Peru Election 2006

The archived version

Lourdes Flores on the Campaign Trail

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Maxwell A. Cameron
January 21, 2006

A note in La República provided advance notice of a walk with Lourdes Flores through the working class district of Independencia, in the northern cone of Lima. We grabbed a cab and arrived at the meeting place a few minutes before the walk was to begin at 2:45 pm. At first, we could see no sign of any campaign activity as we strolled along Avenida Tupac Amaru until, at last, we spotted a couple of late model SUVs—the shiniest cars on the street. They proved to be the advance crew.
We loitered for a while, chatting with journalists and members of Flores’ entourage while waiting for the presidential candidate. Finally, a campaign bus arrived carrying a group of supporters, followed by a large silver SUV. We formed a caravan and headed toward the hills, arriving at the end of a paved street in the neighborhood Tupac Amaru Payet. Flores emerged from her car and was immediately surrounded by enthusiastic supporters, including congressional candidates Lourdes Alcorta, Pepe Kleinberg, and Gaby Pérez del Solar.
Photo: M.A. Cameron
Someone offered a glass of chicha, which Flores accepted with pleasure. From the sidelines, a couple of women from the barrio called for Flores to speak. One shouted “Lourdes, don’t forget the poor.” But the candidate did not stop to speak at that point. The plan was to move on foot along dirt paths carved by usage around a hillside densely covered by ramshackle and precarious houses, some made of matt, some wood, and the more solid ones of brick. Some of Flores’ entourage were unimpressed. One referred pejoratively to the neighborhood as “un asiento bien telaraña” (in local slang, a very poor settlement).
Photo: M.A. Cameron
As the entourage moved through the neighborhood, the crowd swelled. Some were curious, others genuinely supportive. One onlooker said she supported the candidate of Unión Nacional because she is a woman. Why was that important? “Women think better than men” she said, they take care of the household economy. “Men work hard, but they don’t distribute.” Another bystander expressed similar views. “A woman should have the opportunity,” she said. “There have been so many men elected and they have done nothing. Women are more intuitive in many ways.” She particularly liked Flores because of her honesty. An elderly woman approached us to say she hoped Flores would improve education, particularly civic education and vocational training.
Photo: M.A. Cameron
When we emerged from the narrow dirt paths of the barrio back onto paved streets, Flores stopped to speak with the press. The crowd was hushed as the candidate took questions from the media. At one point a water balloon was tossed into the crowd, either by someone seeking to make a point or just for amusement.
Photo: M.A. Cameron
What is Missing in this Picture?
Lourdes Flores, unlike Valentin Paniagua, gives the impression of wanting the presidency. She has a reputation for being a good listener, and her public statements are coherent and intelligent. Moreover, we were able to observe enough spontaneous expressions of support from onlookers to believe that her support base outside the affluent districts of Lima is real, especially among women. Consistent with her low negative ratings, we saw no clear expressions of hostility from the people in Tupac Amaru Payet.
Yet Flores and her supporters looked more than a little out of place in this working class, mestizo, barrio. One member of Flores’ entourage said she emerged from a similar walk so covered in dust that she had to take off her clothes in her garden before entering her house.
How deep is the connection between Flores and her potential supporters? The candidate was not met by local organizing committees or leaders, nor given a stage on which to speak directly to the local folk. If there were local organizing committees, or grassroots leaders involved, they were given no prominence. In the absence of such connections with the community, Tupac Amaru Payet seemed to serve as a stage for a public appearance designed to reinforce Flores’ image in the media as someone concerned with the plight of the poor. The inauthenticity of the event was made all the more dramatic by the contrast between the white, middle class supporters of UN, who were bused into the barrio, and the poor, cholo inhabitants of Tupac Amaru Payet who seemed not to be linked to the candidate in an organized way.
Photo: M.A. Cameron

Written by Michael Ha

January 21st, 2006 at 8:54 pm

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