Peru Election 2006

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Vladimir Torres: Peru’s Hopes and Fears are on Garcia

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Peru’s Hopes and Fears are on Garcia
By Vladimir Torres
Embassy: Canada’s Foreign Policy Newsweekly
May 10-16, 2006

If you thought that Bob Rae would have a hard time shaking off his years as Ontario premier in the race for the Liberal leadership, think of a former president who in his five years in Office left a cumulative inflation of 2,200,200 per cent, and is currently –a decade and a half later– the only hope of economic stability for his country. As Shakespeare said: “what’s past is prologue.”
In Peru, Alan Garcia, president from 1985 to 1990, is one of the two contenders in the second round of the presidential elections to be held on June 4. Beyond the economics, the deepest aspirations and fears of most Peruvians are riding on his shoulders.
In this year of so many electoral processes in the Americas, there are an increasing number of reasons to pay close attention to the race in the Andean nation. In the overall context of what many continue to describe as Latin America’s shift to the Left, the fact that both candidates could be labelled as such reinforces how inadequate the reference is. Garcia and Ollanta Humala represent highly contrasting options, a choice that transcends Peru’s domestic politics and is bound to have a strong regional impact.
Garcia vs. Humala
Alan Garcia came to politics under the auspices of Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, founder of APRA, Peru’s oldest political party. The party line was always a direct reflection of de la Torre’s thoughts, and although to this day is linked to the Socialist International (Social Democrat parties’ world organisation), it has seen many ideological swings from one side of the spectrum to the other, embodying the definition of populism for most of the last century. Garcia today positions himself as combining a social agenda and sound economics, yet his commitment is at times met with scepticism, given his history.
Humala, on the other hand, is a former military head of a failed coup d’état, whose ideological pastiche merges ultra-nationalism, fascist traits, and en-vogue left wing revolutionary rhetoric. His empathy and affinities with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have played a role in the election process that has hurt as much as boosted his aspirations. If Garcia’s party once epitomised populism, one could say that Humala’s stance fits the current Latin American phenomenon analysts call neo-populism.
Still, the contrast is stark, and commitment to democracy –and democratic institutions– is one key element of it. Even though Garcia was responsible for the deterioration of Peruvian governance that allowed the emergence of Alberto Fujimori’s “anti-politics” which destroyed the country’s democracy during the 1990s, it is Humala’s track record of disdain for democracy and human rights that represents a real threat to continuing the recovery and development of Peru’s democratic institutions.
Under Alejandro Toledo, Peru’s economy has slowly but surely set the basis for sustained growth and openness. Despite the relative success, Toledo has had to contend with a very limited political capital and very low approval ratings. The impact of the fledging economic recovery on the country’s grave social injustices is yet to be seen, and patience– as much as faith in democracy– runs thin. This explains Humala’s success and the defeat of Lourdes Flores –the “status quo” candidate– in the first round of the elections.
Economic Continuity is Essential
Continuity in the economic policies is essential for Peru, as sustained growth demands staying the course. This includes the ratification by Congress of the recently reached Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Garcia supports it; Humala doesn’t.
One consequence of the crisis within the Community of Andean Nations (Venezuela pulled out unilaterally) is that the European Union has withdrawn the initiative of negotiating a Free Trade Agreement between the two blocs, set to have begun later this week at the Europe-Latin America Summit in Vienna. For Peru, the efforts to preserve the sub-regional bloc are also critical, especially with Bolivian President Evo Morales seemingly inclined to follow Chavez’s steps.
Morales’ hydrocarbons nationalization announcement adds further tension to Peru’s elections outcome. Peru possesses natural gas reserves that are all of a sudden the object of increased attractiveness for investment, development and export. A Humala presidency could make this scenario a non-starter.
Chavez Nosing Into Peru’s Affairs
The repercussions of Peru’s election on the Latin American political arena are even wider. Chavez has already been accused of interfering in the internal affairs of several neighbouring countries. This time he’s gone even further: the Venezuelan president has threatened to sever diplomatic ties with Peru if Garcia is elected. Chavez’s statement clearly surpassed his actions towards other countries, such as endorsements of candidates, personal insults to dignitaries, preferential oil deals –and other gifts– to municipalities held by parties akin to his stance, and logistical and financial aid for “Bolivarian” supporters. The Peruvian government responded by recalling its envoy in Caracas and elevated a complaint to the OAS.
Peru has been caught within the divisiveness of Chavez’s approach to foreign affairs. Other governments in the region exercise different modalities in their relations with the wealthy and arbitrary neighbour; these range from pragmatic alignment to reap economic benefits, to constant negotiations and tense co-existence. Garcia has apparently been left without those options. Humala, by contrast, is expected to join the “Bolivarian Alternative,” following Morales, unconditionally aligning with Caracas and Havana, and in the process burying Peru’s chances of improving its future.
With these prospects, it is no wonder that while the Garcia years were bad, polls are showing more than half of voters will support him. Peru’s electoral choices illustrate all too well how challenging political realities can be. Peruvians will hold their breath and take the plunge with Garcia, the alternative is to drown.

Written by fabiola

May 11th, 2006 at 2:39 pm

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