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Perú Faces a Presidential Crisis

This November, Perú experienced a period of political unrest as deep rooted corruption rose to the surface and subjected the country to a presidential crisis. 

On November 9th, the Peruvian Congress, headed by Manuel Merino, voted to remove President Martín Vizcarra from office. Vizcarra was removed due to allegations of accepting around $630,000 in bribes in a past position as a regional governor and failing to properly lead the country during the coronavirus pandemic. Congress claimed his “moral incapacity,” based on a broadly interpreted section of the Constitution, served as a reason to remove President Vizcarra. Despite these allegations, Vizcarra remained popular among Peruvian people. 

 

Former President Vizcarra. Image Credit: Wall Street Journal

 

Perú faces a long history of corruption, as many past presidents have been prosecuted as criminals and current lawmakers are being investigated for a large variety of serious crimes. As a result, Vizcarra stood on an anti-corruption platform, which greatly contributed to his popularity. He attempted to stop parliamentary immunity and Congressional re-election. When Congress denied the proposals, Vizcarra called for an election of a new Congress. Peruvian people voted for politicians who belonged to newer political parties in hope of change, but unfortunately, the new members of Congress ended up being just as corrupt as the last. 

 

Graphic Illustration by Sara Robles. Image Credit: @imperspectivas

 

Due to Vizcarra’s popularity, many believe he should not have been removed even if the corruption allegations were true. Many feel that the political turmoil is not worth it during the last few months of the presidency before the upcoming election in April 2021. Others are in agreement with Vizcarra’s removal and believe that even if there is a chance that a lawmaker is corrupt, they should be removed from office. 

After Vizcarra’s removal, Manuel Merino became next in line for the presidency and was quickly sworn in. However, protests broke out throughout the country, as some even believed that a coup had been staged. 

These protests started as small demonstrations in Lima but quickly grew to large protests all over Perú. The demonstrations were composed of diverse groups of mostly young people, who organized over social media without a central leader. 

 

A large demonstration in Plaza San Martín de Lima. Image Credit: RPP Noticias

 

When interviewing Victor Lozano, a young Peruvian, he described his perspective about why people had gone out to protest in full force. He said although the direct cause of the protest was Vizcarra’s removal, many Peruvians feel the true cause of the demonstrations was to speak out against parliamentary immunity and demand an end to the country’s corruption. He describes que “la gente estaba cansada de que les tomen el pelo y salieron a alzar su voz en contra” a la corrupción. It’s important to note young people are fighting against deep rooted issues, not only an unfit president, and due to the intensity of the protests, it is not likely they will back down. 

Though the protests were intended as peaceful demonstrations, many people documented instances of what they saw as unnecessary police violence. Police officers used “blunt force, tear gas, [and] projectiles” to control crowds. Protestors documented instances of police violence against the press, leading La Asociación Nacional de Periodistas del Perú to denounce the use of force on behalf of the police. 

Police violence during protests caused injuries among over 200 people. Police violence led to the deaths of Inti Sotelo Camargo (24) and Bryan Pintado Sánchez (22) due to projectiles shot at them by police forces. 

After these tragic deaths, Manuel Merino resigned from the presidency and was replaced with the third president of the week—Francisco Sagasti, who will remain president until the upcoming 2021 elections. Some are hopeful that Sagasti’s education and experience working in the United Nations indicate that he has the potential to be a good president.Regardless of Sagasti’s experience, the months leading to the election will be difficult as Perú faces government corruption.

Looking Back to a New Peru

I remember those days when I thought my life as an eight year old was normal. It only took to look back a few years later to see I was living inside a bubble of terrorism in Peru.

I never understood why my mother would put tape on the windows that formed an “x,” blackouts that made us decorate the house with candles, or why our block was a meeting point for security guards with enormous guns.

In 1985 President Alan Garcia campaigned for hope, yet Peru fell into economic turmoil during his presidency.  Garcia left the country with hyperinflation and Peruvian citizens were not able to afford anything since the currency was not worth anything.  This economic crisis led to the emergence of The Shining Path, a terrorist group with a communist ideology that bombed electrical towers to provoke major blackouts in the city to inflict terror in the citizens.

A once overpopulated city with cars and traffic, restaurants, movie theatres and other forms of entertainment became a ghost town.

