Andres Oppenheimer

Peru’s new president has his hands full and will have to put Venezuela on the back burner

With the resignation of Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Vice President Martin Vizcarra is scheduled to be sworn in on Friday to replace him.
With the resignation of Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Vice President Martin Vizcarra is scheduled to be sworn in on Friday to replace him. AP

Peru’s soon-to-be-appointed President Martin Vizcarra will probably continue with his predecessor’s vocal criticism of Venezuela’s dictatorship, but he will be too tied up with his country’s domestic political crisis to be able to maintain Peru’s regional leadership on the issue, top Peruvian officials tell me.

Asked about Peru’s likely policy toward Venezuela under Vizcarra, who is expected to be sworn in Friday, outgoing second-vice president and prime minister Mercedes Araoz told me that, “Peru’s stand on democracy in Venezuela has not changed, but I think that our country is in a situation of institutional weakness” that may hamper its activism.

Other officials say that Vizcarra, so far, has supported Peru’s critical stand on Venezuela. He participated in cabinet meetings late last year and agreed with the decision not to invite Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro to the April 13 Summit of the Americas in Lima if Venezuela did not allow free elections by then, they say.

Peru has been the leader of the so-called Lima Group, made up of more than a dozen Latin American countries — including Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia — that has publicly demanded that Maduro allow free elections and release political prisoners.

In Venezuela, Diosdado Cabello, a leading official of the ruling party, celebrated the demise of Peru’s outgoing President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski on Wednesday showing a video of fireworks on his TV show. Kuczynski has been one of Maduro’s most vocal critics.

My opinion: Vizcarra has no political party and few friends in Peru’s Congress. To be able to govern, he will have to create a congressional coalition from scratch, or he will be forced to call for early elections. Either way, he faces an uphill battle to restore Peru’s political stability.

Even if he wants to, he will have little time, or energy, to think about Venezuela. Most likely, the Lima Group’s activism on Venezuela will now shift back to the 34-country Organization of American States. That may not be a bad outcome, if other countries take a leadership role in the issue.

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