Peru Elections: The Military Issue

Three major candidates are the prime contenders to become Peru’s next president when the country goes to the polls on April 9 to elect a new leader and congress. The recent high poll ratings of Ollanta Humala, a retired army commander who led a failed uprising in 2000, has added spice to an election that otherwise could have gone almost unnoticed by the international community. The possibility that Ollanta could become Peru’s next president is very much real, especially considering he is the potential favorite of Peru’s armed forces and police (together numbering around 180,000), who will be going to the polls for the first time in the April vote and could select one of their own for the nation’s top office. The future president will have to face an array of issues that have hampered Peru’s development for decades, including chronic unemployment which became even more widespread under the last two administrations. However, international attention will focus largely on what foreign policy decisions the next president will make. The question is whether Humala, or any of the other major candidates, is truly presidential?

Candiate 1 : Ollanta Humala Tasso – Partido Nacionalista del Peru / Unión por el Peru

The retired army officer has made headlines because of his staccato of bold visions for Peru. His main idea is that Peru should aspire to be a regional power, free from dependency on foreign economic aid, and liberated from the political influence that is tied to such financial assistance. In his recently published “national plan,” he explained how he would revise the treatment of a core group of strategic industries, including electricity, airports and natural gas (particularly relating to the country’s present gas exports from the Camisea region). On his Partido Nacionalista del Peru (PNP) party’s website, as well as in numerous speeches, he has declared the country’s need for more state involvement in Peruvian ports (several of which have been occupied for more than a century by Chile as booty from the war of 1879), as well as the need for an expanded merchant marine. The context of these declarations is that most of the country’s ports, including the major regional port of Callao, are controlled by foreign investors, primarily Chilean. The idea that Peru’s historic rival controls the nation’s ports has struck a sore nerve with Ollanta, and he has strenuously warned of the dangers of such a situation. This theme could have renewed interest with the debate now raging over the prospective control by the United Arab Emirate over a number of U.S. ports.

Of the three major candidates for the country’s presidency, Ollanta is the political outsider. His speeches aim to set him apart from traditional politicians by declaring that “they make him sick,” and that he is not one of them. His support base is Peru’s lower classes who see him as an alternative to the country’s elite who have historically ignored their plight. On the other hand, the former military officer has been labeled a menace by the ruling classes, who see his proclamations, as well as his encounters with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, as posing an ominous threat to their grip on power.

Candidate 2: Lourdes Flores Nano – Unidad Nacional

Lourdes Flores Nano is the leader of the coalition of parties known as Unidad Nacional. Recent polls have given her around 35-38% of the vote, making her a secure bet to advance to a second round, and positioning her as the most likely victor in the presidential sweepstakes. This lead is a huge jump from the 20 percent she had only two months ago. Flores’ campaign promises and speeches are nothing new, as they echo innumerable boiler plate politicians’ vows before her. Out of the race’s three major candidates, she is the most economically conservative, and espouses free trade and market liberalization policies, including entering into a free trade agreement with the U.S. In other areas, she seems to be in favor of simply maintaining the country’s status quo, making the usual promises of stepped up development and better paid jobs. According to her campaign website, her platform is composed of six axes: better healthcare, food for the poor, better education, worker protection laws and the development of more job opportunities, order as well as security (with the slogan “crime doesn’t pay”), and the predictable nationalistic declaration of improving Peru’s regional stature.

Of the three top contenders, Flores is the only one who has received no “bad press.” The reason for this is her backing by major Peruvian business groups, who see her as the least risky choice, compared to Ollanta’s radical rhetoric and bouts of vision, and former President Alan García Pérez’ populist ideas (the same which he put into effect with disastrous results, in terms of hyper-inflation when he was president), to many business interests’ regret. Dionisio Romero, Peru’s wealthiest man and owner of the Grupo Crédito, has been an outspoken Flores supporter.

This will be Flores’ second bid for the presidency. When she ran in 2001, the business groups supported Toledo against Garcia, landing her in third place. Now she has her big chance to come out as the winner, even though, if that happens, it will not be because she is the most qualified to govern.

