Martin Vizcarra, former First Vice President and Peruvian Ambassador to Canada, was sworn in as new Peruvian President after Congress accepted the resignation of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) who allegedly is involved in the Odebrecht corruption scandal. Vizcarra is set to finish PPK’s term in July 2021.
As even 81% of Peruvians didn’t recognize his name in a poll conducted by El Comercio-Ipsos at the beginning of March of this year, the question is: who is the new Peruvian Head of State?
Martin Alberto Vizcarra Cornejo was born on March 22, 1963 in Lima, but his family was home in the southern Peruvian region of Moquegua where he completed his school education. In 1984 Vizcarra graduated as civil engineer from the Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería, UNI (National University of Engineering) in Lima and additionally earned a degree in Management Administration from the Universidad ESAN, a leading private business academic institution in the Peruvian capital.
In the following years he was the Executive Director of the Pasto Grande Project, Member of the Board of Directors of the Southern Electricity Company EGESUR, Director of the Society of Industries in Moquegua and Member of the Advisory Committee of the National Council of Science and Technology (CONCYTEC). He also was Dean of the College of Engineers of Moquegua.
His political ambitions began in 2006, when he stood for the election as governor in his home region Moquegua, but lost. Two years later Vizcarra led protests, the so-called Moqueguazo. The reason for the 10-days fierce and partly violent protests were that statutory payments to the communities made by the mining company Southern Peru in Moquegua were lower than in Tacna. He went to Lima to complain and came back home with a modified, equitable law.
In 2010, Martin Vizcarra was elected as Governor of the Moquegua region for the 2011 – 2014 term. During his time in office he could achieve numerous improvements for the Moquegua region, including placing Moquegua’s schools as the best education centers in the country for three consecutive years, negotiating higher payments to the community from mining companies, settling disputes between foreign mining companies and residents as well as increasing the payments for public works from Ollanta Humala’s government.
After his term ended, Vizcarra joined Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s Peruvians for Change party, which made him the First Vice President candidate in the 2016 general election campaign. After being elected PPK included Vizcarra, one of his closest allies, as well in his cabinet as Minister of Transport and Communications. When floods devastated many areas in Peru at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 he was tasked with managing the crisis.
At the same time allegations of corruption and nepotism surrounding the contracts for the construction of the Chinchero International Airport in Cusco emerged. Vizcarra with the backing of the government and President Pedro Pablo Kuzcynski canceled numerous contracts and presented a new revised version to the Peruvian Congress, which is controlled by the Fuerzo Popular (Popular Force party) under Keiko Fujimori who seemingly couldn’t overcome her defeat in the presidential elections to PPK in 2016 and has her own power-political interests. After failing to convince the Congress of the benefits of the new Chinchero contract, an interpellation and the surfacing of corruption allegations during his time as Governor of Moquegua, Martin Vizcarra resigned as Minister of Transport and Communications.
To get him out of the line of fire, Vizcarra was appointed Peruvian Ambassador to Canada, a post he held until Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s resignation.
As stipulated by the Peruvian Constitution under such circumstances, the First Vice-President takes over and Martin Vizcarra was sworn in as new Peruvian President on March 23, 2018.
Being one of PPK’s closest allies, it can be assumed that the business-friendly Vizcarra will maintain the same economic and foreign policies as the former president and continues to support a neoliberal economic development focused on foreign investment
In his first speech before Congress Vizcarra promised to encourage growth, combat corruption and propose a social pact putting emphasis on education and social integration – at least the latter he already successfully did in Moquegua. He called for a better cooperation and for putting differences aside for the better of the country.
Nevertheless, as his predecessor the new Peruvian President will have a hard time to survive. Like Kuczynski, Vizcarra lacks popular support and has to work with a hostile Congress, that, considering the last nearly two years under PPK, is more than happy to block anything not fitting the own power-political interests and surely isn’t prudish to spread incapability and corruption allegations against political opponents ad nauseam.
So, if the limited political experience of Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra with old corruption allegations just waiting to be dug out again are enough to handle the difficult situation and if he is able to put an end to the current political crisis in Peru, has to be seen.