Víctor Pérez lasted three months as Interior Minister. He resigned after the lower house approved a constitutional indictment. His management was always linked to conflict and represents a failure of a presidential experiment.
The opposition indicted Víctor Pérez, after which he resigned as interior minister. He did not arrive at his post because of qualification, but because of pressure from his party, Independent Democratic Union (UDI), on President Sebastián Piñera.
By appointing Pérez, the president broke with an old logic of his. Before Pérez, business for government palace La Moneda was run by a small circle, called “La Moneda chica,” from the corporate building of the businessman-president’s holding company. His cousin Andrés Chadwick but also Gonzalo Blumel – Pérez’s predecessors – and Cecilia Pérez, were already part of the president’s first government. And they supported his maneuvers during Michelle Bachelet’s second term.
Short and Controversial
Only 24 hours after taking office, Pérez went to La Araucanía region and made provocative statements. That same night, an unprecedented eviction by a group of civilians took place. They arrived during peak curfew at a building that was taken over by Mapuche community members. With police officers watching, the civilians removed the Mapuche from the compound and beat them up.
Later, truckers started a national strike. They got the VIP treatment despite roadblocks, blocking port and road accesses. Pérez did not implement any measure, even though Chile is still in a state of constitutional exception. Of course, the two main leaders of the mobilizations were members of the minister’s party.
But the lack of equality before the law and the obvious privileged treatment of his sector, triggered a wave of criticism. The minister responded in the worst possible way: he ramped up repression of opposition groups, including Apruebo campaigners for the constitutional plebiscite while protecting Rechazo supporters.
Pérez was always tough. An admirer of dictator Augusto Pinochet, staunch – almost obsessive – critic of former president Michelle Bachelet, he also was an extreme conservative and promoted increasing repression in La Araucanía region, which was his constituency when he was senator. He left that position to become interior minister.
Personally, I am not convinced by the constitutional accusations, nor do I favor resorting to the constitutional court every time a sector does not like something. However, this time all the conditions for Pérez’s defeat converged.
When a little over a month ago the same instrument was applied to then-Health Minister Jaime Mañalich for his handling of the pandemic, the opposition failed to reach consensus. This time, Pérez’s controversial measures added to the overwhelming triumph of the Apruebo result from Oct. 25 that united the opposition. Pérez’s defense in the accusation procedure argued that Carabineros police, responsible for the repression, depend on the Defense Ministry during the state of exception. This unleashed the ire of Defense Minister Mario Desbordes, implying a change of lawyers less than 24 hours before the parliamentary session.
Two Defeats for the Government
With Pérez out, La Moneda suffered two major setbacks in less than a week. To the resignation, which foreclosed Pérez dismissal by the Senate, adds coalition partner Evópoli’s “freeze” of relations with the government over the killing of a Carabinero in an ambush in La Araucanía. In a stab against Pérez, who oversaw public security, Evópoli said security management in La Araucanía “is no longer sufficient.”
The outlook for the government of Sebastián Piñera is complex. He has appointed a new interior minister but will have to learn the lesson that yielding to party pressure is dangerous.
To the political problems and internal breakdowns after the defeat in the plebiscite – the majority of the right wing promoted the losing options – adds a concern that a second wave of coronavirus will arrive by the end of December. The wave could affect the municipal and governor elections of April 2021, which were already postponed.
A complex situation, considering next year’s seven electoral processes, including the election of the next president.
Germán Silva Cuadra is an expert in corporate communications and a regular commentator on Chilean politics. His latest book is ‘No te reconozco Chile. Cómo entender al país que noqueó a la elite.’ Germán tweets under @gsilvacuadra.