Valentín Paniagua Corazao (23 September 1936 – 16 October 2006) was a Peruvian politician who served as Interim President of Peru. Paniagua was elected by the Peruvian Congress to serve as interim president of the country after Alberto Fujimori was ousted from office by Congress in November 2000.
As Interim President, his main task was to organize new elections, after which, in July 2001, he stood down from the presidency. Paniagua was a longtime member and served as Secretary General of Acción Popular.
Paniagua's father was born in Bolivia but lived most of his life in Peru. Valentín Paniagua was born in Cusco and attended high school at Salesian School of Cusco. Then, he went on to study law at the Universidad Nacional San Antonio Abad in Cusco and later at the Universidad Mayor de San Marcos in Lima. He finished there, specializing in constitutional law. In the following years, he worked in his private practice as a lawyer and started a political career.
In August 1955, as a student leader, he was one of the founders of the Frente Universitario Reformista Independiente, a social-Christian reform organization, opposed to landowners' rights, to the communists and to the APRA. Paniagua became a member of the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), which was best aligned to his Roman Catholic and reformist ideals.
In June 1963 he was elected to Congress as a representative for Cusco in the joint list of Acción Popular (AP) and PDC, an alliance that catapulted the leader of AP, Fernando Belaúnde, to the presidency of the country. Despite Paniagua's youth, Belaúnde appointed him Minister of Justice and Cult in his first government.
In 1966, a section of the PDC led by the then-mayor of Lima, Luis Bedoya Reyes, cut ties with the leadership of Héctor Cornejo Chávez and founded the Partido Popular Cristiano (PPC). However, Paniagua remained in the ranks of the government.
The coup d'état of General Juan Velasco on October 3, 1968, took Paniagua out of Congress and for some years he was left out of politics. His loyalty to the constitutional legality of Belaúnde led him to abandon the PDC on July 27, 1974, in protest of its acceptance of the military government. Some time later he became a member of AP, and kept on a civil protest against Velasco and his 1975 successor, General Francisco Morales Bermúdez.
In the elections of May 18, 1980, he was re-elected to Congress, and his party boss, Belaúnde, won his second presidency.
In July 1982, after being part of the Constitutional Commission of the Chamber of Deputies, he became president of the Chamber of Deputies.
On May 10, 1985, he became Minister of Education. In October of that year he resigned to return to his parliamentary activities. He was given the Orden del Sol in the Gran Cruz grade.
The defeat of AP in the April 14, 1985 elections and arrival to power of Alan García's APRA sent Paniagua to the opposition. Over the following five years he remained a strong foe of the government and worked as a prestigious lawyer in academic and political circles, as well as a professor of constitutional law at the universities of San Marcos, Femenina del Sagrado Corazón and Pontificia Católica.
In the national elections of 1990, together with most of Acción Popular, Paniagua supported the candidacy of Mario Vargas Llosa for president. When Alberto Fujimori was elected President, Paniagua was part of the opposition, but became a strong opponent after Fujimori's auto-coup in April 1992.
Fujimori was reelected once again in the controversial national elections of 2000. Paniagua was a prominent member of the opposition.
On September 14, the nation was rocked by evidence that Fujimori's security chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, had bribed an opposition congressman to switch to Fujimori's party, Perú 2000. Fujimori's support evaporated at this point, and he was forced to announce he would step down after new presidential elections in 2001. An OAS mission was sent to deal with the political crisis.
Fujimori's allies lost control of Congress after numerous defections to the opposition. On November 15, 2000, a majority of the Congress dismissed the acting President of the Peruvian Congress, a Fujimori supporter. After an internal discussion among the political forces, Paniagua was elected the new President of the Peruvian Congress. He was elected because all parties considered him to have a fair but strong character, needed in such times of crisis.
A few days later, Fujimori submitted his resignation by fax. However, Congress voted 62-9 to reject Fujimori's resignation and remove him from office on grounds that he was "permanently morally unfit." According to the line of succession, First Vice President Francisco Tudela should have succeeded to the presidency, but he had also resigned a few days before after breaking with Fujimori. Second Vice President Ricardo Márquez then claimed the presidency. However, Congress refused to recognize him since he was one of the few who were still loyal to Fujimori. When it became apparent that Congress would not allow Márquez to take office, he resigned as well. Therefore, since the President of Congress stood third in the line of succession, Paniagua became acting president.
Paniagua formed a Unity and National Reconciliation Government that received the support of almost all the political parties of the time. He then proceeded to form a broad-based cabinet, which involved non-partisan technologists and low-profile politicians. It was headed by former UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar as Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was chosen to avoid the increasing political pressure from the different political parties. He also dismissed the remaining military commanders who had had any type of involvement with or political connection to Montesinos.
Paniagua had to work with Fujimori's Perú 2000 party in Congress, since it still was the most important political organization (even though it no longer had a majority). Additionally, during most of his period, an important number of the infamous Vladivideos were published and investigated, since most of them recorded acts of corruption involving politicians, members of the clergy and important businessmen.
Paniagua was also involved in the repeal of much of the anti-terrorist legislation enforced by Fujimori, which included trials by faceless judges and juries. This allowed the re-trial of several members of Shining Path, who were already in prison, in civilian courts instead of military ones. Paniagua also established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the internal conflict in Peru.
Later years and death
When his time as President of the Republic came to an end, he transferred the government to the democratically elected president and winner of the national elections of 2001, Alejandro Toledo. In the same year, he was elected Secretary General of Acción Popular, replacing Fernando Belaúnde as the national leader of the political organization.
For a brief period of time, it was speculated that the Peruvian government would support his candidacy for Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) in the 2005 Secretary General election. He declined this in order to participate in the 2006 election, as Frente de Centro's presidential candidate in an unsuccessful campaign, in which he came in fifth place, receiving 5.75% of the vote.
On 21 August 2006, he fell seriously ill and was hospitalized for a week with a respiratory infection. A congressman wrongly reported that he had died and Congress observed a moment of silence in his honor, but he had not died and his health had in fact improved. However, in early October 2006, the country learned from a medical spokesperson that Mr. Paniagua's condition had not improved significantly.