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Peru Turns Left

Humala Narrowly Edges out Fujimori

Humala Narrowly Edges out Fujimori

Yesterday on June 5, 2011, Peruvians home and abroad turned out for the much-anticipated run-off election between Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori. Almost 84 percent of registered voters came out to cast their ballots for the next president of Peru. According to two electoral polling firms, Ipsos-Apoyo and Datum International, Humala received just over 51 percent of the vote, compared to Keiko's nearly 49 percent (as of Sunday evening). This is a historic election in Peruvian history, as Humala is the first democratically-elected leftist candidate to win the presidency. This election also marks a pivotal moment in US-Latin American foreign policy; whether the US plans to re-focus its policy in regards to the elections results remains to be seen. Famous author and politician, Mario Vargas Llosa, now claims that Humala's victory “saved democracy” in Peru.[i] Humala will assume office on July 28, 2011.

Humala and Fujimori: A Choice between Aids and Cancer

The Peruvian presidential election run-off featured two polarizing candidates: right-wing populist Keiko Fujimori and left-wing nationalist Ollanta Humala. Fujimori and Humala advanced from a first round of voting that consisted of three centrist candidates: former president Alejandro Toledo, former IMF economist Pedro Pablo Kucynski (PPK), and former Lima mayor Luis Castañeda. These three candidates were perceived to be too ideologically similar and therefore canceled each other's votes out, paving the way for the two remaining candidates to face-off in the second round.

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Keiko Fujimori is the daughter of the former autocratic president Alberto Fujimori, who is currently serving a twenty-five year prison sentence for human rights abuses. Keiko's kinship and personal history had raised many questions during the campaign. After initially proclaiming that “her hand would not tremble” in pardoning her father, Keiko has since retracted this claim, stating that if elected she would not pursue a pardon.[ii] This switch in policy was an attempt to appease voters and improve her public image; however, most scholars believe she would have pursued the release of her father, as well as his national intelligence director Vladimiro Montesinos.[iii] She has acknowledged corruption and human rights abuses during her father's presidency, yet continued to proclaim his innocence regarding the allegedly committed acts. Despite these acknowledgments, Keiko had surrounded herself with many of her father's advisors.[iv] The majority of the Peruvian media supported Keiko while trashing Humala, leading scholars to claim that the elections took place on a grossly uneven playing field.[v] Fujimori had also campaigned on a neoliberal economic platform and the same “mano dura” crime policies pursued by her father, stating that, “If we defeated terrorism in the 1990s of course we can defeat common crime now. With a heavy hand.”[vi] Her economic strategy consisted of lowering taxes on foreign investors in an attempt to increase economic growth. In a recent publicity stunt to display her “tough on crime” image, Keiko invited former New York City Mayor Rudy Guliani to tour several major Peruvian cities.

Ollanta Humala is a former military leader, who eleven years ago led an attempt to overthrow then-president Alberto Fujimori. After running a hard-left presidential campaign in 2006, Humala has shifted toward the center in order to appease the fears of many on the right. Humala's campaign awoke fears of “Chávez-style” political reforms for many economists and rightists. His move toward the center consisted of bringing in a base of moderate tecnicos as policy advisors. Humala also attempted to quell conservatives' fears by formally pledging allegiance to democracy and rejecting the extension of term limits.[vii] Instead of a “Chávez-style” governance, Humala has most recently praised the reforms of former-Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.[viii] Humala's economic policy calls for higher taxes on transnational extractive companies and greater state intervention. Like the Fujimori family, Humala's human rights background also has been highly scrutinized, as various human rights groups accuse Humala of perpetrating crimes during his earlier military career.[ix]

The Presidency of Alan García

Alan García, who served as president of Peru from 1985 to 1990, won a second, non-consecutive term in 2006 following the presidency of Alejandro Toledo. García was elected in 2006 after a run-off with Ollanta Humala, a situation eerily similar to that of the 2011 elections. However, many see García's victory more as a rejection of the left-wing Humala rather than an acceptance of García. Furthermore, during his presidency, García certainly has done little to gain the trust of his people.

President García undoubtedly has worked to sustain a strong economy; however, he has devoted little effort to many pressing social issues, such as indigenous rights, inequality, corruption, drug production/trafficking, and human rights. He has consistently fought for increased foreign direct investment (FDI) and leniency toward multinational corporations (MNCs), particularly in the natural resource industries of mining, logging, and oil drilling. In doing so, he has managed to sustain Peru's impressive economic growth, but repeatedly has put the concerns of the international community above those of his own people. As a result of the Peruvian peoples' frustration, recent violent protests have occurred against mining extraction in the region of Puno.

Throughout his presidency, García also has displayed a complete disregard for indigenous rights and failed to develop any successful policies to adequately curb inequality and coca production within Peruvian borders. In addition, he has been accused of corruption during both of his presidential terms, while retaining a poor human rights record according to the US State Department's Human Rights Report. The fact remains that while Peru has enjoyed impressive economic growth, such lauded gains have not been felt by all, especially by those who are truly in need of such benefits.

