Peruvian President reshuffles ministerial cabinet for the second time

Peruvian President Pedro Castillo has reorganized his cabinet, replacing the prime minister along with nine other ministers

February 02, 2022 by Tanya Wadhwa
Peruvian President Pedro Castillo swore in with his new cabinet, third in six months, on February 1. Photo: Pedro Castillo/Twitter

On February 1, Peruvian President Pedro Castillo reshuffled his ministerial cabinet for the second time since his inauguration six months ago. The head of state swore in his third cabinet with a new prime minister and nine other new ministers out of a total of nineteen. In a short message to the nation, he ratified “the commitment to work for Peru, prioritizing the needs of all Peruvians and the great reforms that will consolidate national well-being.”

The new cabinet is headed by congressman Héctor Valer, who entered parliament with far-right party Popular Renewal and later joined a new parliamentary caucus, Democratic Peru, composed of legislators from center and left-wing parties. In addition to the prime minister, the ministers of external affairs, defense, economy and finance, interior, agriculture, energy and mines, women, environment, and culture, were replaced. Meanwhile, the ministers of justice, education, health, labor, produce, foreign trade and tourism, transport, and housing, were ratified.

Why a new cabinet?

The recent overhaul of Castillo’s administration was triggered by the resignation of prime minister and head of the council of ministers, Mirtha Vásquez, on January 31, which automatically prompted the resignation of the entire cabinet. Vásquez took office on October 6, 2021, when Castillo reshuffled his cabinet for the first time due to political pressure from the country’s right-wing forces. Vásquez, in her resignation letter, said that she was resigning due to disagreements with the president on the leadership of the interior ministry, which had been vacant since the resignation of interior minister Avelino Guillén on January 28. “I believe that my role has been exhausted in this instance, and that a recomposition of the cabinet is necessary for the government, which I had already been warning about for weeks,” wrote Vásquez.

Following Vásquez’s resignation, President Castillo, through his Twitter account, announced that he would renew his cabinet, a measure he indicated he had been evaluating for some time. “As I have always announced in my speeches, the cabinet is constantly being evaluated. For this reason, I have decided to renew it and form a new team,” he tweeted. In the same tweet, he thanked PM Vásquez and other ministers for their support, adding that “we will continue on the path of development for the well-being of the country.”

Former PM Vásquez had opposed President Castillo’s intention to appoint Alfonso Chávarry Estrada, a police general, as interior minister. She had proposed to reinstate former prosecutor Guillén, who resigned for not receiving the president’s support in his disagreements with the head of Peruvian National Police (PNP), General Javier Gallardo, over changes in the police department. Gallardo had requested that President Castillo dismiss Gallardo for “unjust retirements and promotions within the PNP.”

On January 30, Castillo tweeted a response, accepting Guillén’s resignation and relieving Gallardo of his duties. “As head of state, I have decided to terminate the appointment of the commanding general of the Peruvian National Police, Javier Gallardo Mendoza. Likewise, I accept the resignation of the minister of the interior, Avelino Guillén, whom I thank for the services rendered to the nation,” wrote Castillo.

In recent days, Castillo’s administration suffered various setbacks. In addition to interior minister Guillén and PM Vásquez, hours before the announcement of the new cabinet, economy and finance minister Pedro Francke and the Secretary General of the Presidency Carlos Jaico also resigned. Franke resigned without specifying a reason, and Jaico said he resigned due to conflicts with the president’s advisers. In his retirement letter, Jaico warned of “the harmful influence that some cabinet advisers and appointed officials have on the president’s decisions,” whom he called a “shadow cabinet.” He stated that “the absence of vision, as well as the sudden changes without justification, as well as the lack of coordination and transparency, have made my stay unsustainable.”

Following the recent changes, the right-wing forces have intensified their attacks against the leftist president. Several legislators from different conservative parties, which dominate the Congress, have also announced that they would reject the vote of confidence to Castillo’s new cabinet. Some opposition leaders have once again called to impeach and remove Castillo from the presidency. He already survived a vacancy motion sought by Avanza País, Popular Renewal, and Popular Force on the alleged grounds of “moral incapacity” in December 2021.

Worrying trends

The new cabinet is also unpopular in the progressive sectors of the country. The National Organization of Andean and Amazonian Indigenous Women of Peru (ONAMIAP), wrote, “the change of the cabinet marked the definitive turn of Pedro Castillo’s government towards the most conservative and regressive side.” ONAMIAP criticized the appointment of Héctor Valer as president of the council of ministers, highlighting how he is “a member of Opus Dei, whose representative in the Peruvian Catholic Church stated bluntly, when thousands of indigenous people were disappeared and killed in the internal conflict that began in the 1980s, that ‘the human rights are bullshit.’” The organization also rejected the appointment of Katy Ugarte as the head of the women’s ministry, stressing that “she denies rights to women and gender diverse people who aspire to escape binary and colonial thinking.” Likewise, it also denounced the nomination of Alejandro Salas as cultural minister, pointing out that he has no “professional experience” and doesn’t know how to “work in the field of human rights, much less related to indigenous peoples and women.”

ONAMIAP said that “those of us who voted for Pedro Castillo did so because we hoped that his government would represent progress towards the full exercise of individual and collective rights” and lamented that “with the new cabinet, his message is quite the opposite, by appointing characters who despise these rights and are deeply discriminatory.”

Laura Arroyo, a progressive political analyst, with regard to the removal of Pedro Francke and Anahi Durand of the progressive New Peru Party (NP) as the finance and women’s ministers, respectively, pointed out how “the same ones who say that New Peru should not have entered the government, today say that the cabinet shows that Castillo was always a conservative. What was the difference then? That before there was a progressive and leftist political agreement. New Peru was key to that. And it ended yesterday.”

Hours before Castillo made announcements regarding his new cabinet, various progressive leaders urged the president to form his new cabinet in accordance with the promises made with regard to social changes during his election campaign.

Legislator María Agüero Gutiérrez of the Free Peru party, which bolstered Castillo to power, supported President Castillo in his decision to change the cabinet and stressed that “it must be in accordance with the political program for which deep (rural) Peru elected him at the polls.” She highlighted that “the true changes that the people demand and cry for cannot be postponed anymore.”

Similarly, Zaira Arias, a member of the Free Peru party, emphasized that “President Pedro Castillo must return the leadership of the country to Free Peru, which implies assigning key ministries such as interior, economy, health, education, energy and defense.” She added that “Free Peru should not accept anything less,” and “it is time to end neoliberalism!”

Likewise, former presidential candidate and the head of New Peru, Verónika Mendoza, lamented that “we are now at a breaking point” and stressed that Castillo must form “a cabinet and a team of advisers “with honest people, committed to change and to charting a clear course for his government, honoring the votes and the hopes of the Peruvian people.”