Peru Election 2006

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Ollanta Humala, Reservists, and the Rural Vote

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Maxwell A. Cameron
May 5, 2006

The success of Ollanta Humala in rural Peru can be attributed in part to his ability to activate a sector of the population that has been ignored by mainstream political parties—reservists, or conscripts who have served in the military and can be called up for active duty. They constitute a dynamic–and respected–element within many rural communities. Another reason for the success of Humala’s campaign is that he has not only made promises that resonate with some sectors of the rural population but also that he has made his candidacy a felt presence in rural areas in ways that the other parties have not. These are a couple of the main conclusions of a workshop organized by the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos (IEP).
The discussion was led off by Victor Caballero, who noted that reservists have always been present in Peruvian society but they have recently acquired an unprecedented degree of militancy and assertiveness. Reservists tend to be of peasant stock, young males who come from campesino communities and have formed part of the armed forces for a period of time. Their identity has been deeply shaped by military service and the imprint is a lasting one; it is an identity shaped by the barracks, the promotion, and arms. As Julio Cotler noted, rural Peru is no longer a static society, but a very mobile and dynamic one. Reservists are good examples of “cholos,” those who come from a provincial or rural background but who have traveled, studied (in military schools), and who have broader horizons and social ambitions.
Reservists may be veterans of internal or external conflicts—or both. Many served in peasant self-defense squads, or fought in the war with Ecuador. They tend to see themselves as successful, though they may also be frustrated by social exclusion. The sense of success comes from having expelled the Shining Path from rural communities or winning on the battlefield with Ecuador. The notion of having fought with honor plays a big role in this sense of efficacy and identity.
Although reservists have been around forever, they have only become a political force in this election, which is also the first election in which members of the military have been given the vote. Humala has said that the other political parties in Peru neglected the reservists and that has allowed his group to capture their allegiance, but there is more to his appeal among the servicemen. For one thing, Humala’s message resonates with reservists who see themselves as patriots and heroes. For another, Humala is one of them. And, as Cecilia Blondet noted, Ollanta Humala and his brother Antauro have spent 4 or 5 years mobilizing this population and circulating the news bulletin “Ollanta.” (The recent schism between Ollanta and Antauro appears not to be an issue for the rural voter). Humala likes to talk about having created a political party and taking it to victory in 10 months. But the organizational effort is deeper than this might suggest.
What has made Humala so popular among rural voters more broadly? The support of reservists is natural, but what accounts for the massive support he received in Ayacucho and the decline of support for the mainstream parties relative to 2001? Part of the answer is that Humala has made promises that resonate. Javier Torres mentioned that Humala’s congressional candidates symbolize important sectors of the rural society—the coca producers, the church and clubs of mothers, and non-governmental organizations which are thick on the ground in Ayacucho. The coca producing peasants have joined Humala’s ranks en masse in response to his promise to legalize coca production and end forcible eradication.
Another reason for support for Humala is the desire to punish traditional politicians. The sectors that support Humala were strongly supportive of Alberto Fujimori in the past. They benefited from the commitment of the Fujimori government to bring public works and social programs into their communities, and they have been frustrated by the bureaucratic red tape and inertia in the current administration, and by the abandonment of these works. There is a mood of ire that expresses itself in the hope that Humala “will punish” those in Lima and the government, as well as traditional parties (read APRA and Unidad Nacional). A intimation of this mood came with the rejection of the process of formation of new regions as part of the decentralization effort in November of 2005. In part, this rejection reflected the perception that larger governing units were being created that would be more remote and unresponsive.
Another source of identification with Humala is the fact that he is seen as “like us,” an ordinary guy. In addition, according to one participant in the round table, many rural voters supported Humala for two simple reasons. First, the candidate or someone from his movement took the time to explain the nationalist movement’s goals in face-to-face interaction. Second, many voters follow the advice of peasant communities and the advice was invariable to vote for Humala. Humala’s efforts to make direct contact with the voters contrasted with the lack of connection that rural voters felt with Lourdes Flores. Nobody from her group spent much time in Ayacucho.
The other point that Javier Torres made had to do with the media. The rural population watches the television mainly for entertainment. The radio has more weight for news because its broadcasts are typically from the perspective of the locality. Above all, however, it is the word of mouth communication that matters the most.

Written by fabiola

May 5th, 2006 at 7:26 pm

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