Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski offered to step down Wednesday amid long-simmering corruption allegations and an explosive video that suggested his administration was trying to buy off legislators to avoid impeachment.
The shakeup comes at a delicate time: Peru is preparing to host the Summit of the Americas next month, which will bring together every leader of the hemisphere including President Donald Trump.
Kuczynski’s decision came after a video emerged Tuesday of one of his allies in congress, Kenji Fujimori, appearing to offer lawmakers government contracts and posts in exchange for not supporting an impeachment vote scheduled for Thursday.
In the resignation letter he presented to Congress, the 79-year-old former Wall Street banker said he “categorically denied” the allegations but would step down for the good of the country. Congress is expected to debate his resignation on Thursday, and Vice President Martín Vizcarra may be sworn in on Friday to finish out Kuczynski’s term, which runs through 2021.
In December, Kuczynski narrowly avoided being impeached after it came out that he’d received payments from Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht either during, or shortly after, he had served as prime minister during the Alejandro Toledo administration (2001-06).
Three days after that vote, on Christmas Eve, he pardoned former President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), who had served eight years of a 25-year sentence for human rights violations, including murder and kidnapping.
Kuczynski’s opponents saw the pardon as a thinly veiled bribe for the faction of the Fuerza Popular congressional group led by Fujimori’s son, Kenji Fujimori, that ultimately prevented his impeachment.
It was that same faction that appeared in Tuesday’s video. In a bit of palace intrigue, it was members of the Fuerza Popular party loyal to Kenji’s sister, Keiko, that blew the whistle.
On her Twitter account, Keiko — who was Kuczynski’s main rival in the 2016 election — said she was ashamed that her brother was involved.
“This government believed that money could buy anything,” she wrote. “But there are always brave and dignified Peruvians who won’t be bought.”
It’s unclear how the shakeup might affect the Summit of the Americas, which will be held on April 13 and 14. President Trump has said he will attend the event — making it his first stop in Latin America since taking office.
“This incredible uncertainty comes at the worst possible moment with implications beyond Peru’s borders,” Jason Marczak, the director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, Atlantic Council said in a statement. “A successful Summit of the Americas in three weeks is in jeopardy with the Argentine and Colombian presidents now questioning their attendance at a forum set to address corruption and the ongoing violations of the Maduro regime [in Venezuela]. We cannot let Peruvian politics derail the broader hemispheric agenda.”
Kuczynski was seen as an ally in Washington’s fight with Venezuela, and he’d pushed to have Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro barred from the event. Maduro, however, has said he will attend anyway.
On Wednesday, a meme making the rounds on Venezuelan social media showed a picture of a smiling Maduro that read: “Now who’s not going to the summit?”
The theme of this year’s event? Corruption.
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