Peru Election 2006

The archived version

APRA’s Day of Fraternity

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Maxwell A. Cameron
February 23, 2006

Photo: M.A. Cameron
February 22 was the 111th anniversary of the birth of Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, the founder of the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA). Members of the APRA party, or Apristas, refer to this as the Day of Fraternity, and in Lima they typically celebrate with a mass in the San Francisco Church in the historic center of Lima. Following the mass, the faithful gathered in the Óvalo de Breña to reaffirm their commitment to the party and to listen to Alan García Pérez rally support for the election campaign.
Photo: M.A. Cameron
Mercedes Cabanillas was the first speaker to warm up the crowd. She launched an impassioned attack on Lourdes Flores, the leader of National Unity, who she characterized as the candidate of the rich. “We don’t want a Trojan horse with a woman’s skirt hiding entrepreneurs within its womb,” she said. Mauricio Mulder followed with a denunciation of the judiciary for releasing a member of President Alejandro Toledo’s family on a suspended sentence for rape. Such lenient and politically-motivated judges, he warned, “would be called to account before congress.” He emphasized that APRA is an organized party, and its internal order is a guarantee of security.
Photo: M.A. Cameron
Alan García’s vice presidential candidate, Luis Giampietri received a lukewarm reception and his brief statement received sustained applause only when he mentioned Haya de la Torre. It was as if the crowd was pleased to hear the newcomer stress his attachment to the historic leader. Giampietri’s claim that he joined García’s slate because he was concerned about threats to the rights of the military personnel, however, had little resonance. APRA has a long history of persecution by the military and the rights of the military would not seem to be a major concern of the rank and file.
Photo: M.A. Cameron
The warmest reception went to Jorge del Castillo, who joked that a recent poll showing a technical tie between García and Ollanta Humala was old news: “we passed that guy a while ago” he said, “we are in the second round for sure.” He also noted that APRA has beat out Lourdes Flores before.
Photo: M.A. Cameron
Del Castillo said that APRA has parliamentary unity and discipline. The party enters congress on July 28 and leaves on July 28 five year later with the same number of members. This distinguishes APRA from other, more loosely organized parties, most of which tend to disintegrate when they get into congress. By contrast, APRA has no turncoats or traitors.
Del Castillo belittled efforts at renovation in other parties, saying inexperienced newcomers are no guarantee of quality. Who wants a “brand new rapist” or “brand new ‘for God and money’”? The latter is an allusion to a member of congress who, in a memorable Freudian slip, accidentally swore to “God and money” rather than “God and the homeland” when he took the oath of office. His subsequent parliamentary career has been marked by scandal and allegations of nepotism. Del Castillo then led the audience in a collective renewal of their vows as members of APRA.
Photo: M.A. Cameron
Following Del Castillo, García took the podium and gave one of the impassioned and dramatic speeches for which he is justly famous. He summarized highlights of the life of Haya de la Torre, emphasizing that APRA is not just an electoral machine. It is an organization that looks to the distant future (the next 40 years, not the next 40 days). The APRA is part of the history of the Peruvian people, he said, so that where the Peruvian people exist, there is the APRA. There was an almost spiritual quality to his invocation of the name of Haya de la Torre, who he said would descend to the people who live APRA’s doctrine with true conviction.
A central theme of García’s speech was that you cannot destroy APRA. It would be fair to say that APRA is the only party running in this election as a party. García said that APRA has existed for 75 years in spite of persecution by Manuel Odría in the 1950s, the military government in the 1970s, and Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s. “APRA never dies,” chanted the crowd. Moreover, García suggested that APRA is the most organized party in Peru, and thus the party best able to carry out radical change. In an allusion to the candidacy of Ollanta Humala, García said that the Peruvian people like to flirt with other candidates but in the end alway return to their true love, the APRA.
Photo: M.A. Cameron
Another theme was experience. García confessed to mistakes, but “always in favor of the people.” Moreover, he stressed, “from errors one learns how to better serve.” Errors, in short, are part of experience, and APRA has the experience to “fulfill its commitment to serve 100 percent.” “Alan Sí Puede” chanted the crowd in response.
García’s speech operated at a number of levels, and synthesized diverse themes. At one point he referred to APRA as a “movimiento cobrizo popular” (“popular, copper-tone movement.” The term “cobriza” is an ethnic reference used by Humala). At another point he said “vamos a trabajar y ayudar a trabajar” (“we will work and help others to work.” The phrase “work and let work” comes from Fernando Belaúnde Terry’s Popular Action party).
Part of García’s strategy is to highlight his difference with Lourdes Flores Nano, whose campaign has emphasized character and building trust, but has not involved making specific commitments. García has made many small, unspectacular, but very concrete commitments. On this occasion, for example, he offered to promote internal tourism by allowing firms to write off expenses for travel by their employees within Peru. Currently, such expenses can be written off only if the travel is abroad. He also promised to establish the dates for long weekends in advance so that people have the chance to make travel plans around long weekends. Currently, long weekends are often announced just days in advance.
Photo: M.A. Cameron
García made it clear that there is a lot at stake in this election for his generation of leaders. This is almost certainly his last chance. The election will also be a test of the strength of the only well-organized, well-financed, and disciplined political party in Peru.

Written by Michael Ha

February 23rd, 2006 at 8:46 pm

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