By Maria Cervantes and Teresa Cespedes
Peru’s president faced growing calls to resign on Wednesday after secret video recordings ensnared him in vote-buying allegations on the eve of an impeachment vote, deepening a political crisis in one of Latin America‘s most stable economies
Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who spent most of the morning in an emergency Cabinet meeting, was due to deliver a message to the nation later on Wednesday.
As of Tuesday night he was not planning to resign and still had hopes of surviving a vote in the opposition-ruled Congress on Thursday that would force him immediately from office, according to a government source who asked not to be named.
But it was unclear where the centre-right president, who has been in office for 20 months, would garner support. Even ruling party lawmakers, including those who until a day before had been Kuczynski’s staunchest defenders, said they would vote to oust him if he does not step down.
Peruvian police put officers across the nation of about 30 million people on maximum alert, according to an Interior Ministry document seen by Reuters.
Peru’s sol currency opened weaker on Wednesday but quickly recovered its losses amid expectations that the political uncertainty that has loomed over Peru since December might soon be over. The stock index was also up.
A 79-year-old former Wall Street banker, Kuczynski was elected in 2016 on promises to modernize Peru while cleaning up government corruption. But he has grown increasingly isolated, especially after the rightwing opposition revealed at the end of 2017 that his consulting firm had received payments from Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction company at the centre of Latin America’s biggest graft scandal.
Kuczynski has apologised for not disclosing his ties to Odebrecht but denies there was anything improper or illegal about them.
Kuczynski narrowly survived a impeachment bid in December with the help of former autocrat Alberto Fujimori. Fujimori, who had been imprisoned for graft and human rights violations, was granted a presidential pardon three days after the failed impeachment vote as Kuczynski forged an alliance with a legislative faction led by Fujimori’s son Kenji.
Kuczynski had appeared to have a decent chance of surviving a second impeachment effort until Tuesday, when the opposition released secretly-recorded videos of his allies offering lucrative public work contracts in exchange for a vote from a reluctant opposition lawmaker.
In snippets of the recordings presented in a news conference, a government official is heard giving instructions to the lawmaker on how to make easy money on infrastructure projects he would secure for his region, while Kenji Fujimori assures him the government will help shield him from potential prosecution.
The government fired the official late on Tuesday and denied it had awarded any public work contracts in exchange for political support. Fujimori also denied wrongdoing, saying the recordings reflected the kind of political negotiations needed to ensure infrastructure projects move forward.
Kuczynski’s office has not responded to requests for comment on the video.
Kuczynski is due to welcome Donald Trump on the U.S. president’s first trip to Latin America next month. Many of the region’s leaders plan to use the Summit of the Americas that Peru is hosting on April 13-14 to demand democratic reforms in Venezuela.
The U.S. embassy in Lima declined to comment on whether Trump would still visit Peru if Kuczynski is impeached.
“Peru is a strong democracy, and we are confident the Peruvian people and institutions will address this situation according to Peru’s constitutional norms,” a spokesperson for the embassy said.
(Reporting By Maria Cervantes and Teresa Cespedes; Additional Reporting by Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino; Writing by Mitra Taj; Editing by Frances Kerry)