The Implications of Humala’s Victory for the US

Humala's victory holds numerous implications for US-Peruvian relations. In the past few decades, Peru has become increasingly important to the US in order to combat drug-related crime and terrorism, as well as to serve as a strategic economic trading partner in South America. The recent increase in the production of coca, as well as the trafficking of cocaine throughout the country, places Peru in an important role for the anti-drug trafficking movement. Also, the resurgence of the terrorist organization Shining Path, which recently killed several Peruvian soldiers in the Andean region of Cusco, indicates a shared necessity to combat terrorism. Therefore, US-Peruvian relations may serve as an important link in eliminating violence in the region, as well as diminishing the expansion of Shining Path from its current source – within Peru.

In addition, Peru's impressive annual economic growth, averaging around seven percent in recent years, along with its rich natural resources, makes it an attractive economic partner in the oil, gas, and copper industries. Several US-based multinational corporations have established extraction sites in Peru during its economic boom. However, many of these companies fail to uphold high standards of conduct, and environmental awareness, often times disregarding the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment. In fact, several protests have recently turned violent in regards to the continued extraction of natural resources from the Peruvian countryside, often times without consent of the region's citizens. García's predilection for foreign companies, in addition to his tolerance for the concentration of wealth in ever fewer hands, has made him grossly unpopular in spite of the country's comparative prosperity. Also, Peru's lax regulation, along with the United States' lack of accountability, has resulted in grave concerns for the future of the indigenous peoples and Peru's rich environment. The United States needs to take a serious look at how its companies behave overseas and hold them accountable to the same standards that would be applied in its own backyard.

In terms of political ideology, the leftist Humala represents an interesting challenge to the current US position on Latin America. Since Peru became a democracy, the US-friendly governments of Fujimori, Toledo, and García were able to withstand the “pink tide” that swept through Latin America in the 2000s. Thus, Humala's election will be the first real test for US relations with a leftist Peruvian president. Yet, the US should be careful not to place Humala into the same category as Chávez, a comparison that has been repeatedly drawn during these elections. Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson stated, “I don't think he's a Chávez or Lula clone … I believe Humala's a nationalist with evolving views and a pragmatic streak.”[x] In addition, when addressing the fears of another Chávez-like leader, Peruvian transparency expert Carlos Monge claimed that “Humala has no intention of becoming a Chávez … and even if he wanted to, he could not be a Chávez in Peru.[xi]

With Humala's recent attempts to distance himself from Chávez, along with his praise of Brazil's Lula and his public pledge to uphold democratic institutions, it is important for the US to get off on the right foot with the leftist Peruvian president. This is an important moment in President Obama's relations with Latin America, a region that has more often than not been placed on the backburner. After previous disappointments in his regional policy strategy, Obama has the ability to break with the tradition of ostracizing leftist leaders in Latin America, which has usually been based solely on their political ideology and not on their actual policies.

Is Washington Wise Enough to Fashion an Open and Constructive Relationship with Lima? This Remains an Open Question.

Humala’s victory poses distinct issues for US policy makers. Aside from the years of the Fujimori administration, Peru has been significantly linked to the US for much of the past two decades. This support was developed during the Alan García presidency after it became an important ingredient of the Hemisphere's power relations. Also, Washington's split with much of Latin America over ALBA, as well as within the OAS, particularly with the growth of the Brazilian-influenced UNASUR movement, has reinforced such support.

It is surprising what a bust US–Latin American policy has been under the Obama White House and under the reign of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Clinton almost has played a Cold War card, revealing herself as a relative hardliner on hemispheric issues. Similarly, the tenure of Arturo Valenzuela as Assistant Secretary of State has proven to be disappointing. In spite of Obama's campaign for change and a new arrangement with Latin America, there has been nothing of the sort. Domestically, his ties have been with the conservative business group, the Council of the Americas, and not liberal think tanks like the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, the Center for International Policy, and the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Furthermore, instead of reasoned policy making, Clinton has more characteristically shot from the hip in her efforts toward the region. By sloganizing, rather than coming forth with concrete action regarding leftists like Castro or Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, Clinton almost always resorts to deprecatory language. In addition, any sort of reintegration of Cuban policy in the Obama administration has been a failure. The White House has repeatedly ignored the truism that long-term rehabilitation of US – Latin American relations must travel through Havana. Recently, the State Department pulled back from making minor gestures of rejection in regards to Brazil's Iranian sanctions issue, while conniving with its relatively few Caribbean allies to place obstacles in the way of Manuel Zelaya's return to Honduras.

It’s a changed Latin America, and Secretary of State Clinton seems to fail to appreciate this. The region is no longer on the verge of poverty, but has been prospering from the high price of its commodities and the fiscal instability that other parts of the world have suffered. It is also almost certain that Latin America's traditional policy of dependency is now at an end, marked by failure and the relatively spurious concept of geographical propinquity, which no longer provides a firm basis for Peru and the rest of Latin America's future relations with the US. Today, Latin America looks in all directions and has dismantled the concept that the area is little more than America's “backyard.” The closeness of Washington's ties to Humala will undeniably be a function of the capacity for respect that the administration brings to the table. Washington's future relations with President Humala are neither pre-ordained to the US's designs nor doomed to confrontation and strife.

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