Why the labor minister’s airport tantrum could cost him his job


José Villena had a rough visit to the airport last week, and it might cost him his job.

The labor minister arrived at Arequipa’s airport for a flight back to Lima, only to find out that the plane had already left the gate and could not turn back. Instead of doing what most of us would do (trying to guilt-trip the workers at the gate, stewing quietly, asking for a seat on the next flight), Villena exploded.

A low-quality video recorded him yelling at assembled airport staff members, and a report by security personnel spelled out the alleged details of Villena’s tantrum: he demanded that the plane be turned around because he was a cabinet minister; he threatened to break the windows; he in fact did damage some of the installations; he physically and verbally assaulted a female airline staffer; and he photographed the gathered employees and threatened to have them fired.

The woman who was allegedly assaulted by Villena filed a complaint at the police station, saying that Villena had pushed her with both hands and then caught her to keep from falling. She later declined to press charges, but said on Facebook that it was because it was not worth it to get involved in a David vs. Goliath type showdown with such a powerful figure.

The details in the case have not been proven, but the video evidence shows one thing very clearly: Villena has a terrible temper. That in and of itself does not disqualify him from his position; many- maybe even most- successful politicians are hot-tempered jerks.

However, if some of the allegations about the incident are shown to be true, it’s hard to see how he could possibly continue on in the cabinet. First, he’s been accused by both the alleged victim and eyewitnesses of having pushed a woman. Assault is a crime, of course, and Villena’s alleged choice of victim makes it even worse. In a society that is struggling to do away with the culture of impunity for those who assault women, how would it look if one of the most powerful men in the country got away with assaulting a woman?

The other troubling aspect of Villena’s outburst is that he reportedly threatened to have the workers fired. Again, remember, he is the labor minister. It is precisely his job to protect workers from violations of their labor rights. One of those rights, of course, is the freedom from being arbitrarily fired.

That is a head-spinning level of hypocrisy. Having a labor minister who terrorizes innocent workers would be like having an environmental minister who dumps his used motor oil in the town reservoir, or a health minister who sells tobacco to schoolchildren. It’s impossible to take an institution seriously when its leader clearly does not embody the core values that the institution is supposed to uphold.

As I write this, Villena is reportedly in Arequipa, trying to patch things up with the workers involved, but it might be too late. A committee in Congress has called Villena in for questioning. If it finds that Villena did what he is accused of having done, there is no way he can keep his job.
The views expressed are those of the author alone.

José Villena allegedly assaulted a woman and threatened to have airport workers fired. Does this disqualify him from his post?

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