The phrase clearly and concretely expresses the key point of the events that led Richard Nixon to resign from the presidency of the United States: “the feeling that everything got out of control” and that in reality everything was nothing more than “a tremendously clumsy operation.”
In almost a year of mandate that the president of Peru, Pedro Castillo, has been in office, the local press has not created too many myths about what happens in the Government Palace. He has not done anything wrong. The collection of clumsiness and indications of criminal behavior —or that border on illegality— has served so that everyone, even those who have wanted to cover their eyes for a long time, have a clear idea, nothing mythical, of what happens at the headquarters of the Executive.
The penultimate scandal—perhaps the most serious until yesterday, due to the direct line it traces to the president—is enough to illustrate the combination of ineptitude and contempt for legality that has characterized Castillo and his entourage. A couple of weeks ago, Peruvians were able to see Yenifer Paredes, the president’s sister-in-law and adopted daughter, promising public works in a video recorded in a small town of Chota, in Cajamarca, the province from which the presidential family hails. Paredes does not hold any public office and, in the height of impudence, she wore a vest with the logo of the JJM Espino Construction & Engineering company, owned by a friend of hers, which would be responsible for the promised work.
Days later, thanks to the investigations of different reporters, we also learned that the president’s sister-in-law’s friend had been received on numerous occasions at the Government Palace, that some of his receipts were signed by the first lady and that, after these visits , his company had won a public contract. The businessman and the president’s sister-in-law are now the subject of a tax investigation, as are several members of Castillo’s entourage, among others, two of his nephews, a former secretary of the Presidency and his former Minister of Transport and Communications. Three of these last four are fugitives.
Despite this background, and as we have seen since he took office, the Castillo government manages to continue surprising with its clumsiness and impudence. On Tuesday, July 19, at 8:40 p.m., the president published a tweet which said the following: “On behalf of the Government of the people, I thank the services provided to the Nation by Mr. Mariano González Fernández as Minister of the Interior. Today at 9:30 pm I will swear in the new head of this sector.” Despite the late hour of the president’s message, politically speaking the day had just begun.
With this message, and without any explanation from the Presidency, González became the sixth Minister of the Interior to leave office in 12 months. With only 15 days at the head of one of the main portfolios, he also became the second shortest minister in the Castillo government, only behind Prime Minister Héctor Valer (and a handful of ministers appointed by him), who left office seven days after being named earlier this year.
González’s dismissal came shortly after the creation of an elite Police team was announced, whose sole function is to support the investigations of the Special Team of Prosecutors Against the Corruption of Power, which, on behalf of the recently appointed Prosecutor of the Nation concentrates several of the causes that involve characters close to Castillo.
This is why, despite the fact that the president still does not seem to understand it, since it is a government through which almost 60 ministers have passed in less than a year, the dismissal of González is not the same as the many other dismissals in these 12 months.
As two criminal lawyers, Romy Chang and Roberto Pereira, told me, President Castillo’s crude and public performance last night contains enough elements to speak of a possible crime of obstruction of justice. “What has happened shows that the Executive is not only showing little interest, but is also actively hindering fiscal efforts,” Chang told me. Pereira told me that we are facing the clearest evidence of “a pattern of using his powers to hinder the work of the justice system in relation to the accusations that involve him and his family and friends.”
These indications were confirmed by former minister González, who in a television interview, the same night of the 19th, said: “I have no doubt about the commitment that the man (president) has with corruption, and I have no doubt that this abrupt departure it has to do with obstructing the administration of justice.” Then, he finished: “Mr. Castillo is obstructing justice because he is preventing the work of specialized intelligence agents from searching for the fugitives” (sic).
Then, in his first public appearance, the new Minister of the Interior, Willy Huerta, said that he was going to “evaluate” the situation of the special Police team that filled the short patience of a president who seems to feel cornered.
In November 1973, almost a year and a half after the first revelations about Watergate had seen the light of day in the pages of washington postand while the scandal was being investigated by the US Congress, the still President Nixon uttered the famous phrase “I am not a criminal” during a tense exchange with journalists.
Nearly nine months later, in August 1974, in the face of new revelations implicating him in active efforts to obstruct the investigation, and with Congress poised to convict him in the impeachment process he faced, Nixon resigned from the presidency.
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Despite the seriousness and blatantness of what happened yesterday, President Castillo has not even deigned to defend himself. This Wednesday morning I tried to communicate with the different people who handle the press matters of the Government Palace, to whom I asked if there was any comment or discharge from the president. The response, as usual, was absolute silence.
We Peruvians are already accustomed to Castillo’s silence. And, now, given the serious events that occurred on Tuesday the 19th and a week after the usual message to the Nation commemorating his first year in office, it will not be enough, far from it, with a “I am not a criminal”.
Waiting for Congress to decide or not to do something about it, the time has finally come when President Castillo should emulate Nixon as soon as possible and, with his resignation, “accelerate the healing process that so desperately needs ” Peru. We Peruvians would have, for once, something to thank him for.