Peru Election 2006

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Peru Could Be Wooed By Yet Another Prophet

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Embassy, January 11th, 2006
By Vladimir Torres

Bolivian President-elect Evo Morales began a lengthy international tour on Jan. 3. After visiting Cuba before the New Year, his second trip started with a brief visit to Venezuela, where Morales expressed his adhesion to the “anti-neo-liberal and anti-imperialist” struggle of Hugo Chavez.

As Morales will be sworn in on Jan. 22, becoming the first indigenous president in Bolivia’s history, the world is closely observing his every move, but much of the attention at the Morales-Chavez joint press conference in Caracas turned to the Peruvian presidential hopeful Ollanta Humala, who was enthusiastically endorsed by both speakers. Humala, whose presence was unannounced, was visiting Venezuela at the invitation of Chavez’s Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) party. The Peruvian government recalled its ambassador in Caracas for consultation, arguably overreacting to what it deemed as interference in Peru’s internal affairs by Chavez.
But who is Ollanta Humala?
In 2000, Peru went through a very difficult year that included fraudulent elections, a failed coup attempt, a video-scandal involving the head of the security forces, and a presidential resignation. Overcoming these crises and the country’s peaceful return to democracy was possible to a great extent due to the actions of the Canadian-led OAS mission. Humala, then a lieutenant colonel in the army, was the head of the Oct. 2000 coup attempt.
Humala’s father, Isaac, is the main ideologue of the “Etnocacerista” movement, named after General Andres Avelino Caceres, a former Peruvian president who had previously fought in the 19th century war with Chile. Humala senior proclaims the ethnic superiority of the Inca descendants (those with the “copper shaded skin”) who –according to his designs– are the only true nationals, whereas the rest of the Peruvian population should only be granted some citizens’ rights. Reinstating the death penalty, legalising coca growth, and declaring war on Chile to re-conquer the Arica province, are also part of the movement’s platform.
Ollanta’s elder brother, Ulises, is also running as a presidential candidate, but only as a front for another Humala brother, Antauro, who is currently in prison for heading an armed revolt in Jan. 2005, where several policemen were killed. Antauro claims to be the one faithful to the “etnocacerista” ideology, and that Ollanta has betrayed it.
Not so, says the father, who explains that tactically Ollanta had to pact with some of the “old class of politicians” to be able to win the elections. In his view, Peru is not yet ready for the “Etnocacerismo,” but is receptive to the Nationalism of Ollanta, who will set the stage from the presidency, creating the conditions for the future implementation of the ethnic proposals of the movement.
So far, Ollanta Humala has been very vague in his platform announcements. When registering his presidential nomination on Dec. 30, 2005, he only mentioned a tighter control on Peru’s energy assets, cutting in half the president’s salary and limiting the flow of Chilean investments into the Peruvian economy.
Coincidentally, Evo Morales has said that one of his first actions will be to cut the president’s salary. This kind of symbolic gesture, with no real impact on the economy, plays demagogically to their supporters, and speaks of the populist nature of their leaderships.
Latin American countries have a long history of caudillos; since the independence wars of the 19th century, there has been an endless list of these self-appointed messianic saviours that have gathered the support of the masses. These strong men, enlightened miracle-workers or prophets, come in all shapes and forms, with the military type exuding macho bravado being an all-time favourite. When weak democracies, with perceived corrupt elites, prove incapable of responding to the most urgent needs of the population, they become fertile grounds for the emergence of such leaders. Peru is no exception.
In 1990 the popular imagination was captured by another political outsider, Alberto Fujimori. Somehow both being an engineer and of Japanese descent made him the one capable of “fixing” the country, in the peoples’ eyes. As is also the standard corollary, Fujimori not only failed to fulfil the expectations he created, but deepened the institutional, economic and political crises, and ended resigning his post after a decade in power. Currently Peru is asking for Fujimori’s extradition from Chile to face criminal charges, while on Jan. 6, his supporters registered him as a presidential candidate in absentia.
Current Peruvian President, Alejandro Toledo, has faced turbulent times throughout his nearly five years in office. His initial support quickly vanished, his popularity plummeted and he has had the dubious honour of the lowest approval ratings of any other elected president in South America. Despite many efforts, a modest growth in the economy and a slight reduction in the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty conditions, his support has barely increased.
Currently the polls for the upcoming April presidential elections indicate a dead heat between the two leading candidates, the right-of-centre Lourdes Flores Nano and Ollanta Humala, with each attracting 20-25 per cent of the electorate. Polls also show that 80 per cent of the Peruvian electorate intends to cast their vote, a surprisingly high figure by any standards. The momentum at this still early stage of the campaign seems to be on Ollanta’s side, the government’s reaction to his visit to Venezuela, the stir in the Peruvian media, and the endorsement by Chavez and Morales seem to have further enhanced his popularity.
In a country with a huge indigenous population, although not organised politically as in Bolivia or Ecuador, Ollanta’s candidacy appears to be gaining support within the disenfranchised and the poor, given his appeal to nationalistic and ethnic feelings. It is not known for sure where he currently stands, and with ambiguity being another historic trait of caudillos, we will only find out if or when he is elected. But if history is any indication, renewed fears of a great setback for Peru’s democracy, stability and hope of overcoming its social challenges are well founded.
Vladimir Torres is an Ottawa-based Latin American affairs analyst.

Written by Michael Ha

January 13th, 2006 at 6:12 pm

Posted in Analysis & Opinion

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