September 2009, Vol. 16, No. 3
By COHA Research Associate Steve Schaffer
When Alan García first came to power in Peru in 1985 under the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA) party, he was wildly hailed as Latin America’s JFK. Unfortunately, his reign was, instead, marked by corruption, economic disaster, violence and human rights violations by leftist guerilla groups as well as by the military. In his 2006 presidential bid García was careful to enumerate the lessons he had learned since he first served as president. He attempted to distance himself from that unsuccessful era by running on a platform of free market economics, open trade, poverty reduction, respect for the church, and building good relations with Washington. He won, but only by a narrow margin – 53% of the vote.
Garcia remains a controversial figure with low polling results. His current administration has been besieged by an array of difficulties, including major social unrest, an oil scandal and, most recently, a gross mishandling of public protests being staged by indigenous groups in the Amazon. Demonstrations in the province of Bagua have resulted in at least 40 Indian casualties as well as 22 police deaths. Witnesses related that some 600 Peruvian riot police and helicopters attacked a peaceful indigenous blockade just outside of Bagua. News broadcasts showed police firing live ammunition and tear gas into the crowd of protesters.
On July 28, during his third state-of-the-nation speech, the President ducked several key issues, including the violent clashes against indigenous groups, and he offered little information on other incidents. He did propose an electoral reform – midterm elections -stating this would “reduce tension that gathers during the five-year term.” Garcia has, however, failed to address the corruption, inefficiency, and powerlessness of Congress.
In addition to failed domestic policies, international relations also have suffered. Diplomatic relations with Bolivia and Venezuela have become strained as Lima has accused Presidents Chávez and Morales of external meddling and inciting unrest in the Amazon. Peru has since withdrawn its ambassadors from both countries. Although the Peruvian GDP rose by 9.2 percent in 2008 and inflation has declined, the indigenous Amazon clashes and an oil scandal have seriously undermined García’s legitimacy and his party’s standing.