Candidate 3: Alan Garcia Perez – APRA
Alan Garcia Pérez was Peru’s president from 1985 to 1990. A career politician and APRA party leader, he was Peru’s youngest civilian president (elected at the age of 36). Before this, he had served as a deputy in Congress from 1980 to 1985. It was a known fact among the APRA cadres that Garcia was close to party founder Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre, seeing the latter as a mentor.

During the 1990s he went into self-exile in Colombia and France, as the Fujimori regime began a campaign demonizing him and his actions. In 2001, Garcia returned to Peru after Fujimori’s resignation and flight into exile the previous year, and ran in the 2001 presidential elections. Against all odds, a plurality of Peruvians voted for Garcia, and he advanced on to a second round runoff against Alejandro Toledo, where the latter eventually triumphed.

At the age of 56, Garcia is now a seasoned politician. Like Humala, his moderate leftist tendencies again have awakened the concern of Peruvian business groups who do not want to see him elected. Garcia currently is third in most polls, with between 15-20 percent of public support. However, he could very well make an unexpected jump to the second round. Among his campaign promises, Garcia has guaranteed a 20,000-member increase in the number of police officers, in addition to purchasing new equipment for the force. These promises would be a welcomed change for the over-pressured current 90,000-strong police force, and have appealed strongly to Lima residents, who have had to face a precipitous upsurge of criminal activity in recent years. Garcia also has been a cautious supporter of a free trade treaty with Washington. He has declared that he is particularly interested in exporting Peruvian agricultural products to the U.S.

Other Candidates and Congress
Article 112 of the constitution bars current president Alejandro Toledo from running for reelection. He can only run again in the 2011 elections. However, it is unlikely that he will still have a party at that time to back him. Peru Posible, the party Toledo founded, is experiencing a death-knell tolling as its once presidential candidate, Rafael Belaunde Aubry, son of the deceased former president Fernando Belaunde Terry, resigned his candidacy on January 31. This left Peru Posible without someone heading the ticket, with the January 9 deadline for parties to register candidates already having passed. Thus, Toledo’s party can only run for seats in parliament, where it is believed that his followers will not obtain many. Another presidential hopeful, former President Valentin Paniagua, running as the candidate of a coalition of parties known as El Frente del Centro, is fourth in the polls, with around 10 percent. It is widely rumored that should Paniagua drop out of the race – or in the likely event that he fails to advance to the second round – he will throw his support behind Lourdes Flores.

The other 20 or so presidential hopefuls usually account for less than 1 percent of the vote each. An amusing note is that Ollanta Humala is not the only member of his family in the contest for the country’s presidency. His brother, Ulises Humala, with whom he now has a cantankerous relationship, is also running under the banner of the Avanza País party. He currently has a backing of around 0.5 percent, and has declared that he will not support his brother’s candidacy under any circumstance. The bad blood between Ollanta and another brother – fellow golpista Antauro – has been fomented by Ulises and Antauro accusing Ollanta of not staying true to his revolutionary, nationalistic beliefs.

The struggle to win a majority of the seats in the 120-member Peruvian congress is fairly complex. Currently, Peru Posible holds 35 seats in Congress, with its allies, the Frente Moralizador Independiente (FIM) holding 7 seats. The APRA is the country’s second largest party with 28 seats. Considering that it must bear the liability of Toledo’s legacy, Peru Posible should consider itself blessed if it can even obtain a few seats on April 9. Currently, the president’s faltering party is having major difficulties even organizing its list of congressional candidates. Meanwhile, Humala’s PNP party, before its recent bounce, has been hit hard in recent weeks as the Peruvian media, particularly the Lima daily La República, exposed a series of embarrassing incidents regarding the selection of the party’s congressional candidates. The daily described the process as “dedocracia” (finger-ocracy) because it is widely rumored that Humala himself chose most of the congressional candidates, instead of respecting his party’s internal vote. Others claim that some of the candidates chosen had no particular relationship with Humala’s party (meaning they are not even party members). In one case, a businessman with no affiliation to the PNP was accused of being chosen as a candidate by Humala himself, in exchange for lending Humala a van so he can drive around the country to campaign. Recent polls showed that, unless some new factor comes, Humala’s PNP might win around 14% of votes, which would give it a few seats in Congress, maybe 17 to 20 at the most. The recent string of revelations about internal party tensions might cost Humala even more support.

