Peru's former cabinet chief returned home Monday, three days after she was fired by President Alejandro Toledo in the wake of a gossip-laden political scandal in which a rival allegedly spread rumors that she is a lesbian. Toledo is scheduled to swear in a replacement for Prime Minister Beatriz
Merino, a 56-year-old Harvard-trained lawyer who was the first woman to hold the post. "Eight weeks ago I was informed by several sources that people were preparing a series of attacks aiming to damage my personal reputation," Merino read from a statement after returning home from a weeklong trip to the United States. She did not answer questions or address media speculation that she had been offered Peru's vacant ambassadorship in Washington.
The president fired Merino--along with the entire cabinet she headed--in a communiqué on Friday. Despite the title, Peru's prime minister is appointed by the president to lead his cabinet and is not chosen by lawmakers. The firing came in the wake of a salacious scandal about Merino's personal
life. According to newspaper reports, Merino lost Toledo's confidence by going public with allegations that a political rival was spreading rumors that she is a lesbian. Merino has said she is not a lesbian and that political enemies have been attacking her since she took office. Homosexuality is a taboo subject in Peru's conservative society.