Peru's Merino Resigns Five Days After Taking Office

Nellie Chapman
November 16, 2020

The Congress ultimatum came after the health ministry said two protesters were killed on Saturday during a massive march in Lima, which was repressed by police firing shotgun pellets and tear gas.

A network of human rights groups reported that 112 people were hurt in Saturday's protests and the whereabouts of 41 others were unknown. Two died - Jack Pintado, 22, who was shot 11 times, including in the head, and Jordan Sotelo, 24, who was hit four times in the chest near his heart.

Congress is expected to appoint a new president - the South American country's third in a week - in a new session called for 6:00 pm.

Merino, who was the president of Congress, has been a low-key politician, entrepreneur and cattle breeder. Merino has been silent as his fragile government loses the little support it had.

Merino was appointed by Congress following the impeachment of former President Martin Vizcarra. The president previously dissolved congress previous year, saying they obstructed his "anti-corruption" policy. Thus, Congress has unlawfully removed president Vizcarra, in what is in effect a parliamentary coup and not an impeachment. Political analysts have warned Peru's democracy hangs in the balance.

"I, like everyone, want what's best for our country", he said. Despite the election of a new congress in January, there have still been repeated clashes between the president and congress.

In 2018, Peru's president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned as it looked highly likely he would be impeached. Tensions kept escalating towards the end of the week, leading to the death of two students and dozens wounded on Saturday. Half of the lawmakers are under investigation or indictment for alleged crimes including money laundering and homicide.

Congress kicked Mr Vizcarra out using a clause dating to the 19th century that allows the powerful legislature to remove a president for "permanent moral incapacity".

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Protesters, mostly youths, have been in the streets in opposition to Vizcarra.

"I am here to collaborate", said Vizcarra, a politically unaffiliated centrist popular with Peruvians, who is yet to be found guilty of the corruption charges that led to his removal. A judge barred him from leaving the country for 18 months on Friday.

"I deeply regret the deaths that have occurred as a result of the repression of this illegal and illegitimate government", former president Vizcarra said early Sunday on Twitter. He accused unnamed actors of trying to "confuse the country" into thinking Congress wanted to kick out Vizcarra in order to delay the upcoming presidential vote. The violent clashes with police left at least three people dead and 13 injured.

The pandemic has hit Peru hard, with the politically fragile country having the world's highest per capita death rate - with almost 35,000 fatalities - and GDP plunging over 30% in the second quarter.

"They don't even know how to pronounce the word, 'Instagram,"' he said.

The country's constitutional court has directed the national police force to "immediately locate, identify and secure" more than 40 people who "disappeared" during the recent protests.

Peru has the world's highest per-capita COVID-19 mortality rate and has seen one of Latin America's worst economic contractions.

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