Peru was becoming a country with no hope and the violence was getting to close to our family for us to stay there, but my roots never left my foundation.

As a young woman living in the US, I became fascinated by Peruvian politics.  The news I read indicated the steady rise of the Peruvian economy.  I began to realize why my windows were taped as a child.  After ten years and roots too deep I decided it was time to go back to Peru and see the changes with my own eyes.

The day I got on the plane, I felt anxious.  I did not want to relive those moments in my childhood, but I had to go back to my roots and to the place that I once called my home.

I arrived at the Jorge Chavez Airport and felt I never left LA.  The only thing that reminded me I was in Lima were the pictures of Macchu Picchu.  The streets of Lima were illuminated and people were walking happily on the streets and there was no evident presence of security guards like before.

The changes didn’t come easily. Yet, without a doubt, it is easy to see the positive change in Peru in contrast to the depressing record of the 1990’s.

The perseverance of the people helped the economy flourish.  Business owners go out to the streets to sell what their land or hands provide.  Lima, the capital of Peru changed to invite tourists from all over the world.  This changed what Lima used to look like into a modern city.  Foreign owned restaurants run the weekend life and modern infrastructure make tourists feel home.  Still, Peruvian traditions still fight to live and attract tourists.

Despite all the positive changes, poverty is still an issue; “ceros” or hills are covered with “barrios jovenes” or slums in which people live inhumanly.  Several feeding stations have opened so children can at least get one meal a day.  Most walls are painted with political campaign slogans that only make the streets more unclean rather than give hope to the poor.

Similar to our ancestors, the Incas, the Spanish were able to take their land but not their culture.  Peru’s economic growth is modernizing the country, yet Peruvians will not permit our culture to disintegrate.  This can be the reason why my roots never let me go and will make me continue to come back to the Land of The Sun.

Peruvian Women, Victims of Forced Sterilization

Photo: Chris Thamann

During the late 1990s about 300,000 Peruvian women underwent sterilization procedures without their fully informed consent. The Peruvian Ministry of Public Health and President Alberto Fujimori backed these practices as part of a government program to promote voluntary sterilization to reduce the national birthrate.

Many of the areas that were targeted with this voluntary program however, were poor rural areas. Investigations have found that under this sterilization program, many women and men were sterilized without their consent.

The victims of this program have taken their claims to Peruvian courts and several human rights organizations have joined them in their campaign. These cases however, remain unresolved and unrecognized by the Peruvian government.

The upcoming Peruvian presidential election also places added uncertainty to the fate of these investigations. Keiko Fujimori, Alberto Fujimori’s daughter, is in the running, and the victims feel that if she wins, their demands for justice will remain unheard.

For an informational video click here

Peruvian Women, Victims of Forced Sterilization

Photo: Chris Thamann

During the late 1990s about 300,000 Peruvian women underwent sterilization procedures without their fully informed consent. The Peruvian Ministry of Public Health and President Alberto Fujimori backed these practices as part of a government program to promote voluntary sterilization to reduce the national birthrate.

Many of the areas that were targeted with this voluntary program however, were poor rural areas. Investigations have found that under this sterilization program, many women and men were sterilized without their consent.

The victims of this program have taken their claims to Peruvian courts and several human rights organizations have joined them in their campaign. These cases however, remain unresolved and unrecognized by the Peruvian government.

The upcoming Peruvian presidential election also places added uncertainty to the fate of these investigations. Keiko Fujimori, Alberto Fujimori’s daughter, is in the running, and the victims feel that if she wins, their demands for justice will remain unheard.

For an informational video click here

Long-Awaited Incan Artifacts Welcomed Home

Artifacts from an Incan civilization are being returned after almost a century of American possession. After a long dispute, Yale University is returning some 5,000 relics to Peru’s Machu Picchu. The artifacts were discovered in 1912 by an American explorer, containing things such as stone tools, human and animal bones. BBC reports that Peru’s president, Alan Garcia, even wrote a letter to President Obama to help persuade the university to return the artifacts.

In Peru: Cooking for a Better Future

A distinguished chef opens a culinary school in Peru to cater to low-income students so as to help them to achieve their dreams of becoming chefs.

Gaston Acurio, who has many restaurants around the world, opened this school in Pachacutec, where there’s scarce running water and sewage systems.

Acurio recruited renowned chefs to volunteer their time, and Limas municipal Water Company donated 185 gallons to fill the wells.

