Peru Election 2006

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The Possible Redemption of Alan Garcia

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Ex-president earns shot at redemption in Peru
By Tyler Bridges
Miami Herald, May 4, 2006

Alan García, a former Peruvian president who left office universally hated, said he has learned from his mistakes. He will face populist Ollanta Humala in a runoff.
LIMA – He was 35, telegenic and energetic, and when the economy soared during his first two years as president in the mid-1980s, Peruvians hailed Alan García everywhere he went.
Then the economy nose-dived, inflation skyrocketed and the guerrillas ran rampant. García left office in 1990 hated by nearly all Peruvians. In 1992, García went into exile after his successor, Alberto Fujimori, closed Congress and sent troops to arrest him. In 2001, he returned and — with his charisma intact — narrowly lost a race for president.
Now García will have another chance to redeem himself, after election authorities officially announced Wednesday that he edged free-market advocate Lourdes Flores for the right to face leftist populist Ollanta Humala in the runoff election this month or in early June.
When García was elected president in 1985, his youthful vigor, full mop of black hair and spectacular initial success led others to dub him “Latin America’s Kennedy.”
”He had a lot going for him, but blew it badly,” said John Crabtree, author of Peru Under García: An Opportunity Lost.
Today, at 56, García offers himself as the steady hand on the tiller, a center-left alternative to the ultranationalist and often bellicose Humala.
Mistakes? Yes, he made a few, García has said repeatedly since his 2001 return, and has learned from them, his closest associates said.
”As president, he liked to tell people what to do,” said Mauricio Mulder, a congressman and a general secretary of García’s party, the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance, better known as APRA. “But now he’s more mature and reflective. He recognizes his own errors. He didn’t do that before. He knows now that he can’t just do what he wants.”
Humala, a political novice unknown to most Peruvians as recently as seven months ago, is campaigning on promises to stamp out crime, corruption and cronyism, oppose a free-trade agreement with Washington, nationalize the petroleum industry and protect some national industries.
Humala has attacked the wealthy, promised to raise taxes on foreign companies and has praised Juan Velasco Alvarado, a general who overthrew Peru’s democratically elected president in 1968 and expropriated private businesses and land holdings.
Humala’s message has resonated in a country where half the people feel disenfranchised under democracy, still living on $2 a day, even though the economy has grown by 5 percent a year during the five-year term of outgoing President Alejandro Toledo.
Humala’s message also has frightened the middle class, creating an opening for García to expand his base beyond the 24.5 percent he won in the April 9 election. Humala won 31 percent.
An April 25 poll by Datum showed García leading Humala, 43 percent to 37 percent, with the rest undecided or refusing to vote for either candidate.
The poll confirmed that Peruvians will have to choose between two polarizing figures. Datum found that Humala had a 58 percent disapproval rating, while García had a 61 percent disapproval rating.
García’s biggest liability is his previous tenure as president. He began by vowing to limit payments to foreign creditors, a wildly popular move, and he spent heavily to pump up the economy.
But when he depleted the treasury and foreign lenders refused to provide additional money, García cranked up the printing presses to maintain government spending in a desperate attempt to rejuvenate the economy. Hyperinflation hit 7,000 percent, and the economy shrank. The amount of money it took to buy a new car in 1985 would buy a pack of cigarettes in 1990.
Meanwhile, leftist guerrillas from the Shining Path and the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement spread throughout the country. García has been accused also of sanctioning paramilitary death squads in a failed effort to combat them.
García would later face accusations that he received a $1 million kickback for a contract to buy rail cars in Lima, a charge he has vehemently denied.
García left office with a 5 percent approval rating.
He made an improbable comeback in 2001.
After nine years of living in Colombia and France, he returned to Peru and narrowly lost the presidential race to Toledo.
This year, he trailed Humala and Flores during most of the campaign.
Jorge del Castillo, another congressman and APRA general secretary, said García’s campaign began targeting young voters — who had no personal memory of his presidency — with televised ads that featured a star, the APRA symbol, but now dancing to upbeat music.
García also preached a moderate message that will become even more important to capture centrist and conservative voters who supported Flores and still mistrust him.
”We have to repeat a million and one times that there will be stable economic policies, freedom to invest, a balanced budget and no more spending of money that we don’t have,” Mulder said.
That message will be aimed squarely at people like Chely de Vinatea, who voted for Flores in the April 9 elections. De Vinatea called García ”a bad president,” but said Humala ”is very totalitarian.” She will vote for García if he can convince her “that he has learned from his mistakes.”
The repackaged García was on full display on April 7 in the campaign’s final rally before 30,000 people in downtown Lima.
He prowled the stage, jabbing the air for emphasis, speaking for nearly two hours without notes.
García neatly positioned himself between the conservative Flores and the leftist Humala, promising to push exports, strengthen workplace rights for workers and get tough with crime.
”We’re the party that represents all Peruvians,” García told the throng.

Written by Michael Ha

May 4th, 2006 at 6:55 pm

Posted in Political Parties

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