Peru Election 2006

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Interview with Alan Garcia (Washington Post)

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A Conversation With Alan Garcia
Interview by Michael Shifter
Washington, June 4, 2006; B02

Alan Garcia was dubbed the Latin American Kennedy when he was elected president of Peru in 1985, promising to reform a stagnant country and improve the lot of the poor. Yet when he left in 1990, Peru’s economy was in ruins, a Maoist insurgency was terrorizing the country and Garcia’s popularity had plummeted. Now, the charismatic Garcia is running for president again; he goes into today’s runoff a slight favorite over anti-U.S. nationalist Ollanta Humala. Garcia recently spoke in Lima about his second act in politics with the Inter-American Dialogue’s Michael Shifter.
– I was an eyewitness to your first administration, which wasn’t exactly a great success. Some have called it the worst government in Peruvian history. Why should Peruvians believe that a second Garcia administration would be different?
– We did not understand how to deal with a subversive, clandestine war. Perhaps my government should have emphasized a more direct and repressive approach in fighting the Shining Path insurgency. Our focus was more sociological. We offered interest-free credits to poor peasants, so they wouldn’t be recruited by Shining Path. Our approach to poverty increased inflationary pressures. In retrospect, it would have been more intelligent to put restrictions on finance capital and not take over the banks. This mistake had political consequences, since in addition to Shining Path and communism, we ended up fighting the business class.
– And you were young, only 35 years old.
– Those mistakes could have been made by a man of 50. I don’t attribute them to my youth.
– Has Alan Garcia evolved since he left the presidency in 1990?
– I now realize there are no magic bullets. Change happens incrementally. . . . Not only has a lot of time passed, but the world’s economic structures, information technology and communication have changed. . . . What before seemed like a threat is now a virtue. . . . We are not against private property, but rather monopoly control. Businesses should compete among themselves. What my friend Evo Morales [Bolivia’s president, who nationalized the natural gas sector] just did is kill the goose that lays golden eggs.
– In the late 1980s, [Peruvian writer] Mario Vargas Llosa was your chief opponent, yet today he urges Peruvians to vote for you as the “lesser of two evils.”
– I don’t think there is a single president on this planet who did not get votes as the lesser evil. . . . When they voted for Nixon and not for McGovern, wasn’t it the same thing? I think this happens everywhere. Ultimately, it is not about the lesser evil — it is being useful. Today I am useful to Peruvian society, to its middle class, to its small businesses, to its people who have democratic ideas, who do not like [Hugo] Chavez [the anti-American president of Venezuela], who don’t like Evo Morales and feel that I am useful to do things differently.
– You mentioned Chavez, who has become a big issue in this campaign.
– The Chavez phenomenon is militarism with a lot of money. Mr. Chavez poses risks for Peru. First I thought Fidel [Castro] was behind him, but Fidel no longer has the force he used to, so I suppose he now depends on Chavez. Chavez is using his millions of dollars to try and extend influence in the Andean countries, first Bolivia, now cloning a commandante in Peru, then Ecuador, to surround Colombia, where he sees U.S. imperialism as strongest in Latin America. . . . Peru tends to appreciate people in the world with high intellectual and cultural levels. There is little to appreciate about President Chavez. He is only relevant because of oil money. Soon Chavez will be burning out in Venezuela. Everyone who strays too far from his own space ends up burning out.
– Do you see yourself playing a larger regional role, perhaps to stem what you see as Chavez’s adventure?
– That is the last thing I want, to be South America’s sheriff. I want to accomplish things in Peru.
– Do you think that Peruvians are disenchanted with democracy?
– No. Peru is divided into three clearly defined electoral blocs. We have a conservative bloc in the north, another in the major cities like Lima and a third in the southern Andes. I am convinced that two-thirds of the country, in the north and Lima, share a concern for democracy. The south is always looking for a messiah, a savior, to return it to some golden age. . . . Much of its social and economic conditions are exactly the same as they were 200 years ago. We are going to have a serious problem, and Humala has been positive in this way. He has brought together poor masses in the south with a proposal that, while messianic and demagogic and not viable in today’s world, highlights the enormous amount of poverty that exists in Peru.
– Many say that one reason Humala won the first round is because, as a former military official, he would do a better job resolving the country’s serious crime problem.
– When a country has a lot of crime, a part of the population looks to a savior to solve the problem. This is what happened with Hitler and look how it ended. The fight against crime has to be carried out democratically. The instruments are clear — tough legislation, efficient judges and energetic and active police. Our police force is inadequate. At the end of my government [in 1990] we had 130,000 police officers. Today we have 91,000.
– What about the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [which documented two decades of political violence in Peru]?
– In the report it appears that the state is responsible for everything, that government officials and the military were responsible for killing the Peruvian people. This vision is mistaken. What interest would an army captain have in going to the mountains for two years to murder people? . . . Of course there were human rights violations, as there were in My Lai. But no one accuses the U.S. president of being responsible for My Lai. The communism that exists in our country, still embraced by many, tries to show that the state is genocidal and Shining Path is innocent.
– Relations between your first government and Washington were not very good. Will they be different if you are elected?
– That time has passed. It is important to do things well in Peru and not fight with anyone.
– There is a lot of talk about populism and a turn to the left in Latin America today. Where do you see yourself fitting in the regional context?
– I see myself between Chile and Brazil — both have been successful. [Brazilian President Luiz Inacio] Lula is a realist. And the Chilean governments have had good technical teams and have devised intelligent policies like credit for small businesses.
– Is your historical legacy very important to you?
– We Latins have a more romantic and more historical sense than Saxons. Perhaps because we are less practical and more religious. . . . We think of glory; we think of how countries recall us later on. That weighs heavily.
– There are many examples of failed second terms in Latin America. Is there some curse for presidents who return to power for another try?
– Those who were successful in their first government sometimes fail in their second. But those who had a lot of problems in their first government sometimes do very well in the second.
– Such as?
– We had a president here in the 19th century named Nicolas de Pierola, who had a disastrous first government, in the midst of a terrible war with Chile, and had to flee the country. But 20 years later, he came back and had what is recognized as one of the best governments in our history. It was an administration that understood the world and inserted Peru in a way that led to sustained economic growth. I hope Alan Garcia will be remembered as Pierola’s second government.

Written by Michael Ha

June 5th, 2006 at 10:29 am

Posted in Interviews

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