The Next Domino? Ollanta Humala, Presente!

Former Army Officer, Nationalist and Otherwise Queer Duck, Nevertheless Humala should be taken as Serious Candidate in Perú’s April 2006 Presidential Elections

• Although he flies an uncertain flag and champions a confused farrago of ideas, he could win and with his victory, Washington’s hope for an Andean free trade area and a FTAA could be dashed.
• Could he be the next case of the “pink tide” bringing in another catch for the left?

• Bush administration’s flagging anti-drug war could be delivered another blow.

In recent weeks, retired lieutenant colonel Ollanta Moises Humala Tasso suddenly has become the most talked about name in Peruvian politics and a force to be reckoned with in the polls for the upcoming April 2006 presidential elections. Like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, a failed former coup planner and controversial military officer, Ollanta has inundated his audiences using fervid nationalist rhetoric while playing the “I am not one of them” card to gain popularity among the masses while bashing the country’s traditional elites. Sufficiently different from Bolivia’s Evo Morales or Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, the only comparison that readily comes to mind are the early years of Argentina’s man of all seasons Juan Perón. What Latin America (and certainly Washington) is clearly watching is whether Peru under a Ollanta presidency would be the next domino to fall, the next presidential victory of a recruit for the pink tide, affording this leftist movement with a continued momentum that could next sweep Ecuador and Mexico into its ranks when those countries hold their elections later this year.

Today, Ollanta has managed to become one of the three top contenders for the presidency, and is expected to reach a second round, whereby he could eventually emerge victorious. What has many in the international arena, particularly in Washington, uneasy is that Humala is enough of a tierra incognita when it comes to his foreign and economic policy ideas that, should he win, Peru’s future including its commitment to the war against drugs could be entirely uncertain. Similarly a Ollanta presidency could produce another membership in MERCOSUR and another ally in the South American anti-U.S. trade block. Ollanta also could enter into a joint effort with Morales’ Bolivia to place conditions on their participation in Washington’s anti-drug campaign.

Ollanta, the History
Humala first become a local household name in October 2000 when he led a failed, if non-violent, military uprising against strongman Alberto Fujimori (currently being detained in Chile where Lima authorities just requested his extradition). In that action, Ollanta and his brother, Major Antauro Humala ( who are sons of a well-known Marxist-Leninist thinker), leading about 70 soldiers and reservists from their base in the Peruvian Andes, hid in the mountains as they picked up supplies while seeking support from the towns through which they crossed. Their goal was to demand the resignation of the then-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. The ever-exuberant Ollanta then decided to switch his demands to calling for the president’s resignation (which occurred in November of the same year, after which the latter fled to Brunei and from there to exile in Japan).

Such a move in itself is not unique to Peruvian history. In 1948 General Manuel A. Odria staged a revolt in southern Peru. He traveled through one southern city after another, beginning in Arequipa, and collected supplies and supporters along the way so that by the time he arrived in Lima, the military strongman had built up massive popular support, with members of the public literally walking behind him. The then-president, José Luis Bustamante y Rivero promptly relinquished power and Odria thereafter harshly ruled the country until 1956.

Humala’s Rendezvous with Destiny
In Ollanta’s case, his attempted uprising was short lived. After two weeks in the field, he and his followers, only a dozen of whom remained from the original 70, gave up. No court marshal proceedings followed, but Ollanta was forced into retirement. In 2001, now with Toledo as president, Ollanta returned to active service, and between 2002- 2003 he was sent to the military section of the Peruvian embassy in Paris, where former UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuellar was serving as ambassador. Ollanta kept a low profile for the next several years, moving from France to the Peruvian embassy in South Korea. In 2004 he was asked to retire as part of a process of “national renovation.”

Meanwhile Ollanta’s brother Antauro, a retired major and co-conspirator in the 2000 uprising, slowly began stoking a new populist campaign. Antauro went on to found the newspaper Ollanta, which was sold at the very low price of 50 cents. Antauro’s support base utilizes military reservists to sell the paper in the streets. His supporters, who wear military fatigues when they sell the papers which serve as a symbol of protest, raise the question, given their knowledge of the military procedures (since they are mostly military reservists and former soldiers), could infiltrate army bases whenever they desire. On January 1 of last year, Antauro Humala led an uprising of his own in the Andean town of Andahualyas. He and his supporters – around 160 army reservists – commandeered a police station, killing four policemen while seizing a handful of hostages for four days before surrendering (one of Humala’s supporters was also killed). There were three goals of this failed uprising: Toledo’s resignation, the resignation of then-Minister of Defense Roberto Chiabra (because he had promoted General Luis Munoz as commander of the army) and the demand that Ollanta be reinstated to the army and promoted. Currently, Antauro is in the Piedras Gordas prison as a consequence of his uprising. Ollanta, in South Korea at the time of his brother’s failed coup attempt, declared (according to the Peruvian wire-service “ that the etnocaceristas [Antauro’s group] are people who are carrying out a daring action by asking the resignation of a president that has lost legitimacy.”

