Helena Lyng Blak
5 weeks ago

Rolexgate: How a Dozen Wristwatches Deepened Peru's Political Crisis.

Peru’s controversial president is under investigation for graft and illicit enrichment.
Lima, Peru; December, 29, 2022: Peruvian President Dina Boluarte gives a press conference at the Government Palace. Photo: mbzfotos / Shutterstock.com
Lima, Peru; December, 29, 2022: Peruvian President Dina Boluarte gives a press conference at the Government Palace. Photo: mbzfotos / Shutterstock.com

In the early morning hours of Saturday, March 30, viewers of the local TV channel Latina witnessed a strange event: a raid broadcast from the Surquillo district of Lima, Peru, depicting 40 prosecutors and law enforcement officials as they broke down the doors of Peruvian President Dina Boluarte’s residence.

Why? Because of a handful of luxury watches from the brand Rolex. 

But let us back up a bit.

Before Boluarte

The country of Peru has been in a political crisis since 2016. In those eight years, no president has yet finished their term. Most recently, former President Pedro Castillo was impeached and arrested after he had been charged with corruption and had attempted to dissolve a Congress controlled by right-wing parties.

Castillo, often described as 'far-left' in English-language media, represents a complex political position. Javier Puente, Assistant Professor of Latin American and Latino/a Studies at Smith College, describes Castillo as a “champion of the provincial left” to disenfranchised and discontented Peruvians. Castillo was a teacher, a union leader, and member of a Marxist party, but he was also deeply socially conservative.

The Protests

Castillo’s removal sparked widespread protests. And when current President of Peru Dina Boluarte, then Vice President, assumed office on December 7, 2022, chaos erupted.

Some were calling for Castillo to be reinstated, while many others were demanding political reform, demonstrating the current political system of Peru. According to the New York Times the protests were primarily led by indigenous, rural, and poor Peruvians.

In the streets protesters were met with force by police and military forces. By December 13, 2022, seven protesters, all teenagers, had already died in clashes with law enforcement.

As of March 2023, the number had climbed to at least 60 dead and almost 2,000 injured, according to the journal International Politics and Society.  

Genocide Inquiry and Increasing Criticism

As the violent clashes continued into 2023, and the death toll rose, criticisms of Boluarte’s handling of the protests grew similarly. 

In January 2023, the Attorney General of Peru opened an inquiry into Boluarte and several of her ministers, investigating the government officials on the charges of "genocide, qualified homicide and serious injuries".

At the same time, a large group of political and social scholars, researchers, and academics came out in an open letter warning that they believed Boluarte was on a "dangerous transition towards authoritarianism," according to Axios.

In April 2023, the first vacancy motion was opened against Boluarte for her alleged mishandling of the protests.

Originally a member of the Marxist party Free Peru, Boluarte was expelled in January 2022 after she declared that she had never "embraced the ideology" of the party. As an independent president, however, Boluarte had allied herself with the right-wing parties, according to Le Monde.

In October 2023, some of the nation’s left wing representatives opened a second vacancy motion against the president. This time, she was accused of violating the Peruvian constitution, as they argued she led Peru without congressional approval, quoting the fact that she did not have a vice president as a major argument for this. The Congress’ right-wing members however voted against proceedings. 

Boluarte’s presidency continued. Meanwhile, however, public sentiment was largely against her. In October 2023, her approval rating was as low as 10%, with 84% directly disapproving the president’s governing. Comparatively, US Presidents Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden all had approval ratings of around 40%-50% a year into their respective presidencies.

Rolexgate 

Amidst this political turmoil, another scandal emerged, further complicating Boluarte's presidency.

In March 2024, Peruvian media started noticing something strange around the wrist of the President. A Rolex watch with a value of up to $14,000, according to AP News. Soon, more expensive watches and jewelry worn by Boluarte caught the attention of the media and population. Another Rolex watch. And one more. A Cartier bracelet worth upwards of $54,000. All that on a supposed monthly salary of about $4,200, as reported by The Guardian.

According to Peruvian law ownership of any jewelry with a value of more than $2,791 is required to be declared by officials. Boluarte had declared none of it. An investigation for graft and illicit enrichment was opened into Boluarte in March.

And that takes us back to the very beginning.

On March 30, Boluarte’s home and the Government Palace were raided by police and public ministry officials.

As of April 6, six ministers of her cabinet have resigned, forcing Boluarte to reorganize her cabinet.

The President maintains her denial of any wrongdoing, stating the luxury items were loaned to her.

Peruvian lawmakers have initiated a third vacancy motion following the scandal.

The investigations into Boluarte concerning illicit enrichment and corruption as well as the investigations into her role in the 2022-2023 protests continue.

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