Peru Names New Prime Minister

LIMA (AFP) — President Alan Garcia was preparing Saturday to name Javier Velasquez, a party loyalist and current head of the legislature, as Peru’s new prime minister.

Velasquez will take over an office shaken by social conflicts and a bloody crisis in June over indigenous Indian land rights.

Velasquez is set to be sworn at 8:00 pm (0100 GMT Sunday), replacing the embattled Yehude Simon, the office of the president said in a statement.

“With Velasquez a new era begins,” Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillas told RPP radio network. “He has political experience and is experienced in negotiations, as he has shown in Congress.”

Velasquez, 49, has served in various roles as a member of Garcia’s ruling APRA party, but has never been a cabinet minister.

A lawyer who has been a loyal party member and served as head of Peru’s legislature for the 2008-2009 session, Velasquez will be Garcia’s third prime minister in three year.

His selection marks a change of heart for Garcia, who picked the left-winger Simon in 2008 with the goal of putting a “social face” on the president’s free-market policies.

The move suggests that Garcia wants tighter political control of the government through the end of his presidency in 2011.

Opposition politicians began to criticize Velasquez even before he took office.

“Velasquez is more of the same, he does not represent a change in the economic path that the country needs,” said Congressman Fredy Otarola, spokesman for the leftist Nationalist Party, led by Ollanta Humala.

Humala, who ran against Garcia for the presidency in 2005, is a likely candidate in the 2010 elections.

The centrist Popular Action party said that Velasquez was a default choice because no independent politician would be willing to work with the APRA government.

Garcia has faced near-record disapproval figures since 2006, with his negative ratings at about 67 percent, as Peru has gone from economic strength to weakness and suffered turmoil from multiple social conflicts.

The country is still recovering from a bloody conflict over indigenous land rights that left at least 34 people dead in the worst violence in nearly 20 years.

Julio C. Tello

Founder of Karikuy, an organization in Peru that brings travelers to visit and explore the country. Julio also runs the Karikuy Volunteer program and is the editor of this blog. Julio likes to write about his adventures in Peru as well as Peruvian folklore, mysteries and secluded locations.

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