The APRA appears to be the most likely big winner of the parliamentary elections. It boasts a group of seasoned and widely respected parliamentarians like Jorge Del Castillo, Mauricio Mulder and Mercedes Cabanillas. Two new additions are retired officers that could swing the military and police vote to the APRA. One of them is police Colonel (ret.) Benedicto Jiménez, whose reputation comes from being one of the officers involved in the 1992 capture of Abimael Guzmán Reinoso, leader of the terrorist movement Shining Path. Another retired officer is General (ret.) Carlos Tafur Ganoza, former commander of the post-Fujimori army from 2000 to 2001.

The “Left Issue” – Fears and Extreme Measures
It would seem as if “leftist” continues to be a dirty word- if not even an outright threat to Peruvian national security in the minds of others – even fifteen years after the end of the Cold War. The two more left-leaning presidential candidates, Garcia and Humala, have been the target of a constant onslaught of harmful media coverage in an attempt to savage their campaigns. It seems quite clear that the Peruvian elite doesn’t want either of them to win the presidency, and instead are cheering on Flores’ more mainstream policies. A good example of this bias is Peru’s Panamericana TV station, whose owner, Genaro Delgado Parker is rumored to be the force behind a series of documentaries broadcast by his station, accusing Humala of human rights abuses, if not outright murder, while he was on active duty in the Andean town of Madre Mía in 1992.

Meanwhile, since Garcia Pérez’s APRA party is the historical rival of the county’s elite, it should not surprise anyone that well placed groups in the country are organizing a nationwide campaign to discredit him. The media, as well as some of the other presidential candidates, often refer to his disastrous economic policies when he was president as a sign that he is not qualified for another term. It is somewhat ironic that Humala is the candidate most associated with the region’s “pink tide,” while Garcia has barely been mentioned as a possible member of this movement. While Humala’s ideology is an amalgamation of nationalist and socialist rhetoric, Garcia is the leader of a historical center-left party. An interesting fact that is not often mentioned is that APRA is the only Peruvian party that is a member of the Socialist International, whose members are the ruling parties in Great Britain and Spain, among others.

The Military’s Vote
A monumental and historic element featured in the upcoming elections in Peru is that members of the military and police will be permitted to vote for the first time. Overall, Peru’s security forces number around 90,000, while the police is of comparable size. This makes it into a powerful voting block, especially since it is widely believed that military and police families vote in groups, which means each vote should be multiplied by 3 or 4.

It would seem that the Peruvian military is split regarding who will receive their votes. Of course this is difficult to verify since no opinion polls have been conducted among the military to determine their political preferences. COHA interviewed a number of Peruvian military officers, active and retired, to get a more complete picture of the situation. Based on COHA’s findings, it seems that, in principle, the opinion of the military can be tied to generational lines. The most senior officers (rank of commander and above) do not generally hold Ollanta in high regard. His 2000 uprising has widely been regarded as “an undisciplined act,” (despite the fact it was aimed at overthrowing a dictatorship) in which he aspired to become a national hero, and failed. A retired Peruvian general told COHA: “who does Ollanta think he is? Cáceres or Velasco?” He was referring to General Andres Avelino Caceres, Peruvian army hero of the 19th Century Pacific War with Chile, and General Juan Velasco Alvarado, who led a successful military coup in 1968 and ruled the country until 1975.

Furthermore, Peruvian military officers tend to be unimpressed by Ollanta because of his relatively low rank of commander. Of Peru’s 73 presidents to date, 51 have been military officers. In all cases, with two exceptions, all of the Peruvian military leaders who have come to power have been generals or, at the very least, colonels. There are two exceptions to this veritable rule. One is the famous commander Luis Sánchez Cerro, who was president of the government council (1930-1931) and later constitutional president of Peru (1931-1933). Sánchez Cerro’s predecessor was Commander Gustavo Jiménez, who had led a short-lived government council in 1931.

