Peru's third president in a week unveils cabinet in hope of dampening angry protests

Our Foreign Staff
Peruvian president Francisco Sagasti has selected his new cabinet - Shutterstock
Peruvian president Francisco Sagasti has selected his new cabinet - Shutterstock

Peru's new President Francisco Sagasti unveiled his cabinet on Wednesday, appointing a constitutional lawyer to be prime minister as the government seeks to tamp down angry protests that have rocked the country's political class.

The new government was formed a day after liberal centrist Mr Sagasti was sworn into office after a tumultuous week that saw the departure of two presidents and marches in the street that were marred by the deaths of two young protesters.

Mr Sagasti promised to restore trust in government and paid homage the two young men during a televised ceremony.

"We can't bring them back to life," he said. "But we can stop this from happening again."

The fraught South American country watched with both hope and skepticism after the worst constitutional crisis in two decades.

For his cabinet Mr Sagasti appointed Violeta Bermúdez, a legal expert on vulnerable populations and gender politics, to head the cabinet of 18 ministers, with Waldo Mendoza, an economist with a background in tax oversight, to oversee the economy portfolio.

Protesters hold signs during a demonstration following a swearing in ceremony for Interim President Francisco Sagasti - Bloomberg
Protesters hold signs during a demonstration following a swearing in ceremony for Interim President Francisco Sagasti - Bloomberg

The appointment of Mr Sagasti, after his conservative predecessor Manuel Merino resigned on Sunday, has helped calm protests and ease jittery markets.

In Lima, many said they were cautiously optimistic the elder statesman could steer the county back to stability after a week of upheaval. But Sagasti has a steep road ahead.

Young Peruvians still angry at a government they see as self-interested and corrupt marched in the capital after the ceremony.

Congress remains full of squabbling political parties that have pushed two presidents out in the course of one five-year term. And Mr Sagasti has just five months in office before the presidential election.

"In my 63 years I've never seen a good president," said Victor Mezzarina as he stood outside Congress offering to exchange the Peruvian currency, the sol, for dollars. "I hope this one is different."

Demonstrators protest outside the Peruvian Congress calling for a new constitution, after Francisco Sagasti was inaugurated as the country's new president - Shutterstock
Demonstrators protest outside the Peruvian Congress calling for a new constitution, after Francisco Sagasti was inaugurated as the country's new president - Shutterstock

Peru plunged into turmoil last week when Congress voted to oust ex-President Martin Vizcarra. Protesters filled the streets, decrying the move as a parliamentary coup.

Legislators swore in a little-known politician and rice farmer as the country's interim leader. But he resigned five days later after most of his cabinet resigned and the demonstrations turned violent.

For more than 24 hours, Peru had no designated president.

An engineer by training, Mr Sagasti became Peru's chief of state a day after being voted in as the leader of Congress. Because Manuel Merino had no vice president when he resigned Sunday, that made Mr Sagasti next in line.

Peru, the world's second largest producer of copper, is headed for its worst economic contraction in a century after being hit by one of the world's deadliest per capita outbreaks of Covid-19. There are new elections planned for April 2021.