Francisco Sagasti has the plant of a nobleman, in the style of an old Castilian, wrapped in his three-piece suit, the goatee carefully trimmed, the handkerchief tied around his neck, like a beloved’s garment that serves as a shield against the swell. Fine stamp, which María Dolores Pradera would say when she sang the Chabuca Granda waltz from Lima. It is not surprising that in his land they call him Don Quixote: some for being an idealist, others for not shying away from challenges. At 76, the new interim president of Peru is about to break what has been the rule in a blessed country with the gifts of nature, but punished with rulers who have subscribed to scandal for decades. Sagasti was inaugurated as a deputy in March – he calls himself a “novice politician” – and has only eight months to restore his people’s trust in a political class burdened by discredit.
Mission Impossible? Let’s remember. The last six tenants of the Government Palace of Lima left their functions through the back door, the last, Martín Alberto Vizcarra, not even three weeks ago, dismissed by Congress after being accused of fraud. “I go out with my forehead held high,” he repeated. The same faith in the Future that Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), sentenced to 25 years for murder and corruption, demonstrated before him; Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), arrested in the United States and requested his extradition; Alan García (2006-2011), also accused of bribery, took his own life last year; Ollanta Humala (2011-2016), for money laundering and on probation; o Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (2016-2018), under house arrest for the same cause as the previous one …
Aligned with the center-right, Sagasti was one of the few congressmen who did not call for Vizcarra’s removal and is – as of today and we will see for how long – a consensus president. It is, badly enough, before a discredited congress -68 of its 130 deputies are investigated for corruption– whose mere mention lights the flame of discontent in the streets. Manuel Merino, his predecessor in office, lasted just six days, ephemeral as a shooting star. His role in the removal of Vizcarra and his intrigues with the Army – many accuse him of attempted sedition – unleashed a wave of protests in Lima that claimed dozens of injuries and two deaths. And that was going to be limited to heating the bench for a few months.
Francisco Sagasti is called upon, in other words, to ride a tiger. On November 17, he became the third president Peru had in a week. For now, his appointment has been well received on the stock markets, leading to the highest rise in the sun, the national currency, in the last seven months. His most urgent task is now to tackle the deep political crisis, an extreme that involves closing fresh wounds. This has been done with special courage, as evidenced by the dismantling of the police leadership this week for violating human rights during the recent protests. It must also guarantee the holding of elections in April, a horizon that is presumed distant and more in the middle of the pandemic (the country has already reached a million infections and 36,000 deaths).
“Sensible,” “decent,” “conciliatory.” These are words that are heard these days to describe Francisco Sagasti, who enjoys a tenaciously cultivated prestige. Industrial Engineer, author of more than 25 books, columnist and advisor to governments of different colors since the eightiesHe has also been a consultant for the United Nations and a senior executive for the World Bank. It could even be said that he is popular, since in 2006 he directed the television series ‘Abriendo Caminos’, about economic and social changes in contemporary Peru.
Perhaps the episode that best describes it is, however, the kidnapping of the Japanese Embassy in Lima by 14 members of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, occurred at the end of 1996 and lasted for four months. Although there were almost 800 guests – including diplomats, politicians and businessmen – who fell hostage, few Peruvians are unaware that the now president was one of them. And that was released in the early days. Among the assailants were Rolly Rojas, ‘The Arab’, and Néstor Cerpa Cartoloni, better known as ‘Comandante Huertas’, who between class and class of revolutionary doctrine established a close relationship with Sagasti, whom they knew from his journalistic collaborations.
When he was released, he received a piece of cardboard dedicated by his captors, a memento he has often referred to as his ‘hostage diploma’. On it you could read «For mr. Sagasti, with all due respect. A camaraderie that some attributed to the ‘Stockholm syndrome’ and that the protagonist himself had to clarify, rejecting that there was any kind of admiration. “They were interesting subjects, the kind you want to buy a drink to continue talking”. But any chance of recollecting anecdotes next to the bar of a bar vanished when commandos of the Armed Forces entered the ambassador’s residence and ended the lives of all the revolutionaries.
Twenty-four years later, Francisco Sagasti faces the greatest challenge of his life with the country turned into a powder keg. Slow and rational, he will need the persuasive skills he displayed when he was kidnapped if he wants to impose some sense in a deranged chamber and restore stability to Peru. Time will tell if eight months – until July – were or not too many.