Weekly Report - 18 November 2021 (WR-21-46)

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PERU: Ayala resigns over alleged military interference

Peru’s defence minister, Walter Ayala, stood down on 14 November after being accused of interfering in military promotions. Ayala had been summoned to testify before congress’s defence committee in relation to allegations from the recently dismissed general commander of the army, José Vizcarra Álvarez, who claims that he was fired for refusing to promote two colonels whose ascension was sought by President Pedro Castillo’s administration. On 17 November, former interior minister Juan Carrasco Millones was named as Ayala’s replacement.

  • Juan Carrasco Millones

Ayala’s replacement, Juan Carrasco Millones, served as interior minister in President Castillo’s first cabinet from July-October, before being fired in a cabinet overhaul on 6 October. Carrasco was briefly investigated by the attorney general’s office in his first week as interior minister for maintaining a salaried role as public prosecutor – the investigation was dropped when he resigned from the prosecutor position. Carrasco has no obvious background in defence, although in his time at the attorney general’s office he worked on several high-profile organised crime cases. After being fired as interior minister he has spent the last six weeks working as an advisor to the justice ministry.

The scandal that enveloped Ayala stems from a 4 November overhaul of the military high command, which saw Vizcarra and the general commander of the air force, Jorge Chaparro, replaced by Walter Horacio Córdova Alemán and Alfonso Javier Artadi Saletti, respectively. The commanders’ replacement came as a surprise – having been appointed by Castillo in August shortly after he took office, they had held their posts for just three months.

Vizcarra presented his version of events on 8 November, claiming that he was replaced after refusing to buckle to pressure from Ayala and Castillo’s presidential secretary, Bruno Pacheco, to promote two colonels to the rank of general. According to reports in the local media, those colonels – Ciro Bocanegra and Carlos Sánchez Cahuancama – are both from Castillo’s homeland of Chota province (Cajamarca region), and both work in the presidential palace, fuelling speculation that Castillo was seeking to favour his allies in the armed forces.

Vizcarra claimed that he rejected repeated requests from Ayala and Pacheco to promote the colonels, who he said did not meet the standard to be elevated to generals. Vizcarra alleged that these instructions were coming “from the top”, and said he met with Castillo on 15 October to express his concerns, before being replaced three weeks later.

Following these allegations, the pressure quickly piled up on Ayala. He offered his resignation to Castillo on 8 November, but he was still in his position until 14 November when, with no sign of the storm blowing over, Castillo accepted it. This came after congress’s defence committee had opened an inquiry into Ayala and Pacheco, with Vizcarra offering to present the committee with WhatsApp messages allegedly proving Ayala’s interference in the military. Further adding to the pressure, a petition started by opposition deputy Jorge Montoya of the far-right Renovación Popular had gathered enough signatures to trigger a questioning of Ayala in a plenary session of congress, potentially paving the way to an impeachment vote against him.

These escalations made it unviable for Castillo to not accept Ayala’s resignation. However, the defence minister’s departure from government may not have been enough to draw the curtain on the scandal. On 16 November, the defence committee voted to share its classified findings with the attorney general’s office, which raises the spectre of possible criminal charges against Ayala and marks a further blow to Castillo, whose 4 October cabinet reshuffle has failed to put an end to the series of scandals that plagued his first team of ministers [WR-21-40].

Castillo can expect further questions over why he so doggedly sought the colonels’ promotion. Any controversy involving perceived interference in the military risks being particularly damaging for his administration, given the fears whipped up by the Peruvian right in the election campaign that he seeks to impose an authoritarian, hard-left government [WR-21-22].

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