On February 21, 2011, Peru surprised the international community by formally suspending its diplomatic ties with Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, insisting that they would not be restored until the violence against the civilian population was halted. While other Latin American nations responded in various ways to Gaddafi’s flagrant and erratic behavior, Peru is the lone hemispheric nation that has officially cut off relations with Libya.
Peruvian President Alan García declared diplomatic links “suspended” as a means of protesting the unprecedented violence that Gaddafi has unleashed on his own people. Furthermore, García posted on his official website that his intentions were to speak with UN Security Council officials in order to create an internationally-mandated air exclusion zone over Libya. This would prevent the use of Libyan warplanes to carry out raids against the civilian population. Additionally, it would allow other nations—such as the United States, which are currently banned by Libyan authorities from traversing its airspace—that chartered planes could safely evacuate their foreign citizens. As Brazil currently chairs the UN Security Council, and Colombia is a member of the council as well, this request could mark an important moment for Latin American diplomacy.
So why is it that Peru is the only nation, as of now, to speak out in such a grave manner on Libyan violence? Peruvian politicians may be anticipating the general elections scheduled for April 2011, and although President García is not running for reelection this year, he has not ruled out standing in 2016. Nevertheless, his current public opinion ratings are dismal, and he is in desperate need of revitalizing his public image if he is to be remembered in a kinder light. Former president, and now current prison inmate, Alberto Fujimori’s blatant disrespect for human rights was no secret, and García’s first presidential term (1985-1990) has been tainted by memories of total indifference to humanitarian concerns in his campaign against Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). When taking this fact into consideration, President García could be engaging in a well-calculated and a somewhat theatrical reaction to Gaddafi’s admitted gross excesses. Yet, ending his term on a popular note might not be García’s only motivation in his decision to be the first world leader to reject ties with Libya.
President García may also be attempting to reposition his country as a bona fide ethical leader in Latin America. Former Peruvian Foreign Minister, and current congressman, Luis Gonzales Posada stated earlier this week that the suspension of ties with Libya is of “enormous moral significance.” Venezuela and Cuba, unsurprisingly, have taken a markedly different tone. Both nations’ leaders have championed the meretricious thesis that imperialist nations should stop meddling in other nations’ affairs, and have supplemented this position with public statements supporting Gaddafi, such as President Chávez’ February 24 tweet: “Gaddafi is facing a civil war. Long live Libya. Long live the independence of Libya.” This statement, in addition to others, endorses Gaddafi and his behavior, while implying that no nations should be interfering with Gaddafi and Libyan affairs. Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega seconded this sentiment, as have a number of key officials in the left-leaning Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), who have vocalized their unwavering support of Gaddafi. These public accolades in his support attest to the fact that politically convenient pacts are on autopilot and do not provide a reliable sanctuary to revolutionary ideals nor neutralize obvious double standards, political opportunities, and blatant hypocrisy.
However, Peru has ostensibly placed values first. In severing ties with Libya, Lima seems to distance itself not only from those who support Gaddafi, but also from its own past. Though this is only one of several recent steps that García has taken in past months to bolster his positive image, he has never been know as a poster-child for human rights—far from it. Glorifying his actions as entirely genuine and pro-democracy fails to point out that García’s second presidential term has displayed no great accomplishments in its domestic deportment. Though García is presenting a benign diplomatic face to the world, he cannot cover the anti-democratic scars he has left behind.