Cajamarca governor and presidential candidate Gregorio Santos will receive a special furlough from prison to participate in Peru’s debates on Sunday night.
Tonight’s event will mark the first time in Peru’s history that a jailed candidate will participate in the presidential debates. The sitting governor faces 24 years in prison for conspiracy, bribery and racketeering charges for allegedly steering $90 million in public contracts to companies in exchange for kickbacks.
In June 2014 “Goyo” Santos was sentenced to 14 months of preventive jailing, which has been extended under Peru’s laws against organized crime. However Peru’s preventive jail sentences, which are imposed only when prosecutors present highly incriminating evidence in advance of the trial, cannot legally prevent a prospective candidate from participating in elections. Santos was reelected governor from prison in October 2014, and he announced his bid for president in 2016 elections last December.
Peru’s prisons authority allowed Santos to participate in a debate last month via telephone. But tonight officials will accompany Santos to personally attend the last debates before voters go to the polls next Sunday.
The most recent Ipsos poll put Santos in seventh place with 1.2% of the popular vote. Santos faces the tough challenge of gaining over 14 points in just seven days to surpass Alejandro Toledo, Alan Garcia, Alfredo Barnechea, Veronika Mendoza and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, none of whom are currently in prison, to qualify for a runoff against Keiko Fujimori.
“To [reduce crime] we propose … a decriminalization of the rural patrol duty, arrest and trials for the peasant leaders to apply community justice processes,” reads Santos’s government plan. “The strengthening of intergovernmental and inter-sector coordination will supersede the repressive-criminal focus to a preventive, informative, educational and human development approach.”
The left-wing governor will debate a moderate liberal in Barnechea, who was recently surpassed by leftist favorite Mendoza. With one week to go before general elections, Mendoza is in a statistical dead heat with investor-favorite Kuczynski in their quest to qualify for a runoff vote against Fujimori.
“We on the left stand with Veronika Mendoza in front of the infamous attacks, even though she does not [stand] with us,” the self-described “political prisoner” tweeted on Saturday, just before concluding his campaign with a video message played at a closing campaign rally in Cajamarca.
From inside his Piedras Gordas prison cell, Santos is seen in a sombrero playing the guitar and singing the lyrics to “Raising the Flags,” a song he wrote to honor the revolutionary spirit and his anti-mining activism.
Santos rose to the national stage after leading protests against the controversial Conga gold mine project in 2011 and 2012. Five people died in the violent clashes which ultimately stopped the Yanacocha mining company from developing the license.
Investigations into various irregularities in his state government came soon after the protests. Prosecutors found deposits in his bank account worth over $150,000 from a company which won a contract to expand a highway between the towns of Bambamarca and Celendin.
A congressional investigation also reported that Santos used money from the state’s public school budget to finance some of the protests against the Conga project as well as activities for his political party.
Gregorio Santos G. (Twitter)