Peru Turns Left

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 U.S.-Latin American foreign policy; whether the U.S. 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.

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 U.S. 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 U.S.

Humala’s victory holds numerous implications for U.S.-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, U.S.-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 U.S.-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 U.S. position on Latin America.  Since Peru became a democracy, the U.S.-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 U.S. relations with a leftist Peruvian president.  Yet, the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. policy makers.  Aside from the years of the Fujimori administration, Peru has been significantly linked to the U.S. 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 U.S.–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 U.S. – 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 U.S.  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 U.S.’s designs nor doomed to confrontation and strife.

Source: The Wall Street Journal
References for this article can be found here.
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7 thoughts on “Peru Turns Left

  • June 6, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Great analysis! It seems the Americans will have to mature for another 2-3 generations before they recognize the sleeping giant at their door step has awakened. Hilary Clinton's foreign policy on Latin America is lacking severely, and President Obama is the biggest disappointment of the new millennium. Nobody expected anything other than what George W Bush delivered, incompetence and evangelical's taking the reigns of the USA, but with Obama, we were promised change. The only change I see so far is a more intelligent President. But he left a trail of broken promises. The USA is truly screwed!

  • June 6, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Yes, a very fine article. The questions as regards the U.S. now: as we are already in the U.S. embarked on the 2012 presidential campaign, can anyone of authority or anyone respected by authority, step back and evaluate what ideal relations between LATAM and the U.S. would look like at this time in history? I propose:
    1) that COHA co-ordinate an academic congress on LATAM to which political practitioners and multinacional business people are invited;
    2) that the congress be centered on the political, social and economic realities of LATAM today;
    3) that panels and speakers be designed and selected with a view to formulating a new U.S.-LATAM policy that is rooted in the pragmatics of LATAM, the U.S., and all other countries which have/think they have a stake in LATAM.
    In addition to selecting very informed, a-political (in writing, as the authors of this article) academics, key to the success of the congress will be to have very informed, pragmatic political practioners and business executives.

  • June 6, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    All or most of your articles start with the premise that the US is @ the center of anything positive happening in central/south america. Whereas if anyone look honestly @ the hx of US involvement in ca/sa, there is presently no role for the US tp play. If you were honest you would state that the only reason for US so-called drug war/smuggling is to justify a reason for US military presence there, to try and keep tabs on anyone who will not be their servant. If there is any doubt, just read wikileaks recent released documents re US involvent in Haiti.

  • June 7, 2011 at 1:15 am

    Great to see that a leftist wins election as the president of Peru. Born just before the beginning of the second world war I have lived long enough to see the cold war and then the collapse of the Soviet Union. Your article rightly stresses on the fact that the day is gone forever for thee USA to consider Latin America as its backyard. I intend to survive a few more years on this planet to witness a fully reinvigourated, renascent Latin America, strong and independent enough not to be manipulated by US multinationals.

  • June 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    An interesting read and a well covered article. Congrats authors.

  • June 9, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    Having served with the Peace Corps in Cuzco from 1964 to 1966, I can imagine that the folks I worked with or their children in the Urubamba Valley will feel for the first time that this is their government led by one of themselves.

    May the country led by President Humala have great success, and may the Obama Administration help that happen by finally showing the wisdom it has demonstrably lacked with Cuba and Honduras.

    John McAuliff
    Fund for Reconciliation and Development

  • June 10, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    This article makes some important assertions but i am surprised to find that it misses some more subtle, yet fundamental issues, principally the way it handles ¨indigeous rights¨. Peru´s indigenous population were at the heart of the Incan confederacy and some of the most emphatic turns to the ¨left¨in the region are LARGELY due to Indigenous Uprisings that are more analogous to the Arab Spring than some ¨Pink Tide¨…

    her analysis completely fails to consider the role racism plays in peruvian politics. Humala ¨el Indio¨ was smeared with open racism regarding his indigenous lineage and his open integration of his indigenous culture in key aspects of his life. Everyone stuck in a modern and post-modern analysis of latin america poltiics fails to recognize that the wealthy upper and middle class that has enjoyed the plundering of indigenous lands for the past 500 years draws their strength in unity and identity as peruvians from their europpean lineage with open discourse regarding the inherent inferiority of the ¨indios¨that plague their country´s lands.

    Let us remember that the Zapatista uprising occurred a year after the start of the indigenous uprisings in Ecuador (peru´s neighboring country), and the Bolivian Water Wars emphasized the ¨left turn¨in latin american politics with not just a people´s revolution, but the consolidation of INDIGENOUS consciousness in a territory that is 80% indigenous.

    Ecuador is 60% indigenous, Peru is 45% indigenous, and all the way from the Mapuche struggle in Chile to the Colombian/Venezuelan Arawak – the diversity of indigenous nations in ¨latin america¨ have been the undercurrent of political change.

    Yes the Peruvian elite is concerned about Chavism, but in-depth analysis and the willingness to recognize the diversity of latin american peoples will undoubtedly lead us to recognize that what they fear most is the brewing alliances between the hundreds of indigenous nations of the Andes to challenge the estates who claim their territories towards DECOLONIZATION. Transforming the State as we know it, not a la Chavez, but a la Bolivia and even Ecuador, where plurinacionality and interculturality are at the heart of the indigenous political projects, and paired with the corresponding dose of white-supremacy, at the heart of the national politics in ever-growing fashion. .


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