According to Yahoo News, Anthropology professor Carlos Aramburu stated culinary work will not eliminate poverty but “it is helping to create small integrated economies, for example, between restaurants potato growers, fishermen, and creating jobs.”

Many chefs believe that Peru’s popular cuisine can be an essential “democratizing force in a land of deep inequities.”

Denied the Right to Vote

Peruvians in Los Angeles and surrounding areas headed to the General Consulate of Peru to vote for an important referendum that affects millions of Peruvians.  Surprisingly, when they arrived to cast their votes, no one was there.

Security escorts Peruvian voters out of Peru’s General Consulate in Hollywood. Photo by Veronica Ponce Leon

It was 10:30 a.m. and the doors to the 3450 Wilshire building in Los Angeles were closed. A sign on the door read that voters must head to another location in Hollywood. The Los Angeles office currently represents Peruvians as far as San Francisco, San Diego and even Arizona, hence frustrating many who drove long distances.

Complying with their civic duties of compulsory voting, 150 Peruvians arrived at the Hollywood building.

But none of the assigned volunteers showed up.

“Many people were shouting and expressing negative reactions,” said Alhambra resident Maria de Asin, one of many Peruvians hoping to vote.

Peruvians were scheduled to vote that day for various important issues such as regional elections and a measure which would return money to a large number of people who paid taxes for housing projects but never got their fair share when the project collapsed in 1998. The elections for mayor were particularly important since it resulted in Lima’s first female mayor.

Peruvians were met by Gabriel Pacheco, the Deputy Consul General of Peru. According to those who were present, Pacheco stated that none of the volunteers decided to come, so they were forced to shut down the building. Many determined voters advised Pacheco to select new volunteers so they can proceed, but he declined.

“This is not fair. Our rights as citizens have been violated by the lack of organization and care by the administration in Los Angeles,” said Luis Yunis, who initiated a sign-in sheet for the frustrated voters to document who was there. Pacheco refused to sign it, stating that he was no “superstar.”

Pacheco said he needed to follow the protocol of La Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales, which states that if no volunteers show up by noon, they must close the tables and no one can vote. He noted that it was the responsibility of Peruvian citizens to help this event work and they did not collaborate.

“If we were in Peru we would use public force to obtain new voluntaries, but here in Los Angeles we do not have that, so there is no way to enforce people to be volunteers,” said Pacheco.

The day ended with security guards escorting Peruvians out of the building.

“It was heartbreaking to see our fellow Peruvians being turned away from one of the most basic rights that we have as citizens of our country: the right to vote,” said Peruvian citizen and Los Angeles resident Veronica Ponce de Leon as she exited the premises.

Festival Latino 2010

On April 3 the Latin American Student Association (LASA) held its twelfth annual Festival Latino, which took place on campus at UCLA’s Wilson Plaza. The strong winds did not stop LASA nor student volunteers from putting the festival together early that morning, and it certainly did not stop spectators from attending.

This year’s Festival Latino had positive changes, according to several members of the LASA committee. “Our goal was to establish unity among Latino organizations at UCLA,” said Elba Solis, director of Festival Latino.

Solis explained that in the past, Latino organizations have never truly been united nor have they truly supported one another. LASA board members collectively decided to use the festival as a method of establishing unity with other Latino student organizations by inviting them to participate. Unity within the student Latino community is important to the LASA committee because it provides a safe space for Latino students to become conscious of issues that pertain Latina/o communities. This is why it took committee members all of last summer, fall, and winter to plan and organize the event.

The committee attended meetings with Latino organizations to invite them to assist with the festival while establishing a union with them. The participating organizations included Improving Dreams Equality Access and Success, Latinas Guiding Latinas, MEChA Calmecac, Hermanas Unidas, and La Familia. Most of these organizations collaborated with the LASA committee by promoting the event or by volunteering that day. Additionally, the LASA committee formed alliances with the Latino Greek council, which consists of Lambda Theta Nu, Phi Lambda Rho, Lambda Theta Alpha, Gamma Zeta Alpha, and Nu Alpha Kappa (NAK) who supported the festival with funding and volunteers.

“It was a really good experience and I would definitely participate again,” explained Alfredo Calderón, a NAK member. Calderón participated during the event by assisting children to color in the outlines of works by Diego Rivera at a children’s station. The point of this station, he explains, was for children to learn about Art and Diego Rivera while having fun.

