The “Car Wash” corruption scandal that started in Brazil has extended into surrounding Latin American countries, including Peru. All of Peru’s living presidents have been implicated in the scandal, with two currently awaiting trial on corruption charges, one in California fighting extradition, and one who ended his own life just as police entered his home to arrest him. The corruption scandal has also implicated members of Congress, including the head of Peru’s largest opposition party, Keiko Fujimori (daughter of the infamous former president Alberto Fujimori). To make matters worse, investigators have also uncovered an unrelated bribes-for-verdicts corruption scandal in the judiciary.
Peru’s current president, former Vice President Martin Vizcarra, assumed the presidency after his predecessor resigned over corruption allegations. Backed by overwhelming popular support in a national anticorruption referendum, President Vizcarra spent most of 2019 pushing an ambitious anticorruption agenda. His proposed reforms included a new law that bars members of Congress from seeking immediate reelection after one five-year term, transferring the power to lift a Member of Congress’s legislative immunity from Congress to the Supreme Court, and changing the system for appointing judges and prosecutors. On all of these proposals, Congress (controlled by an opposition party) has dragged its feet, likely for self-serving reasons. While Congress eventually passed some of these reforms, including the ban on re-election, the judicial anticorruption bill stalled. After several attempts to pass the bill, on September 30, 2019, Vizcarra took the drastic step of dissolving Congress—a move supported by 84% of Peruvians. Vizcarra issued a decree for a snap legislative election, which took place on January 26, 2020, and in which Peruvians elected a new Congress to finish the current constitutional term ending in 2021. Given the ongoing pandemic, this new Congress has, understandably, yet to fully address Vizcarra’s remaining anticorruption agenda.
It is often said that fighting entrenched corruption involves disrupting the political status quo. President Vizcarra’s decision to dissolve Congress was certainly disruptive—but not in a way that anticorruption advocates should celebrate. Whatever its short-term payoffs, this decision threatens to undermine Peru’s institutional checks and balances, leaving the country more vulnerable to corrupt actors in the long term.