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PERU
President-elect steeped in debt
Leslie Josephs
6/15/2006
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With sights set on redemption, ex-President García has a hefty agenda ahead of him.

Alan García was not Peru’s Teflon president.

His calamitous 1985-90 government is remembered for 7,000 percent annual inflation and the ruthless standoff between government security forces and Maoist Shining Path insurgents.

Many Peruvians recall widespread unemployment, corruption, blackouts and long lines for sugar and milk during his term.

In its Final Report, Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission held García politically responsible for some of the bloodiest counter-insurgency operations during the armed conflict, including the massacre of women and children peasants in the highland town of Cayara in 1988.

But in the June 4 runoff, Peruvians decided to give García another go.

The former president topped his rival, former Lt. Col. Ollanta Humala — the top vote-getter in the April 9 first round — 53 percent to 47 percent of the valid votes.

García, 57, who was elected Peru’s youngest president at 35 on a populist platform, is the face and force behind the social democratic American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) party, Peru’s oldest and strongest political party.

A "borrowed vote"

García’s victory was achieved with what has been dubbed a "borrowed vote," and the ex-leader will take office with large debts to pay back to various sectors.

Even García noted that many Peruvians would "hold their noses" when voting for him.

Many right-wing Peruvians who voted in the first round for conservative pro-market candidate Lourdes Flores — who came in third behind García by just 68,000 votes — voted for García in the runoff, fearful of Humala’s hard-line discourse and promises to redistribute wealth to the country’s poorest sectors, bringing back unwanted memories of the dictatorship of Gen. Juan Velasco (1968-1975).

After his victory was confirmed, García reiterated his commitment to maintain Peru’s consistent economic growth (the country’s economy grew 6 percent in 2005) and efforts to increase foreign investment in the country.

But despite record growth, just less than half of Peru’s population lives in poverty, defined as living on $2 per day or less.

Capitalizing on the discontent of Peru’s excluded masses, Humala — whose nationalist platform included more state control over natural resources and increased social spending — skyrocketed in less than a year from single-digit voter support to coming 6 percentage points away from winning Peru’s highest office.

While vague, his promises for economic change in Peru’s most forgotten regions won Humala a strong powerbase in the country’s impoverished Andes and Amazon regions, traditionally a stronghold of ex-President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) who also ran on an anti-establishment platform.

"The only ones who are afraid of change are those who are benefiting economically from the catastrophic situation in our Peru," Humala shouted to a crowd of thousands during a campaign closing rally in Lima.

Results from Peru’s National Office of Electoral Processes show that Humala’s support was heavily concentrated in the country’s poorest areas. In the Andean department of Huancavelica — Peru’s poorest department — Humala topped García 73 percent to 27 percent. Humala claimed 80 percent to García’s 19 percent in Ayacucho, another highland department that suffered miserably from the bloody Shining Path insurgency.

Humala and the Union for Peru (UPP) party, which joined forces with his Peruvian Nationalist Party, will be a formidable opposition both in congress "and on the streets." Humala’s Union for Peru party won 45 seats — more than any other party — in Peru’s 120-seat congress, while APRA won only 36.

Solid support

Humala told reporters June 7 that he will continue promoting his nationalist "project" and that he felt confident in the support he won in the runoff because it was "not a borrowed vote."

"Our votes were much more solid than Mr. García’s," he said. "In our votes, there weren’t people who had to hold their noses; there weren’t people who were afraid."

"We are the first political majority in Peru," Humala added.

Many analysts have credited García’s win to Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez’s frequent endorsements of Humala.

"García will have to work quite a lot to be able to build a legitimate base," wrote professor and historian Nelson Manrique in the Peruvian daily Peru 21.

Not only must García redeem himself for the voters who reluctantly won him the election, but he must also urgently reconcile with the population who supported for rival.

Social development, the base of his 1985 platform — though his measures resulted in economic catastrophe — is once again present on García’s agenda, but he promises to be more prudent and "learn from his mistakes."

In an effort to placate the population of Peru’s impoverished southern Andes, shortly after winning the election García announced a series of measures that will be implemented in the first 180 days of his government including a project called the Exporting South, which will aim to increase productivity in this mostly rural region of the country.

García’s agenda also aims to create a Social Development Fund to fight poverty. The president-elect told reporters June 9 that he plans to increase employment and health care, promises that were uttered before he took office in 1985, though this time, the country has greater financial backing.

A June 9 article in the Peruvian financial newspaper Gestion notes that social spending in the country’s poorest regions could end up being lower than in other more developed parts of the country in regional elections this November.

Even though economic growth is "necessary, it’s not enough to improve living conditions for a population whose initial situation is one of the most unfavorable [in the country] to start with," the article said.

Decentralization will be key for poverty-fighting measures both for APRA and for UPP, which is likely to sweep the interior of the country in regional elections slated for November.

But wealth continues to be concentrated in the capital, Lima, whose residents voted overwhelmingly for García, but as the common Peruvian refrain goes, "Lima is not Peru."


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