Peru’s president resigns after scandal

Pablo Kuczynski is the latest political leader in Latin America to fall amid a corruption scandal

Today's expression: The last straw
Explore more: Lesson #36
April 9, 2018:

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigns amid a corruption scandal. The ex-President left after having alienated his supporters and antagonized his opponents in Congress. His resignation comes after he pardoned another ex-president, Alberto Fujimori. In the second half of the episode, we talk about the English expression "the last straw."

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Peru’s president resigns after months of political scandals

Welcome to Plain English for April 9, 2018. I’m Jeff and you are listening to the podcast that goes at just the right speed for English learners. On today’s episode, we’ll talk about the political downfall of Peruvian President Pablo Kuczynski—and his connection to the Brazilian corruption scandal. At the end of the episode, we’ll talk about the English expression “the last straw.”

If you’re listening and would like to read the transcript as you listen, you’re in luck because each episode has a transcript available online. Today is episode 36, so just go to PlainEnglish.com/36 and you’ll be able to read along. There are even instant translations of tough words and phrases from English to Spanish, Portuguese, French and Chinese. PlainEnglish.com/36.


Peru’s president resigns

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned last month—the latest political leader in Latin America to fall amid a corruption scandal. The scandal was related to the Car Wash investigation in Brazil. Kuczynski accepted about $700,000-worth of payments from an affiliate of the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. The payments were made for so-called “verbal products” and “contacts.” In other words, for his connections. Though he was paid before he was elected president, it was after he had been prime minister and the economy minister, suggesting that he was trading on his influence as a high government official to get a payday from a corrupt government contractor.

As ever, the scandal was as much in the cover-up as it was in the actual scandal. A video came out showing one of the president’s allies in Congress offering kickbacks to legislators who would agree not to impeach the president. This was the last straw. Peru’s legislature is just one house, and support for removing Kuczynski was over the two-thirds required by law. So instead of waiting to be forcibly removed from office, the president resigned.

This was an abrupt end to a strange political drama. The 79-year-old former president was a Wall Street banker and held several top political positions in the country before becoming president. He was elected in 2016, beating his opponent Keiko Fujimori by just 0.2% of the vote. But his party didn’t have a majority in Peru’s legislature—his opponent’s party had the majority. To complicate matters, Fujimori’s father, Alberto Fujimori, was once president of Peru and is currently in jail, serving a 25-year sentence for directing death squads, among other charges. One reason Kuczynski won the presidency was because people didn’t want a return of the Fujimori family drama and worried that a second Fujimori president would pardon the first one.

His job as president was always going to be difficult, but his vanquished opponent in the election made it harder. The opposition party, known as Popular Force, dominated Congress and actually impeached Kuczynski once before. He narrowly escaped being removed from office in that first impeachment. But right after he survived the first impeachment vote, Kuczynski pardoned the ex-president Alberto Fujimori, father of his opponent in the presidential election.

Why would he do that? The ex-president actually has two children in Congress: Keiko, who ran for president against Kuczynski and lost, and Kenji, who was also in Congress. Kuczynski appeared to make a deal with Kenji Fujimori to pardon his father, in return for Kenji’s support in the impeachment trial. Kenji and a handful of other members of Congress saved Kuczynski from being removed from office the first time, but at a significant cost. Remember one of the reasons why Kuczynski was elected to begin with? It was because the country didn’t want to deal with the drama of the Fujimori family and the possibility of a pardon for the ex-president. So, when Kuczysnki himself pardoned the former president, he lost a lot of his supporters.

When it became clear in the second impeachment trial that he had accepted payments from Odebrecht, he was left without any friends, having alienated many of the supporters who elected him. He had a 15 percent approval rating when he resigned. Odebrecht was a big player in the Brazilian corruption scandal we talked about in Episode 34 last week. The company admitted to paying $29 million in bribes in Peru dating back to 2005.

Many in Peru are now hoping that the drama will settle down, now that the vice president, Martín Vizcarra, has taken over. He is seen as a stabilizing force; he was a governor of a small southern region of Peru and had been ambassador to Canada. Analysts in Peru say that he can be successful if he continues the fight against corruption and focuses on economic growth.


Before we get to the expression for this week, I wanted to say hi to Ana María from Medellín, Colombia. We got to chatting a little bit about dogs and she has a Labrador Retriever called Nino, and it made me so jealous! I always had dogs growing up but I don’t have any pets now. I need to do something about that pretty soon. Also, a quick hi to Jorge from Guadalajara, who wrote me on Facebook, and Rodrigo from Brazil. Thanks for being in the audience and for saying hi. If you want to get in touch with me, you can find me on Facebook and Twitter under the user name PlainEnglishPod or you can send me an e-mail to jeff [at] plainenglish.com

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Expression: The last straw