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COVID-19 : Vacunagate: Coronavirus Vaccine Craze Highlights Long History of Misconduct by Peru’s Elected Officials

Sagasti denies “emphatically” having received a vaccine 2:59

. – Only three months have passed since former Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra was indicted by his country’s Congress and removed from office on corruption allegations that he has repeatedly denied. However, he appeared again on Monday, making a public statement blaming “a political class that is only interested in creating chaos” for its involvement in a vaccine scandal that has irritated the entire country.

The broad scandal in question involves current and government officials, including the former president, who were vaccinated against the coronavirus even though they were not eligible to do so, a scandal that has prompted the resignation of several ministers.

Peru is currently grappling with a resurgence of the coronavirus, reporting more than 6,000 cases a day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. It also faces a dangerous shortage of intensive care unit beds and oxygen as cases rise.

Vizcarra appears on a list of nearly 500 people who “took advantage of their position” to gain access to the Chinese-made vaccine, according to current interim president Francisco Sagasti earlier this week. The list, which has been made public, includes the crème-de-la-crème of Peruvian politics, including Sagasti’s Health Minister Pilar Mazzetti and Foreign Minister Elizabeth Astete.

Vizcarra tweeted Sunday that his decision to get vaccinated “had not caused any harm to anyone, much less the state.” He added that “he did not take advantage of the situation because it was a project [para desarrollar] a vaccine that had not yet gone through all the approval phases.

«I had valid reasons for not making my participation public [en los ensayos clínicos], since it would have jeopardized the normal development of Phase III of Sinopharm’s experimental vaccination worldwide, “the former president wrote.

And again on Monday, he complained that the press continued to publish “distorted information” about what happened.

In an open letter, Mazzetti, the former health minister, called the decision to get vaccinated as the worst mistake of her life. “It will not be enough to apologize to everyone I have disappointed,” he wrote.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Astete said he is “[…] aware of the serious mistake I made, which is why I decided not to receive the second dose. For the reasons stated, I have presented to the President of the Republic my letter of resignation from the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Disabling those involved in the vaccination scandal? 0:54

The political chaos that Peru is experiencing intensified with the ‘vaccinagate’

Peru faces “a critical moment,” said President Sagasti. “In addition to the health crisis, the economic crisis, the social crisis, the instability and the political crisis that we have experienced in recent months, we now have an ethical and moral crisis.”

His own presidency is testimony to the recent series of crises in Peru: Sagasti has been the country’s president for less than three months, named interim leader in the wake of political turmoil last fall.

He took office after his predecessor Manuel Merino was forced to resign amid massive demonstrations against the Peruvian political class. Merino himself had just replaced Vizcarra; Between November 9 and 17, Peru had three different presidents: Vizcarra, Merino and Sagasti.

The vaccine scandal – which some in the Andean country already call “vaccinagate” – emerged last week following an investigation by local news organization Willax TV.

Many Peruvians say they are outraged, but not surprised, that government officials and their inner circles, including family members, allegedly took advantage of their positions to access a vaccine to which they were not entitled.

José Ugaz, a human rights lawyer from Peru and former president of Amnesty International, called it “a chronicle of scandal announced,” echoing the words of Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez. “I had already asked, and several organizations had done the same, that great care should be taken in how vaccines should be handled,” he told CNN.

Ugaz said that many Peruvians are used to “disappointment after disappointment” from their elected leaders by now.

“We have seen governments deeply rooted in corruption, with weak government capacities, permanently and systematically lying to the people, and putting the interests of themselves and those of their parties and internal circles before the country; what has also happened during the pandemic.

The problems with the justice of the former presidents of Peru

The list of disappointing national leaders is long, and in that sense, Vizcarra is not mistaken that chaos reigns in the political class. The last six presidents of Peru have had problems with the law.

Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) is serving a 25-year sentence for human rights violations. Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), who is currently in the United States, faces an extradition request on money laundering charges, which he denies. Alan García (1985-1990 and 2006-2011) committed suicide in April 2019 when he was about to be arrested on accusations related to the Odebrecht corruption scandal.

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (2016-2018) is currently under house arrest for his related role in the Odebrecht corruption scandal, which he denies. Ollanta Humala (2011-2016) was arrested in 2017 on similar charges; Not only does he discuss the charges, but he plans to run again for president. And finally, the Attorney General of the Republic of Peru announced this Monday that it is investigating Martín Vizcarra for the vaccine scandal.

Many Peruvians still remember the Vladi-Videos scandal, a series of videos that came to light in 2000. The videos showed Vladimiro Montesinos, then head of Peru’s Intelligence Service, bribing opposition members of Congress to change side and Support the policies of then President Alberto Fujimori, whose campaign slogan was “honesty, technology and employment.”

Montesinos has been convicted of numerous crimes that go beyond the Vladi-Videos scandal. In 2016 he was sentenced to 22 years in prison for kidnapping and murdering three people. In 2019, Peru’s Supreme Court upheld an increase in his sentence from 15 years to 17 years, for his role in the 1992 kidnapping of businessman Samuel Dyer.

Presidents of Peru who were removed by Congress 0:53

Still, for Ugaz, the former director of Amnesty International, there are reasons for hope. Peru’s judicial system still works despite the odds, he says. Authorities are moving forward with an investigation against Vizcarra over the vaccine scandal and Toledo is likely to face trial if he returns to the country. The same is true of the others, although accusations of political persecution and revenge come and go.

On April 11, Peruvians have a chance for a reboot, when they return to the polls to elect a new president and the 130 members of their unicameral Congress. Like many Peruvians, Ugaz expects a major turnaround from Peru’s political turmoil and the highly criticized handling of the coronavirus.

“The scandals could be representative of a political class that is breathing its last gasps,” he said.

– Jimena de la Quintana in Lima and Claudia Rebaza in London contributed to this report