diez Canseco, who joined the Accion Popular-Frente Amplio out of frustration with Humala's failure to implement deep structural reforms, as he originally promised. …

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