Peru’s Humala picks ex-army officer to lead cabinet

LIMA (Reuters) – President Ollanta Humala replaced his prime minister yesterday with a former army officer who was his instructor in the military in an unexpected cabinet shakeup that stunned Peru.

Oscar Valdes, who until now had been Humala’s interior minister, will replace Salomon Lerner, a businessman who was the most powerful centrist in the government and had helped Humala shed his left-wing image to win the election in June.

A government source said Humala, who was a professional soldier before he turned to politics, asked Lerner to quit to allow him to build more “cohesion” in his ideologically diverse cabinet.

Opposition lawmakers criticized Lerner’s departure as “premature.” Some worried that Humala had been pressured by leftists to purge moderates from his cabinet and might assume a more authoritarian style after declaring a state of emergency last week to quash anti-mining protests.

The government said all ministers in the cabinet tendered their resignations after Lerner stepped down. Under Peruvian law, if the prime minister quits the rest of the cabinet members must do so as well, to give the president a free hand in deciding whether to fire them or keep them in their posts.

The president’s office did not say who else in the cabinet might be replaced.

Besides Lerner, influential centrists include Finance Minister Luis Miguel Castilla, Mines and Energy Minister Carlos Herrera and Trade Minister Jose Luis Silva, who has pushed ahead with an ambitious free-trade agenda that Humala had once criticized.

Peru’s government has been shaken by protests against a $4.8 billion gold mine project proposed by US firm Newmont Mining. Humala gave the military and police special powers last week to end rallies that had shut roads, schools and hospitals in the Cajamarca region.

Lerner personally negotiated with leaders of the protest for hours last weekend but he could not reach an agreement, prompting the emergency measures by the president.

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