Ollanta returned to Peru from South Korea last February and shortly after his arrival he declared on the Peruvian radio station CPN that he had presented a request to be reinstated once again into the army. He explained that, “this is an opportunity that I give the army to reconsider their bad decision. Otherwise I will enter politics.” He was not reinstated and in June he announced that he would run for the presidency in the country’s upcoming April 2006 elections.

Politics, Polls and Numbers
In 2001 Alejandro Toledo was elected to the presidency as partially the result of his repeatedly playing the “race” card, which entailed that he often stressed his ethnicity (he was the first ever native Peruvian to be elected president). However, his numerous speeches about his roots as a shoe-shine boy quickly lost credence among Peruvians of all classes, who were turned off by his neo-liberal economic policies and the numerous scandals in which he and his family were involved. Among others, Toledo eventually was forced to acknowledge an illegitimate daughter by another woman; his wife, known as “Lady Karp,” has been accused of sanctioning fraud by means of an NGO which she administered. Meanwhile, one of Toledo’s brothers purportedly punched a reporter and used government vehicles for personal use. Dislike for Toledo has become so widespread that his popularity ratings have not been able to overtake the 15% mark in months, and his party Perú Posible is having serious issues coming up with possible candidates for the elections. It is within this context that Ollanta Humala slowly began gaining popularity as a candidate who was “not of the corrupt bunch,” as Toledo and Fujimori were regarded before him. Interestingly, Ollanta, himself an indigenous Peruvian, has not used the “race” card in his speeches.

Humala has risen to be second or third in most poll rankings. On December 27, the Peruvian daily La República, published the results of a poll project carried out by the public opinion company Idice that put Ollanta at 21% of support, the same as held by Unidad Nacional leader Lourdes Flores, supposedly the front runner. Former president Alan Garcia Perez of the APRA party comes third with 19% support. It is assumed that no candidate will receive the necessary 50% of votes in the April elections, so there will have to be a second round of balloting in May between the two candidates who obtain the most votes.

In spite of Ollanta’s popularity among the masses, his poor, Unión Por el Perú (UPP) is not doing as well in the polls when it comes to congressional seats. Curiously, even though Humala is the leader of the Partido Nacionalista Peruano (Peruvian Nationalist Party), he is running as a candidate of the UPP, which was originally formed by former UN Secretary General Perez de Cuellar in 1995 when he ran against Fujimori in the presidential elections of that year. When Fujimori won, Perez de Cuellar lost interest in the party and eventually drifted away from it. Today UPP is comprised of a group of left-leaning figures, mostly low level union leaders and university lecturers, without a “famous face” to represent it. Thus far, Ollanta’s UPP has an approximate 14% approval rating when it comes to legislative elections, which means that it will most likely get between 17 – 20 seats out of the 120- member Peruvian Congress. Should Ollanta be elected president, in order to be effective, he will have to find some way to attract some members of the most powerful parties in Congress to back his agenda, such as the APRA or UN. While this may make sense from a political point of view, any attempt by Ollanta to directly approach such parties would likely profoundly alienate much of his support among his base who would see him as a sell-out, along the lines of Toledo. On December 11, Mauricio Molder, congressman and secretary general of the APRA, declared to Agencia Andina that he “takes into consideration a possible alliance. In politics […] one never says never.” He was referring to an alliance between APRA and Ollanta in a possible second-round of presidential balloting.

Ollanta and Antauro
One of the main source of the radicalism that composes Ollanta’s weltanschauung is the muddled thinking of his brother Antauro. It is Antauro, using as his mouthpiece his Ollanta newspaper (which has been published since 2003) who has done some of the most radical and jingoist pronouncements that are quite often, and perhaps unfairly, tied to Ollanta. In an April 2005 article, regarding the March 11 bomb attacks in Madrid, the Ollanta editorial page claimed that the true culprits of the attacks “are not Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, [but] are George Bush, [former Spanish Prime Minister] José María Aznar, his government and the King of Spain, descendent of the terrorists that annihilated the people of the Indies [Central America and the Caribbean].”