Ollanta’s current attempt to achieve power by electoral means, therefore, is regarded as a giant step of grandeur by someone without experience and “without enough gray hairs,” to take on such a task. Ollanta’s 2000 uprising was not targeted at Fujimori however, but rather aimed at the ouster of the commanding general of the army, General Villanueva Ruesta. Ironically, this uprising occurred the very same day that Fujimori chose to remove Villanueva from his post. Ollanta then decided to switch his demands to calling for the president’s resignation (which occurred in November of the same year, when the president fled to Brunei and from there to exile in Japan). In spite of this, Ollanta is still regarded by the military brass as someone without enough experience to rule. As one general commented, if Ollanta knew how to be a leader, he would have succeeded in his uprising instead of what resulted, which saw Ollanta fleeing and hiding in the Andes, while Fujimori eventually fled abroad.

Additionally, Peru’s senior military had become increasingly corrupt throughout the Fujimori dictatorship, culminating in their signing a “Subjugation Act” in 1999, swearing loyalty to Fujimori and his intelligence-henchman Vladimiro Montesinos. Ollanta has declared that he will not tolerate any form of corruption in the military, which is a warning sign regarding the continuity of the careers of a number of senior officers who may be so tainted. Alarms must have sounded in the minds of the Peruvian high command when they learned that the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, had declared that former army chief General Marcelo Antezana would be tried for treason for his involvement in a scandal regarding 28 Chinese HN 5 shoulder-launched missiles that had been sent to the U.S. to be decommissioned. Morales later made additional headlines for his selection of a new batch of generals to lead the country’s armed forces, a move that he claimed would help free the military of corruption. Bypassed military leaders said the new president had appointed unqualified officers. Should Humala be elected, how many of the current cadre of senior Peruvian military commanders will survive the possible purge to follow?

Junior officers (majors and younger), as well as regular troops, are more likely to opt in favor of Ollanta, because of his promises to create a more powerful armed forces to better protect the nation. The Fujimori dictatorship left the armed forces to perilously deteriorate, with an inadequate budget, as well as military equipment that often simply fails to function. Currently, the armed forces have sufficient funds for only one general war game per year, down from two ten years ago. The Toledo administration has done little to upgrade the military’s weaponry. After extensive debate and delays in Congress, Lima finally purchased two Italian Lupo-type frigates to replace two recently decommissioned navy vessels. It also adapted a group of troop-carrier vehicles, the American-made MI 113 A1 (which already were in inventory) with missile launchers. Finally, Lima, after extensive negotiations, reached an agreement with Moscow to repair and upgrade the armed forces’ Russian-made MI-8 helicopters. A similar agreement is in the works to repair the fleet of Antonov planes. By contrast, Chile recently received the first two F-16 planes of the ten it purchased from the U.S. for a total cost of $660 million. With constant security issues like Chile’s aggressive foreign policy, the ever-present Ecuador border issue, and the rebirth of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorist movement in the Peruvian rainforest, it is no wonder that the Peruvian soldiers, the most likely to face combat, are in favor of having a stronger and better equipped armed forces. For the Peruvian military, Humala is the one candidate who can make a reality of the average soldiers’ dream of converting the military into an imposing force.

The Politicized Military Vote
The race for the military vote has become widely politicized, not only because Humala is running, but because all parties in the race want to take advantage of this new pool of voters.

Luis Ibérico of the government-allied FIM party, has offered amnesty to 618 military officers who are accused of human rights violations during war against terrorist movements in Peru during the 1980s and 1990s. The accusations are part of the 2003 report issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that investigated the numerous human rights abuses reported during Peru’s civil war. Ibérico, chairman of the Congress’ Defense Commission, has said that it would be “unjust” if these officers were forced to stand trial, and that the current rebirth of insurgent movements in the country can be attributed to the fact that the military is suffering from “an unacceptable judicial prosecution.” Other congressmen and candidates have been silent about that issue, however, there have been several indirect accusations that Ibérico is using this pro-military platform to be reelected to congress.

