Peru president picks moderate cabinet criticized by his party

Mirtha Vasquez. Credit: Congreso del Perú

Peru’s President Pedro Castillo replaced a prime minister accused of terrorist sympathies with a less controversial choice in a bid to improve his administration’s sour relations with lawmakers. 

Former head of congress Mirtha Vasquez was sworn in as prime minister on Wednesday evening, replacing the outgoing Guido Bellido. 

The move is likely to be popular with investors, who ditched Peruvian assets when Bellido was named, but angered senior members of Castillo’s own socialist Peru Libre party. Waldemar Cerron, party spokesman and a Peru Libre congressman, described the new cabinet appointments as an act of treachery.

“Peru Libre members of congress don’t support this cabinet, because we consider it to be a betrayal of all the majorities that have waited for many years to come to power to be attended to,” Cerron told reporters in Lima. 

Vasquez, 46, represents the Frente Amplio, or Broad Front coalition, which includes socialists, environmentalists and center-left politicians. 

Castillo named six other new cabinet members, including ministers of mining, work, and interior. Finance Minister Pedro Francke, who is popular with investors, will stay on in the role. 

Castillo said the moves would favor “governability” and said it was time to put Peru’s interests above ideology. 

Party leader Vladimir Cerron, Waldemar’s brother, had been close to Bellido, and defended him in posts on Twitter. Bellido had been under investigation for allegedly apologizing for terrorists, though he denies the accusations.

Another controversial cabinet member, former Foreign Minister Hector Bejar resigned in August, amid outrage over his support for Cuba and a video in which he espoused conspiracy theories. Both Bejar and Bellido seemed increasingly out of touch with Castillo as he vowed a pragmatic, consensus-building approach in dealings with the energy sector and other industries that are critical to the country’s economy.

“The changes seem designed to provide more tranquility to the markets,” said Jose Alejandro Godoy, a professor of social and political sciences at Pacifico University. “We will have a cabinet that engages in more debate, is more open to discussion, closer to a more moderate left.”

Bellido, who lasted 69 days as prime minister, had threatened to nationalize Peru’s biggest gas field last month, comments that other members of the government tried to dial back in subsequent days. Bellido said at a press conference in late September that the government would consider activating a constitutional mechanism known as vote of confidence, which could eventually lead to new elections for the unicameral chamber in the politically volatile nation.

“The confidence vote, interpellation and censure should not be used to create political instability,” Castillo said in his speech, in a veiled rebuke of Bellido.

(By María Cervantes)

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