Peru: A Country without a Head of State

Laura Bauckmann
November 16, 2020

After five days in office, interim President Manuel Merino resigned. "I want the whole country to know that I have submitted my irrevocable resignation from the office of President of the Republic," the 59-year-old conservative politician declared in a television address on Sunday. He is thus responding to the mass demonstrations against the dismissal of his predecessor Vizcarra and demands by Parliament for his resignation.

"Like everyone else, I want what is best for our country", said Merino. He called for peace and unity. Nothing justifies the death of Peruvians during legitimate protests. However, he said, groups who wanted to sow chaos were also involved. The incidents must be investigated.

In view of the horror of the bloodshed on the streets, all ministers in Merino's cabinet handed in their resignations. The interim parliamentary president Luis Valdez gave the conservative Merino an ultimatum until Sunday evening (local time) to resign. Otherwise there would be a vote of confidence. The Parliament accepted Merino's resignation by 120 votes to 1. Later, Valdez, who was next in line to succeed the President, resigned himself.

Since then Peru has been without a head of state. At least until late Sunday evening, the parliament was unable to agree on a successor in the office of president. Previously, the proposal to elect Rocío Silva Santisteban of the left-wing Frente Amplio as president of the parliament in place of the resigned Luis Valdez, thus making the 57-year-old deputy the legitimate successor in office according to the constitution, had failed due to the majority "no" vote of the deputies.

Shortly after Merino's announcement of his resignation many people spontaneously took to the streets. In the capital Lima they marched to the parliament building to celebrate. At the same time they demanded justice for 22-year-old Jack Pintado Sánchez and 25-year-old Inti Camargo, who were killed by rubber bullets from the police after a peaceful demonstration on Saturday.

Eyewitnesses reported that the uniforms took brutal action against the protesters. At least 94 people were injured, some of them seriously, and many were arbitrarily arrested. Human rights groups have jointly filed criminal charges of double murder against Merino and other persons responsible for the police operation.

In the days before, Amnesty International (AI) had already accused the intervention forces of excessive violence against peaceful demonstrators, denouncing in particular the use and arrests by the civilian intervention group "Terna". Terna's agents had deliberately mixed with the demonstrators as provocateurs.

At noon on Sunday, the whereabouts of 52 arrested persons were still unknown, an AI spokeswoman explained. Peru's National Association of Women Journalists (ANP) counted 35 serious attacks on reporters and photographers in the first four days.

Merino is already the third president of the Andean state since 2016 and the next presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in April 2021.

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