Peru Election 2006

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The Presidential Debate: Humala Stands up to Garcia, but Scores no Decisive Victory

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Maxwell A. Cameron
May 21, 2006

Overall Assessment
The presidential debate between Alan Garcia and Ollanta Humala will probably do little to help Peru’s undecided voters. Garcia won on substance, while Humala won on style. The overall effect is unlikely to be decisive.
The 31 percent of the electorate who voted for Humala in the first round will probably be pleased with their candidate’s performance. In the face of a formidable rhetorician, Humala not only held his own ground, he conveyed a sense of sincerity and passion. His words often came out in a harsh, staccato manner, but he spoke directly to the audience, making solid eye contact with the camera. His hand gestures and body language were consistent with his words. Although he sometimes looked a little spooked about being face-to-face with Garcia, his overall attitude was pugnacious and confident. Humala’s informality was reinforced by his dress. He wore a white shirt, open at the collar, under a brown sports jacket.
The 24 percent of the electorate who voted for Garcia in the first round may be confident that Garcia struck the right balance between appealing to his core supporters and offering reassurances to the new voters he must attract. He wore a blue suit and tie and struck poses that seemed designed to convey authority. He came across as knowledgeable on matters of policy, and his statements were full of concrete policies and proposals aimed at specific audiences. At the same time, Garcia seemed tired and distant. He often looks more shifty than earnest, more calculating than thoughtful, and this reinforces the tendency of voters to see him as untrustworthy.
Given that there were no knock-out blows, and no egregious errors, Garcia may have won a victory by default. Polls conducted prior to the debate showed Garcia ahead by a substantial margin. APOYO gave Garcia the lead by 56 to 44 percent, while the University of Lima gave Garcia an advantage over Humala of 62 to 38 percent. The same polls suggest that about 1 in 5 voters are either undecided, or inclined to cast blank or spoiled ballots. In other words, Humala has an uphill battle to catch up with Garcia. His performance in the debate was strong, but probably insufficient to revert the advantage held by Garcia.
A Strange Beginning
The drama began even before the debate with a delay caused by Humala. Just a few minutes before 8 pm, I was standing in a crowd of journalists in the patio in front of the National Museum of Archeology, Anthropology, and History of Peru in Pueblo Libre where the debate was held. A silver SUV pulled up in front of a nearby canteen called “El Libertador.” Within seconds, the assembled reporters recognized Humala and surrounded him.
Chaos outside El Libertador
Inexplicably, rather than heading for the Museum, Humala entered the bodega and ordered a bottle of mineral water. He then left and rather than getting back in his vehicle, he walked three blocks to the rear entrance of the museum. The walk took over 10 minutes because Humala was mobbed by unruly press. A block away in the background one could hear the chants of APRA supporters who had assembled outside the police perimeter.
Press mobs Humala as he walks to Museum
The debate began almost 20 minutes late, and Garcia, who arrived 20 minutes early, complained that Humala’s behavior showed a lack of respect for the country. Humala denied responsibility for the delay, and blamed it on a “reception” that he had been given by APRA supporters. In fact, the APRA crowd was never anywhere near Humala, and the delay was entirely due to his inexplicable behavior. Garcia responded that stopping for 15 minutes for a “sandwich in the Queirolo” was not a good reason for delaying the debate.
Human Rights and Governability
The most notable aspect of the first part of the debate, which dealt with the topic of human rights and governability, was what was not said. Humala did not mention the massacre at El Fronton, which occurred under Alan Garcia’s government in 1986, nor did Garcia raise allegations about human rights abuses that Humala is accused of having committed when he commanded a military base in Madre Mia.
The press room in the Museum
Garcia opened by calling for a social democracy based on liberty, tolerance, and the respect for the separation of powers as an impediment to the abuse of power. He dismissed the need for a constituent assembly. Humala said Peru’s democracy does not represent the Peruvian people or serve national interests, but rather economically powerful groups and transnationalized interests. He said that governability must be based on social peace, and this requires attending to the needs of the poor.
In his reply, Garcia attempted to cast Humala as a representative of Peru’s long tradition of military involvement in politics. He also alluded to Chavez, saying Peru’s sovereignty would not be threatened by a petroleum power in the Caribbean. Humala insisted that his vision of governability requires recovering control over natural resources. He compared the current regime of control over resources, in which the resource belongs to the nation until it is extracted, as being like saying a child belongs to its mother until it is born, and then it is taken away.
