On November 9th, Peru’s political system imploded after Congress removed President Vizcarra from office on the dubious legal grounds of “moral incapacity”. This widely unpopular move and the rise of the Speaker of Congress, Manuel Merino, into the Presidency, took hundreds of thousands — mostly millennials and gen z — into the streets denouncing what was understood in the world as a Parliamentary coup. It was only after a week of mass protests and brutal police repression, that ended in the death of two people, that the precarious interim president resigned and Congress elected Francisco Sagasti, an academic and university professor as Peru’s third leader in only a week.
A month later, Peru continues to stand on shaky grounds as the interim administration fights multiple fronts not only with Congress, but with rising social conflicts and unique challenges as a result of the pandemic that has taken — officially — more than 36,000 lives so far, and has engulfed the country into its worst recession on record. The stakes could not be any higher. With general elections, only four months away, will Peruvians regain trust in their government and more importantly, in the promise of their country?
Peru’s “miraculous” economic growth during the last twenty years was seen with optimism by the population. However, the Peruvian version of the neoliberal paradigm that successfully rose incomes, failed to create an efficient safety net to sustain a new middle class, vulnerable, and with rightful expectations of a better future for their children.
Hope remains in Peru’s youth, now called the “Bicentennial Generation”. However, the clock is ticking for this young movement in their quest to reshape their country. What Peruvians want is more representation in government, a clean administration that addresses corruption and inequality, and more socioeconomic opportunities to surf the crisis. The challenge remains in transforming this faceless movement into the rise of new and legitimate leaders, willing to play within the system, willing to offer a pathway to solutions, and willing to accomplish sustainable change.
Since the end of the protests, two main leaders, Veronika Mendoza on the left and Julio Guzman on the right, are seen as the main winners in the streets and are looking to propel their candidacies on the national stage.
In the midtime, Peru will continue to be overburdened by a political and economic system not only overwhelmed by its own structural fallacies but also stretched by the populist proclivities of a fragmented congress that has grossly failed to address this crisis and is seen in the public eye as a gang of self-serving and corrupt politicians. In order to perpetuate in power, they intended to mold the electoral system to their benefit.
Peru’s representatives don't pledge allegiance to a particular ideology but represent themselves and the economic interests that sustained them to power. In fact, during the last twenty years, becoming a congressman has become a strategy to retain privileges, judicial immunity, and power. Parties have become shallow institutions ready to play for whoever is willing to foot the bill. Among many, lobbies from private universities have prayed on this system.
Since the ’90s, higher education in Peru has become increasingly dominated by universities failing to meet the minimum requirements to function, lacking research funding, promoting careers with no job markets in the country, and led by groups with questionable reputations. Under this troubling facade, private fortunes made off the back of thousands of families that have put their faith in education as a tool of social mobility.
Parties on congress, such as Podemos, Alianza para el Progreso, Fuerza Popular, and Accion Popular — all linked to private universities — saw an opportunity in the crisis and in the progressing investigation into Vizcarra’s deeds as governor of the southern region of Moquegua, to overthrow the government and with it, the much-needed and already ongoing education reform that has exposed the profitable business that education has become in Peru.
Peru’s youth reacted to the attempts to halt the reform precisely because, in the midst of this crisis, they see their future threaten. Whether they will be able to reclaim their country, will be seen in the coming weeks.