Tag Archives: resignation

Chile – The Piñera administration faces its most serious challenge yet

At the beginning of last week, one of President Sebastián Piñera’s major preoccupations was the underperforming economy. Even though Finance Minister Felipe Larraín assured that Chile’s economy would grow by twice as much in 2018 as it had in 2017, the truth is that unemployment figures are far from ideal (7.1% for the period July-September 2018). Furthermore, a surprising and intense hailstorm that took place ten days ago prompted the Minister of Agriculture Antonio Walter to suggest that a significant share of further jobs were in jeopardy as a result. Despite this causing some concern on the basis that Piñera ran on an electoral platform of economic prosperity, it was not a serious threat to La Moneda’s overall popular support.

On the other hand, the fragmented left-of-centre opposition was still struggling to find a shared goal around which to organize and deal with its own drawbacks. Deputies Gabriel Boric and Maite Orsini, both members of the leftist Frente Amplio (FA, Broad Front) conglomerate, were widely criticised for secretly meeting in Paris with Ricardo Palma Salamanca, a former revolutionary who was convicted for the assassination of UDI party founder and Senator Jaime Guzmán in 1992 (Palma Salamanca escaped from jail in 1996 and days ago was granted asylum in France). Meanwhile, the Partido Socialista (PS), Partido Por la Democracia (PPD) and Partido Radical (PR), all of which were former members of the left-of-centre government coalition Concertación (1990-2010) and then Nueva Mayoría (2013-2018), toyed with the idea of forming one “mega-party” built on social-democratic ideas in a motion that is still on the table.

How things changed

Those were the issues that dominated the political agenda until last week. Nevertheless, the political landscape made an unexpected turn on November 15th when Camilo Catrillanca, a 24-year-old Mapuche community member, was killed in the Araucanía region by members of the Carabineros’ Grupo de Operaciones Especiales (GOPE, Police Special Operation Group), popularly known as “Comando Jungla” (Jungle Command). This special force unit was formed upon Piñera’s decision to deal with violent acts in Araucanía. Its members received specialist training in Colombia and the United States to deal with organised terrorist groups. This initiative was received with disapproval, especially from the Left and human rights organisations, as it appeared to increase the militarisation of the so-called conflict between the Chilean state and the Mapuche people.  More importantly, the account of the death of Camilo Catrillanca was surrounded in controversy over inconsistencies about how the GOPE reacted to the theft of a vehicle during the afternoon of November 15th. Minister of Interior Andrés Chadwick and Luis Mayol, Intendant of the Araucanía region[i], quickly backed the police special force’s version of events, which indicated that Catrillanca was killed during a crossfire. Chadwick even suggested that Catrillanca had police records, although he had not been convicted of any crimes, which was seen as an attempt to support the initial police version of the incident.

While President Piñera was abroad to attend the APEC summit and visit New Zealand, the incident took a serious toll on his administration when it became public that the special police forces had not carried their personal cameras during the procedure. Even worse, the ongoing investigation shows that one of the “Comando Jungla” members had in fact carried his camera but deleted its memory card afterwards, which cast further doubt on the versions initially supported by Minister Chadwick and Intendant Mayol. Different actors have asked for Chadwick and Mayol’s resignations. The Left, which have craved for unity in recent months, rapidly agreed to interpellate Minister Chadwick, a procedure by which a minister is asked to come forward at the Chamber of Deputies to answer questions. Moreover, Luis Mayol offered his resignation on Tuesday night upon the Christian Democrats’ announcement that they will seek to initiate a constitutional accusation against Mayol for the death of Camilo Carrillanca.