Garcia responded by saying he favors renegotiating with foreign capital, but not by taking a leap into the void, along the lines of the Bolivian government of Evo Morales, which would result in capital flight, and unemployment. Garcia acknowledged that Humala has won votes in the south of Peru, but said that the inter-oceanic highway that he wants to see built would not be possible under such conditions.
The Economy
Humala rejected the economic model based on the export of natural resources, which has led to the growth of inequalities, and he used the contrast between the beaches of Asia and Ventanilla to make the point. He argued for development based on internal markets, within a framework of macroeconomic stability. Humala asked why Peru, a country that exports oil and gas, has the most expensive petroleum in the region. He made a specific, and quite dramatic promise: to reduce the price of petrol and gas by 30 and 25 percent respectively.
Garcia rejected this promise, saying that a sharp cut in the cost of petrol and gas would deprive the state of income needed to support a range of programs such as pensions. At the same time, he also made a series of specific proposals like building more ports and roads; promoting agriculture and microenterprises; providing water for 50,000 low-income inhabitants of Lima; and reducing fees for services.
Humala asked Garcia whether he was in favor or opposed to the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Garcia did not answer, but limited himself to saying that he would provide compensation for groups affected by foreign competition.
Education, Health, Decentralization…and Corruption
On education and health, the candidates largely repeated themes they have been hammering away at throughout much of the campaign. It was during this exchange, however, that the toughest words were exchanged on the issue of corruption. Garcia criticized Humala for receiving $300,000 in salary as a military attaché in South Korea and France. Humala responded by saying that he would reopen a hard-labor camp in the jungle for former presidents who had committed acts of corruption, including those who ended their terms with numerous properties.
Garcia complained that the level of the debate was being lowered, but did not defend himself. Humala persisted, mentioning the recent statements by Vladimiro Montesinos and asking “if he could, for whom would Montesinos vote?” He also asked Garcia if he would release Montesinos. Garcia replied saying Humala was imprudent in asking this question, since he had already released Montesinos. This was an allusion to Humala’s “semi-uprising” in Locumba. Humala responded by pointing to links between APRA and Montesinos, beginning with Agustin Mantilla, who was caught on a Vladivideo taking money from Montesinos. He reiterated that Montesinos’s statement was a “missile” aimed at destroying his candidacy, he restated the question “for whom would Montesinos vote?” and he insisted he would not release Montesinos.
Garcia reproached Humala for asking whether he would pardon Montesinos. The matter is in the hands of the judiciary, and it is not up to the president to make such decisions said Garcia. He said the notion that the president could decide whether or not to pardon a prisoner reflects the sort of non-democratic style of government epitomized by Hugo Chavez. Humala insisted that presidents can offer pardons.
Security for Citizens
The final segment of the debate dealt with security for citizens. Garcia attacked Humala for wanting to place the police under the control of municipalities, saying this would destroy the police force by breaking it up into 1,800 micro units. Humala rejected this claim, saying that the police should be under the control of democratically elected authorities, and that this in no way would involved breaking up the force.
Garcia insisted that mayors are not police chiefs, and said Humala’s plan was dangerous. He then thrust the knife in deeper: “we defend the police, we do not kill them.” This was an allusion to the uprising in Andahuaylas led by Ollanta Humala’s brother, Antauro. Humala seemed shaken by Garcia’s statement about killing police; momentarily, he seemed to lose focus. He responded saying that he had fought for the honor of his country, but he did not address the charge directly. Garcia joked that Humala reminded him of the popular phrase (attributed to the brother of a Peruvian gangster) “I am his brother but I don’t know anything.”
Closing Thoughts
Humala had by far the stronger closing statement. He swore he would renounce his presidential salary and only collect his military pension; he would get rid of the 1993 constitution and convene a constituent assembly; he would fight corruption and uphold the rule of law; he would implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and that he would recover control over natural resources and protect national interests. Garcia had a weaker closing statement in which he rejected hatred and confrontation, called for unity and peace, and emphasized the world of opportunities open to Peru. He asked for God’s blessing on all homes and illuminate Peru’s path.
Torres Caro repeats claim that Humala was late because of Apristas
On the way home I asked my taxi driver what he thought of the debate. He confessed that he was a Fujimori supporter who had voted for Martha Chavez for president, APRA for congress, and Rafael Rey Rey for the Andean parliament. He said he was still undecided for whom to vote in the second round, but he seemed very impressed with how well Humala had stood up the Garcia. He also liked the promise of cheaper gas. His assessment of the debate: it was “a tie.”
El Libertador

Written by Max

May 21st, 2006 at 11:47 pm

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