Peru governor ‘ready’ to be prime minister

By Tamy Higa, AP

LIMA, Peru — President Alan Garcia announced Saturday that he has appointed a leftist governor to become Peru’s chief Cabinet minister, a day after the minister’s predecessor resigned along with 16 colleagues amid a brewing oil-kickbacks scandal.

Longtime politician and veterinarian Yehude Simon, 61, will replace outgoing Cabinet chief Jorge del Castillo in the position, Garcia said. Simon himself had announced the posting earlier Saturday in an interview with Peru’s RPP radio. Simon also said that two of the officials who resigned, Foreign Minister Garcia Belaunde and Trade Minister Mercedes Araoz, will stay on in their posts in the new, multiparty Cabinet. Garcia did not confirm that in his statement. The president, whose approval rating hit a low of 19 percent prior to the scandal, mostly because of rising inflation, must now rebuild his administration in the midst of a global financial meltdown and just a month before Peru hosts leaders from 21 countries for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. The new Cabinet, once fully formed, will work to “absolutely eliminate corruption,” Garcia said. Simon has had a lengthy political career, serving as a lawmaker for the United Left party from 1985 to 1990 during Garcia’s first administration. He served prison time for alleged links to leftist Tupac Amaru guerrillas, but was pardoned in 2000 and elected governor of Peru’s Lambayeque province in 2003. Del Castillo led 16 other ministers in a mass Cabinet resignation on Friday in the wake of an ongoing oil-kickbacks scandal. The scandal began with the release of audiotapes on which two members of Garcia’s APRA political party allegedly discussed kickbacks for steering government contracts to Norwegian oil company Discover Petroleum. Discover denies any wrongdoing. New tapes surfaced Tuesday and Wednesday in which one of the party members allegedly told a Discover representative that del Castillo would be open to supporting the company’s bid for oil contracts in Peru. Del Castillo denies the claim and says he is open to an investigation.