In spite of Peru’s generally positive financial situation and economic forecast for the immediate future, President Ollanta Humala is having a difficult time governing the Andean nation. He is routinely charged with a lack of leadership skills, charges lent weight by the recent diplomatic crises between Peru and the governments of Ecuador and Venezuela — and by the resignation of his foreign minister Rafael Roncagliolo.
Humala, in fairness, had little to do directly with sparking Peru’s recent diplomatic incidents. On April 21, there was a bizarre incident in which the Ecuadorianambassador to Peru, Rodrigo Riofrío, got into a violent argument with two Peruvian women at a supermarket in downtown Lima. Statements by those involved and video footage of the incident show that first the ambassador allegedly insulted the women, then the argument escalated when thePeruvians physically attacked the ambassadorand his companion (a video of the fight isavailable here). The situation provoked a minor diplomatic incident, and in some kind of gentlemen’s agreement, both governments decided toreplace their ambassadorsto each other’s countries.
Then there’s the Venezuela problem. Newly-minted president Nicolás Maduro has been trying to secure regional backing (he recently traveled toArgentina, Brazil and Uruguayon a goodwill tour). Nevertheless, Peru had been ambivalent on whether to recognize Maduro or remain neutral. After the April election, when protests over allegations of voter fraud (including the voto asistido— assisted vote) were sparked by the minimal difference in votes between Maduro and the opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, the Peruvian government called for anemergency meeting in Limaof the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which ended in a show of support for Maduro. This was dented somewhat by Roncagliolo’s subsequent declaration that he wantedtolerance and greater dialogue between all Venezuelans; this statement in turn provoked the wrath of Maduro, who declaredon May 3 that Roncaglioloshould not get involved in Venezuelan domestic affairs and that “we [Venezuelans] do not care what the Peruvian minister thinks about Venezuela.”
Fast-forward twelve days: on May 15, Roncagliolo resigns his ministerial post in Lima. The official story is that he did so for “personal health reasons,” but the timing of the decision has many in Lima wondering if the health argument is fig-leaf for a favor — i.e. axing Roncagliolo — done by Humala for Maduro. That suspicion has now hit the press: on Friday May 17 thePeruvian dailyEl Comerciopublishedan editorial questioning whether the now-former minister resigned because of the word war with Venezuela.
The recent problems with Quito and Caracas have hurt Humala’s image in his country as Peruvian opposition members have quickly taken advantage of the situation by arguing that the aforementioned diplomatic incidents, as well as Roncagliolo’s departure, were all signs of Humala’s unfitness as an executive. (Lourdes Flores Nano, a renowned Peruvian politician, went so far as to say that Humala is handledlike a puppet.) According to a mid-April poll, Humala’s popularity isat around 51%,generally good for a Peruvian leader halfway into his presidency. The aforementioned foreign policy scandals will not hurt Humala in the short run but they will supply future ammo to his opponents. This could come back to hurt Humala and his wife,Nadine Heredia— who may herself run for the presidency in 2016. And charges of nepotism added to those of incompetence can be powerful political artillery indeed.