Peru Election 2006

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Caudillos in Peruvian Politics

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By Jean Pierre Chabot, Sprott School of Business
Carleton University, Ottawa
December 30, 2005

In Peru, as in many Latin America countries, the presence of caudillos, or charismatic leaders who take advantage of military and political connections, has formed national and regional politics ever since the independence years. There seems to be a pattern that has befallen Peruvian politics since its independence in 1824. The pattern consists in the struggle for political legitimacy. Whenever the established political parties of the Creole elites lose their legitimacy to govern and the majority population becomes dissatisfied with the general administration of affairs, opportunistic caudillos break into the arena grabbing at the support that disenchanted voters are no longer willing to supply to the usual political candidates.
This scenario played itself out during the initial years following the independence of Peru forged after Antonio Jose de Sucre’s victory over the Spanish at Ayacucho. In the political vacuum following independence a succession of caudillos took power. Peru is not in the same situation it was immediately following independence; however, it may be argued that there is a problem of political legitimacy. Following Fujimori’s neo-liberal policies and accusations of corruption, which still loom over the nation, Peru has gone through a mandate under Toledo of increased economic growth at the expense of redistribution. Many Peruvians are frustrated with a lack of political responsiveness to the social issues affecting the rural and urban poor. Once again, caudillos have appeared on the political front. This phenomenon can be seen in other countries such as Bolivia, which has recently elected a leader who has yet to be tested at the national level.
Could the same pattern occur in Latin American countries such as Peru? It may be interesting to see if caudillos with grass-roots or military connections are the new thing on the block. Then again, what can a caudillo bring to politics? If we look at the lessons from history, caudillismo seems to bring temporary calm before a storm and unless you’re a poor farmer a storm may not be what you are voting for.
It may be interesting to look at the political situation in terms of inputs and outputs. To do this it is a good idea to first discuss political agendas. Within the well establish parties there is usually a level of consistency in terms of policy, which allows business to go on as usual. Problems arise when foreign local business interests override local interests for rural development and social programs. On the other hand, under caudillos, there is usually little consistency other then a guarantee of change, which is rather discontenting from a business as usual perspective. A bit of this caudillismo was hinted at by Da Silva Gamarra on the 10th of December, in La Republica.
El discurso del jefe de la Sétima Brigada de Infantería del Ejército del Perú en Lambayeque, general Paúl Tito Da Silva Gamarra, durante la ceremonia por el Día del Ejército, se convirtió en un cuestionamiento a la pre candidatura del comandante en retiro Ollanta Humala Tasso, líder del Partido Nacionalista Peruano. En su alocución ante las autoridades asistentes y el personal de las Fuerzas Armadas y Policía Nacional en el óvalo Francisco Bolognesi de Chiclayo, Da Silva sostuvo que para conseguir una moderna visión patriótica es fundamental cumplir con los requisitos de identidad nacional, sano nacionalismo y seguridad nacional. Al final de la ceremonia, los periodistas se acercaron para preguntarle a qué se refería cuando hablaba del sano nacionalismo y si era comparable con el que pregona Ollanta Humala. “Ese no es nacionalismo, es un retroceso de más de 30 años para el Perú. Voy a ser sincero y espero que su candidatura no prospere. Ollanta no tiene un plan de gobierno y sus ideas son retrógradas. En caso de ganar las elecciones presidenciales su gobierno sería de carácter comunista y pondría al país al filo del despeñadero”, concluyó Da Silva Gamarra.
Caudillos exist in all fronts, both among the urban upper classes and the rural agrarian population. This dynamic creates problems of legitimacy which caudillos face once in power. The system of caudillos is based upon the presence of political strongmen that gain power through networks of influence. Rarely, is caudillismo connected to policy agendas. In fact, caudillos often have an undeveloped policy agenda for once they get to power. This may be because getting to power depends upon remaining flexible and not making promises that would distance the electorate.
Coming back to the analogy of inputs and outputs, if we see agendas as being the political process, then the inputs would be the electoral support, the political promises, etc. that face a political party and its leader once in power. The outputs then are the political changes made or the level of growth and stability produced during a mandate. If the political agenda is not clearly defined it will not matter how good the inputs are, the outputs will never be as expected.
It may be that caudillos or political strongmen are what many Peruvians would like but it may be questionable as to whether it is what they really need.

Written by Michael Ha

December 30th, 2005 at 8:41 pm

Posted in Analysis & Opinion

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