A new cabinet and a new direction
OLLANTA HUMALA narrowly won a presidential election last June by promising a “great transformation”. Yet the most startling transformation in Peru continues to be in Mr Humala himself. A retired army lieutenant-colonel, in 2006 he ran as a far-left candidate in the mould of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. This year he claimed to have moderated; then, to win a run-off ballot, he junked his leftist programme for a centrist “road map”. Now he has taken another big step in his long march to the right: just four and a half months into his term, he has abruptly shaken up his government, appointing a retired army officer as prime minister, dumping his leftist ministers and replacing them with solidly centrist technocrats.
The pretext for the shake-up was the increasingly disorderly protests against Minas Conga, a $4.8 billion gold- and copper-mining project in the northern department of Cajamarca. Ministers and presidential advisers had been publicly at odds about how to handle the dispute. Salomón Lerner, the outgoing prime minister who had been Mr Humala’s campaign manager, had patiently tried to negotiate with the protesters. But after his efforts failed, the president declared a state of emergency and dispatched troops to restore order.
President Humala promptly replaced Mr Lerner with his interior minister, Oscar Valdés. A fellow retired lieutenant-colonel who became a businessman, Mr Valdés was Mr Humala’s instructor at the military academy and the two remained close. His appointment has led some commentators to lament a “militarisation” of the government (several other former army officers act as palace advisers). In a country where the army has long had a prominent political role, that is a permanent worry.
The new cabinet certainly marks a break between Mr Humala and Alejandro Toledo, a former president and defeated centrist candidate this year, who initially backed the government. The three ministers from Mr Toledo’s party were among ten sacked in the reshuffle. Also out were three ministers linked to Mr Humala’s original leftist allies.
Mr Valdés quickly announced that the government would promote an “independent, international assessment” of the Conga project and of its environmental impact. That may mollify some of the critics. Most of the new ministers are respected in their fields. The president’s main aim seems to have been to assert his authority, and to try to create a more united administration that will focus on governing.
So far, so good. But it is unclear whether that is what he will achieve. The new cabinet may struggle to command sufficient support in Congress. Mr Humala’s ragbag Gana Perú party has hitherto relied on Mr Toledo’s supporters for a majority. Their support may no longer be forthcoming. The conservative opposition, associated with Keiko Fujimori, Mr Humala’s opponent in the June run-off, has responded positively to the new cabinet. Ms Fujimori wants a pardon for her father, Alberto Fujimori, a former president serving a 25-year sentence for human-rights abuses. Aged 73, Mr Fujimori has received hospital treatment several times in the past year. Surely it could not be that the next step in Mr Humala’s transformation is an alliance with the fujimoristas?