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Peru, corruption and what to do about the Summit of the Americas?

Wednesday’s resignation of Peru’s president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has thrown an already problematic upcoming Summit of the Americas into doubt. With so many governments in the region facing corruption allegations the summit could be postponed a year.
Eric Farnsworth is vice president of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society, AS/COA.
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El presidente de Perú, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, abandona el Palacio de Gobierno en Lima después de grabar un mensaje televisivo anunciando su renuncia. Crédito: AFP

A year of political change in Latin America just became more unstable with Wednesday’s resignation of Peru’s president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, known universally as PPK, prior to an impeachment vote for alleged vote buying he was sure to lose.

Kuczynski denied any allegations of corruption, but the timing of his resignation could not be worse. In just three weeks Peru is scheduled to host the next Summit of the Americas, a periodic gathering of regional leaders including President Donald Trump, when the eyes of much of the region will be focused on the host nation. The theme? The fight against corruption.

Now that Peru’s president—the host—has resigned, active consideration should be given to postponing the Summit. This would allow regional leaders take stock of the situation in Peru and to consider more fully the implications of a Summit in Lima under existing circumstances.

If postponed until 2019, it would also allow Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, and other nations which will hold elections this year to send their newly-elected presidents to the Summit in order to agree a forward looking agenda with concrete commitments that are more likely to be implemented.

Even before Kuczynski’s resignation, the Summit has proven to be controversial. Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, has been disinvited, appropriately, for gross corruption and anti-democratic actions. Kuczynski has been one of the most outspoken leaders in the fight against the Venezuelan regime; the informal regional group working to restore democracy to Venezuela was initiated in Lima under his leadership.

Postponing the summit would give the hemisphere another tool to use with the Maduro regime in Caracas. If the hemisphere leaders were to state clearly and unequivocally in advance that without free and fair elections, Venezuela’s current executive leadership will not be welcome to participate, the burden would then be placed where it belongs: on Caracas.

If there is a silver lining, Kuczynski’s resignation gives the hemisphere a legitimate opportunity to rethink and repurpose the Summits of the Americas as a way to promote strong democratic governance and increasing trade and economic integration among those nations able to make and implement such commitments. It is an opportunity they may not have sought, but which they should nonetheless now seize.

Kuczynski political woes began last year. The president barely survived an impeachment vote in December after congressional investigators linked him to Brazil’s construction giant Odebrecht which has admitted paying some $800 million in bribes to obtain contracts throughout Latin America. A Kuczynski company received money from Odebrecht during a time that Kuczynski was a government minister more than a decade ago.

Kuczynski beat an impeachment vote in December after he appeared to make a deal with a small group of legislators to free, on medical grounds, imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori, who was serving a sentence for human rights violations and corruption during his years in power during the 1990s.

But this proved to be a deal with the devil: a resulting Christmas-eve release of Fujimori for “humanitarian” reasons threw Peru into political turmoil, weakening the president and making him vulnerable to the renewed, concerted, and now successful efforts of the opposition to drive him from office.

Ahead of a second impeachment vote, Popular Force, the political party headed by Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the former president, released a slew of videos, that appeared to show Kuczynski’s allies offering government contracts to legislators in exchange for their political support against the impeachment.

Kuczynski’s dramatic fall is a far cry from his 2016 election victory.

The international community welcomed Kuczynski, 79, a former Wall Street banker, as a pro-business, pro-Western leader more interested in results than ideological crusades or self-aggrandizement. Peru was seen as a virtual model: well-managed and growing economically, an important link between Latin America and Asia, a true partner for the United States.

But despite early accomplishments, Kuczynski’s administration, which lacked a majority in Congress, was dependent to a large extent on the goodwill of the opposition, led by Fujimori’s daughter Keiko, whom he defeated in a bare-knuckled run-off for the presidency.

In defeat, Ms. Fujimori has strengthened her position in Congress where she was able to weaponize allegations of corruption against the president, maneuvering Kuczynski into an untenable position where resignation was his only option.

The result: Fujimorismo is now re-ascendant in Peru. The former president has been pardoned while his daughter in Congress is driving the national agenda. Meanwhile, Peru’s hard-won reputation for stability has taken a serious hit. Additional political uncertainty is virtually guaranteed.