The day of the festival the students volunteering guided performers, assisted decorating the plaza with Latin American flags and a fake wall known as the “walk through,” which displayed adornments representing countries in Latin America. The festival included performances by Mariachi UCLAtlán, Pilar Díaz, and Banda Flor de Piña among others. Most spectators mingled while dancing to the beats and rhythms of the music. The delicious food was the most popular attraction with food stations representing countries like El Salvador, Columbia, Cuba, Peru, Mexico, and the U.S.

Festival Latino provided an opportunity for Latino student organizations to unite in solidarity. It was not just a regular day on campus; it was a day to celebrate the Latino culture and most importantly a day for these students to work together.

New Bill May Save Undocumented Students from Deportation

Previously Published in IExaminer, News report, Paul Kim, Posted: Feb 24, 2010

On March 15, 2009, Alonso Chehade, an undocumented immigrant from Peru, was arrested at the US/Canada border for unlawful presence in the United States. After remaining in the detention center for two weeks, Chehade was later released with the assistance of his family, who posted a $7,500 bond to free him from prison.

For undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., Chehade’s story is not uncommon. In 2007, three hundred thousand people were detained for illegally residing in the U.S. For the years between 2003 – 2008, deportation increased by 60 percent in the U.S. From these statistics, we can see that the number of deported immigrants is on the rise, which impacts the communities they live and work in.

Chehade’s experience as an undocumented immigrant is different from the first generation’s. The decision to live undocumented in the US was his parent’s decision, not Chehade’s. Therefore Chehade became an undocumented resident through no action of his own.

Enter the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors), a proposed bill that would give undocumented minors a chance to enlist in the military or go to school in the U.S., thus preparing a way for them to become citizens. Introduced by Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois and Rep. Howard Berman of California, the bill has not yet officially passed Congress. Yet with the help of certain individuals, this bill could pass soon, allowing people like Chehade to become citizens of the U.S. Without citizenship, undocumented immigrants cannot apply for government IDs, such as driver’s licenses and strips them of many opportunities that citizens take for granted.

“My hardships began when I went to UW,” said Chehade. “There were some things I wanted to do that I couldn’t do, like study abroad. I didn’t have enough money for going out of the state and I couldn‘t do internships. You need social security to do internships.”

Many other immigrants, like Ju Hong, an acquaintance of Chehade, have to work menial jobs that will hire undocumented workers.

“You can’t get a decent job because the only jobs are construction work or restaurant work,” said Hong. “You get low wages and are treated really badly.”

In addition to the numerous legal barriers students face, the social stigma attached to being an undocumented immigrant can make some feel they don’t belong to American society. One may be tempted to ask: “Why should we care for a resident who is living here illegally? Why can’t they go through normal channels to gain citizenship?” It is important in this circumstance to realize that people like Chehade and Hong had little control over their lives when they came to the U.S; their fates were decided by their parents. The DREAM Act allows qualifying individuals a chance to gain citizenship in the U.S. and pursue their dreams.

Chehade and Hong are working tirelessly to raise awareness regarding the DREAM Act. As the founder of DREAMERS for Positive Change, Chehade gets to connect with other individuals that have similar experiences to Chehade’s. Chehade’s case has also received the attention of numerous prominent politicians, such as Senator Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray. While Hong participates in two organizations aiming to raise awareness about the DREAM act – the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco and Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles.

Hong emphasizes: “I want to make it clear that the DREAM Act is not just for Latinos. There are 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., of which 2 million are Asians. In the Asian American community it is embarrassing to talk about these kinds of issues. But we have to step up and support the issue.”

So, if passed, what would the DREAM Act mean to the community at large? First, it would allow undocumented minors the opportunity to live legally in the U.S. as citizens. Since the bill is aimed at those minority residents aspiring to go to college, the bill would also help create educated and productive members of the community. Finally, the bill would reinforce the principles of the American Dream, which are founded on equal opportunity, equality, and diversity.

There are numerous ways to get involved in the passing of the DREAM Act. Calling your senator will inform him/her that immigration reform is a significant issue that needs to be addressed. Telling friends, family, and others about the DREAM Act would also raise awareness of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

The following link provides information on how to participate:dreamactivist.org