LIMA (Reuters) – Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra undertook a major government reshuffle on Wednesday, replacing more than half his cabinet as his popularity has taken a hit due to the harsh economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and a lengthy lockdown.
Vizcarra installed lawyer Pedro Cateriano as prime minister to lead the cabinet, and changed up the key energy and mining ministry, appointing economist Rafael Belaunde. The president kept his rock-star economy minister María Antonieta Alva.
Peru, the world’s no. 2 copper producer, has been battered by the COVID-19 outbreak, with the fifth highest number of cases in the world despite a strict lockdown imposed in March. The economy has crashed as mining output sank.
In a sign of the unusual times, one of the new ministers took the oath by video while serving a quarantine at home after testing positive for COVID-19.
The country’s health minister, who came under fire over his handling of the pandemic, was also ousted, replaced by the surgeon Pilar Mazzetti, who held the same position several years ago and had been leading the COVID-19 Operations Command.
“In this new stage…. we will deepen the measures to accelerate the economic recovery and return Peru to the path of growth,” Vizcarra said in a speech at the Government Palace.
The Andean country earlier announced its economy contracted by 32.75% in May from a year earlier, the third straight monthly drop as Peru heads for a deep contraction this year.
Cateriano, the new prime minister, made a pledge on social media before taking office: “I offer: sweat, honesty and democratic conduct for a more just and free Peru.”
Analysts say the experienced, if confrontational cabinet chief will give the government breathing room in the face of criticism, and after Vizcarra’s popularity has fallen to a still decent 65% from a peak of 87% in March.
(Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Leslie Adler)