La Moneda’s mistakes

The Piñera administration’s political errors can be summarised as follows. First, the formation of an elite militarised special unit seemed largely inappropriate to deal with a public problem that has more to do with socio-political issues rather than with terrorism, as some in the Right have argued. Second, the way in which the police special forces were introduced five months ago, in a ceremony led by Piñera himself and in which all the weaponry at the Comando’s disposal was presented, was clearly an exaggerated show of force. Finally, there was no need for Minister Chadwick and Intendant Mayol to almost immediately back the police special forces’ version of the incident. Carabineros de Chile, the national police force, is currently going through its deepest crisis yet in the post Pinochet period. Dozens of top-ranking Carabineros officials, including a former general, are under investigation for a US$ 40 million fraud. Yet, more importantly, the Carabineros of the Araucanía region face another more worrying probe about “Operation Hurricane,” a scandal that saw several police officers accused of falsifying and tampering with evidence, which led to some Mapuche community members being sent to jail. Therefore, Chadwick’s and Mayol’s hurried remarks about the incident itself, and the backing of the Carabineros’ version of it, were unnecessary and unwarranted.

Notwithstanding Minister of Interior Andrés Chadwick explaining himself during a special session summoned by the Human Rights and Public Security legislative commissions on Monday 19th and Intendant Mayol’s resignation on Tuesday 20th, the damage to the Piñera administration’s image and credibility was already done. It remains to be seen whether (and how) President Piñera might turn things around and if the opposition may finally become a united front. A different and more fundamental question asks whether the public trust and effective political control of police in the Araucanía region can be regained any time soon.

[i]The intendant is the equivalent of a regional governor, who is directly appointed by the president.

Peru – President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski Resigns

The President of Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, resigned on Wednesday in the wake of allegations of vote buying and a larger existential threat to his leadership from the Odebrecht scandal.  He was facing an impeachment vote on Firday of this week in Congress, but party leaders have agreed to accept his resignation, which will prevent this vote from going ahead.

President Kuczynski had become entangled in the wider Odebrecht scandal that has engulfed Latin American politicians across the region. The tentacles of the Odebrecht scandal had already reached Peru, where former president, Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), has been accused of receiving US$20 million in bribes from Odebrecht in return for granting them the contract to build a large road and infrastructure project. The presidency of Alan García (2006-2011) also fell under suspicion, given that Obebrecht won a record number of contracts in Peru during his tenure. Last year, President Kuczynski had been accused of receiving US$782,000 from Odebrecht through a company that he owned. He has admitted he received the money, but insists it was above board.

As a consequence, he was accused of being “morally unfit” to be president and he faced an impeachment vote in Congress in December of last year. Over 87 votes were needed to impeach him, but the motion, although supported by 78 against 19, did not pass. But a cloud hung over this vote. One of President Kuczynski’s main opponents in Congress has been the right-leaning Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the former President, Alberto Fujimori, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuses. Keiko’s increasing power in Congress has placed significant pressure on Kuczynski and her party, Fuerza Popular, has been the main activist behind each impeachment vote. In the December vote however, her brother, Kenji Fujimori, defied his sister by leading a small group of rebellious Fuerza Popular legislators to block the impeachment vote against Kuczynski. A few days later, President Kuczynski pardoned Alberto Fujimori.

On Tuesday night, the fate of President Kuczynski was sealed. Videos emerged, released by Fuerza Popular, which purportedly show the President’s allies offering legislators a share of key public work programs, in addition to access to various government prerogatives, in return for their support in the impeachment vote scheduled for this Friday. Although Kuczynski has alleged that the tapes were heavily edited, already daunted by the prospect of a hostile Congress this Friday, this appeared to the final nail in the coffin of his political career and after just 19 months in office, he resigned on Wednesday.

And so Kuczynski becomes another victim of the Odebrecht scandal. Centered on the Lavo Jato corruption scandal, it has its roots in bribes given to Brazilian politicians (and elsewhere) by the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, in addition to other construction companies, in return for a whole gamut of favors. In fact, Odebrecht has admitted to paying over US$1 billion in bribes and apparently, they even had a designated department whose sole function was to bribe governments across the region in return for state building contracts.

