Peru’s First Female PM Begins New Role
LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Peru’s first female prime minister debuted Monday, pledging to bring discipline and austerity to the beleaguered government amid hopes her appointment will help salvage Alejandro Toledo’s presidency.
Beatriz Merino, a 55-year-old lawyer who had been running Peru’s tax agency, was sworn in Saturday as the head of the nation’s 16-minister Cabinet. It is the most powerful political position ever held by a woman in this Andean nation.
``I firmly believe that this post honors the women of our country _ ignored for centuries but today integrated in the nation’s destiny,″ Merino said during a ceremony at which she took over from outgoing Prime Minister Luis Solari.
Toledo replaced six ministers on Saturday in a bid to quell rising discontent. The president’s popularity has fallen to 11 percent in recent polls, down from near 60 percent when he took office. The crisis had led many to question whether he will make it to the end of his five-year term.
``From all of the possibilities before the president, it was the best decision he has made,″ said Manuel Saavedra, the head of the CPI polling firm.
``She is a woman who has demonstrated a great deal of honesty, who has shown a capacity and professionalism in her work,″ Saavedra said. ``This could, to some extent, compensate for this perception that the government lacks credibility.″
Saavedra said a weekend survey by his group showed that Peruvians believe Toledo’s government lacks authority and is inefficient.
Opposition leader Lourdes Flores welcomed Merino’s appointment, but added that Toledo needs to stop promising changes Peru’s constrained budget cannot pay for.
``If the government doesn’t resolve its credibility crisis today _ a resolution based on reality and immensely open _ there will be no patience or hope,″ she said.
Flores, who ran for president in 2001, also said the Cabinet changes did not go far enough.
While Merino’s appointment has been well-received, Toledo left several prominent posts unchanged, including Economy Minister Javier Silva Ruete and Interior Minister Alberto Sanabria, both heavily criticized.
Leftist congressman Javier Diez Canseco said Toledo would have to leave office if the Cabinet shuffle fails to revive the struggling government.
Merino has degrees from Harvard and the London School of Economics. She served as a senator and congresswoman during most of the 1990s and worked for more than a decade for Proctor & Gamble.