Even though Humala claims that he is not a traditional politician, he appears to have adopted the old tricks of the trade in order to obtain votes. In recent speeches, he has highlighted his past military laurels, as well as his time fighting terrorism, and his participation on the 1995 border dispute with Ecuador. He has emphasized in his speeches that “[while] I was in conflict zones, those who accuse me have not even done military service.” While in northern cities like Piura he says “I greet my old soldiers, my reservists, my army.” Indeed, Humala’s campaign strategy to constantly refer to his military background might just be the key factor in securing the necessary percentage of the votes for him to make it to the second round. No polls have been conducted among the military, but it is reasonable to assume that they would be inclined to vote for a fellow officer. There are thousands of retired and still active soldiers who fought in the 1995 conflict, as well as the war against terrorist groups, who feel they have not been treated well by an ingrate government. An example of this failure to adequately compensate the military is the question of the gold medals, which previously had been awarded to deserving military personnel. Neither the Fujimori government, nor Peru’s military leadership at the time, considered giving any compensation to now retired soldiers who had fought in the 1995 border war with Ecuador. Rather some of the more needy retirees were forced to try to sell their medals which had been awarded to them at the time, in order to obtain funds on which they and their families could survive. Moreover, as the final insult, the gold medals turned out to be fake.

Regarding the current presidential campaign, one aspect is clear, of the three major contenders, Lourdes Flores is the least likely to receive votes from the military. As a member of congress, Flores has been known for voting in favor of Peru giving a symbolic one square kilometer to Ecuador as part of the peace process in 1998. She is quoted as declaring in Congress: “I assume the risk of this decision. May God and history judge me. I will vote in favor.” The military did not forget this, and she has from then on been known as “Miss Tiwinza” (the name of the region where the kilometer is located) by the military.

This is not to say that the majority of Peru’s military will vote for Humala’s party, since there are alternatives. Former defense minister and commander of the army, General (ret.) Roberto Chiabra, is a congressional candidate running for Toledo’s Peru Posible party. Meanwhile, the APRA party, the historical rival of the army since the 1932 rebellion in Trujillo, has in its cadres several well respected retired military officers, such as the previously named General Tafur and Colonel Jiménez. Another party member is Vice Admiral (ret.) José Giamprieti, who is APRA’s candidate for the first vice-presidency (Peru has two vice-presidents). A high ranking military officer interviewed by COHA declared “I will vote for him [Tafur] not because he is my friend, but because he is a soldier.”

Remnants from the War
In addition, as previously mentioned, Humala has come under fire for his military record, having been accused of being a certain “Captain Carlos,” who committed crimes in 1992 in the Madre Mía region of the Peruvian rainforest. Peru’s Channel 5 Panamericana has produced a series of documentaries about Humala’s record, for which it sent news teams with Ollanta’s picture throughout Tingo Maria asking if he is the Captain Carlos accused of human rights abuses including torture, rape and the murder of civilians. Whether or not Humala did indeed commit any crimes is unclear, however the Peruvian military has quietly taken a firm position about this issue. A Peruvian official interviewed by COHA who served in Huancayo as a captain during the early 1990’s fighting Sendero Luminoso, said “if I want to have a public position when I leave the army, are they going to send my picture across the Andes too and blame me for some murder?” No one denies that human rights abuses occurred while the Peruvian army and police battled insurgencies throughout the country for over a decade; however, it is a matter of concern among military officers that because a soldier served in terrorist-controlled areas, he is almost automatically accused of having committed some crime. This might sway the vote, not only of current military officers, but also of the thousands of retired officials and soldiers who served over the years in these areas (many of them with battle wounds to prove it). Voting for Humala might offer them the protection they demand against a possible unjust, retroactive trial.

Who will lead?
The possibility that the next Peruvian president might convert the country into a member of the “pink tide” identified with Hugo Chávez is helping to project the elections in the Andean nation onto the international scene. It is yet to be seen if any of the candidates have what it takes to lead Peru from the rock-bottom point it has hit after a decade-long Fujimori dictatorship and the incompetent rule of current president Alejandro Toledo.