The scandal has also dragged other Latin American executives into its orbit. It was partly responsible for forcing Dilma Rousseff, the former president of Brazil, out of office. In Panama, prosecutors are now seeking to detain the sons of former president, Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014). Ricardo Alberto and Luis Enrique Martinelli are accused of depositing part of a US$22 million bribe that Odebrecht paid in return for lucrative state contracts in Panama. And current Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela, has been accused by a former advisor of receiving political donations from Odebrecht. In Colombia, a former senator who admitted receiving bribes from Odebrecht has accused current Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, of receiving illegal campaign donations from the Brazilian firm and in Argentina, members of Mauricio Macri’s centre-right organization have been accused of ties with Odebrecht, and in the case of Gustavo Arribas, of accepting a direct bribe from the firm. In the Dominican Republic, the Brazilian firm admitted that it payed US$92 million in bribes to Dominican government officials to secure large and lucrative infrastructure projects.

In Peru, the former President, Alejandro Toledo, who is also facing prosecution for his dealings with Odebrecht, is currently on the run. This led to the Peruvian government offering a 100,000 soles award (approximately US$30,000) for information leading to Toledo’s arrest.

Undoubtedly, the Odebrecht scandal will rumble on and drag many more politicians into its wake.

Given the line of succession outlined in the Constitution of Peru, the Vice-President, Martin Vizcarra, will now become acting president.

South Africa – Calls multiply for President Zuma to resign

In recent months, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has limped from one political crisis to the next. Last December, Zuma’s decision to replace his respected finance minister with a little known backbencher met with strong opposition, and plunged the economy into a tailspin. Many feared this was a move aimed at freeing Zuma’s hand to loot public coffers and pay off his close business associates.

The President’s reputation took another hit last month when members of the Gupta family, owners of a sprawling business empire in South Africa, allegedly offered the current deputy finance minister the top post in the Treasury. Both the Guptas and Zuma denied these allegations, with Zuma affirming that he took responsibility for all government appointments.

With that scandal still smouldering, South Africa’s Constitutional Court dealt Zuma a fresh blow. The Court ruled that Zuma’s refusal to abide by the Public Protector’s binding recommendation to repay public funds used to renovate his expansive Nkandla estate went against the constitution. Zuma promptly apologized for the “frustration and confusion” that the long-running scandal caused, but this did little to calm the public outcry.

Only days later, parliament debated an impeachment motion brought by the leading opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA). While ANC MPs stood together, ensuring the motion failed, the debate itself—broadcast live—revisited all the corruption allegations levied against Zuma. Moreover, it was not opposition politicians alone targeting the president. Shortly after the impeachment proceedings concluded, a number of ANC veterans joined the chorus calling on Zuma to resign.

The public anger directed at Zuma has its roots in a more deep seated fear that his presidency has brought on a new era of ‘state capture.’ The influence of politically well-connected business elites appears to be growing as they become more embedded in predatory patronage networks. The Gupta’s embody this trend. In March, the current finance minister refused to appear at a meeting of business leaders to be held under the banner of the Gupta-owned New Age media group. Once the association was dropped, the meeting went ahead, whereby the minister warned, ‘There are many parts of transacting between government and business which have gone seriously wrong, and if we don’t stop it, we’re going to become a kleptocracy.’

Concern over spreading corruption is also reshaping the political map in South Africa. With local elections due in August, the ANC’s risks losing its long-standing hegemony across a number of urban strongholds where frustration with poor service delivery has grown. This may give rise to an urban-rural political divide. As the leader of the DA warned, ‘You could end up with a scenario… where the liberation movement governs in rural areas through patronage, and in urban areas people are making decisions on the basis of different choices.’

While many observers suggest a big loss for the ANC in August could spell the end for Zuma, others are more sceptical. Zuma still enjoys strong support among rural branches of the ANC, particularly in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal. This local level support reduces the likelihood that the ANC National Executive Committee, the party organ with the power to oust Zuma, will in fact force his resignation.

However, even if Zuma does survive through to the end of his term in 2018, he may struggle to anoint his preferred successor, his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. This could leave the path clear for the current Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, which according to some might help the ANC reset. Ramaphosa is far from Mr. Clean, though, and it is uncertain whether the challenges currently facing the ANC can be remedied through a simple change of guard.

While the political malaise deepens, the economic crisis facing South Africa—whose credit rating is teetering on the edge of junk—shows little sign of abating. Indeed, the political and economic unease go hand in hand, leaving South Africans much the worse for it.