It is because of such reasoning that Ollanta has repeatedly attempted to distance himself from his brother. An example of this is that Antauro Humala is not part of Ollanta’s UPP Party, but has actually created his own party, the Partido Etnocacerista del Peru ( Etnocacerist Party of Peru). The name is connected to that of the Peruvian army hero Andres Avelino Cáceres, who led a guerrilla war for years in the Peruvian Andes against Chile during the War of the Pacific in the latter part of the 19th century. In spite of the nationalist name of the party, Antauro’s ideology seems to be an amalgamation of populist rhetoric combined with Communist/Marxist triumphalism that were taught to him by his father when he was a youth.

Ollanta, on the other hand, has significantly toned down his rhetoric in recent weeks after his candidacy took on more gravitas. He now is surrounded by journalists wherever he goes as well as businessmen seeking him out for clarification of his economic policies. He has approached all kinds of groups that are willing to listen to him, which include business groups, academics, as well as an attempted meeting, which ultimately did not come to fruition, with the editor of the influential Peruvian daily Correo, Aldo Mariategui. In spite of that, Ollanta’s party’s website ( continues to be filled with extremist rhetoric like its calling for a Second Republic and the creation of a Constitutional Assembly as well as proclaiming that his movement is “anti-imperialist, and [… does] not accept the notion and imposition of a unipolar world.” In a December 31 interview with the Peruvian daily La Primera, he proclaimed that his candidacy is the best thing that could happen to the country, because of the quality of other candidates running with him. He described the Peruvian political class as “nation sellers.” He also said, regarding a possible free-trade agreement with the U.S. “ this government [referring to the Toledo presidency] does not have the legitimacy to accept this treaty [… Toledo] does not even have a 10% approval rating.”

In a bizarre twist of events, on December 25, the Peruvian media widely reported that Antauro had sent a letter to Ollanta from his prison cell, on December 18 where he accused the latter of behaving like a traditional politician and not recognizing the “sacrifice” performed by his “Etnocacerist” group. Antauro furthermore asked that his party members not support his brother Ollanta, but rather vote for him, for the congressional seat that he is running for from prison.

Foreign Policy and Possible Friends?
One of the main issues regarding Ollanta Humala is that, in spite of everything that has been written about him, it is still unclear what his manifesto and ideologies consists of. Some have been quick to compare him to the recently elected president of Bolivia, the cocalero leader Evo Morales. For a time, the Peruvian media speculated that Ollanta and Evo were actually friends; however, both of them have denied that they had even met.

It would be unwise to leap ahead and with conviction declare Ollanta to be a leader who inevitably could become the Peruvian equivalent of Evo Morales, who in turn could become Bolivia’s Hugo Chávez. There was much talk when Toledo was elected that, because of his indigenous roots, inexorably he would take Peru down a populist path. However, in reality, Toledo became one of Washington’s most reliable parents in the region, and who followed its neo-liberal economic policies such as supporting bilateral free trade agreements. Another example of a failed recruit to the South American left was Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutierrez, himself a retired colonel and a former coup leader. Gutierrez was also elected on a populist platform and many believed that he would become a sort of Ecuadorian Hugo Chavez. In reality, Gutierrez did little, if anything, to break away from traditional Ecuadorian politics or the traditional controlling political elites. Even more, Gutierrez supported the U.S. military presence at the country’s naval and air force base at Manta, in spite of the fact that on numerous occasions when he was campaigning, he declared that if he was elected he would shut down Manta and expel the U.S forces from the country. Because of these discrepancies, he was later pressured out of office by his former indigenous allies.

One reason to believe that Ollanta might join the “pink tide” of Latin American leftist-movements is that his Nationalist Party proclaims that they will “fight to build the great Latin American nation, as a new power with sovereignty in the global world [following] the integrationist struggles by the liberators Simón Bolivar and José de San Martín.” At the same time, like in the La Primera interview, Ollanta criticizes politicians for having given up Peruvian territory like the Trapecio Amazónico to Colombia and Tiwinza to Ecuador.

Military Politics
One of the yet answered questions about a possible Ollanta presidency is how the Peruvian military will react. In principle one would think that Ollanta would be well received by the country’s armed forces since he is a former military man himself. While he does have the recorded support of several retired generals and colonels, his armed forces’ backing is in fact minimal. In a recent speech, General Paul Da Silva, commander of the 7th infantry brigade in the northern city of Lambayeque, declared that someone who stood up in arms against the government (referring to the 2000 uprising) cannot be elected president. Da Silva was one of the members of the commando group Chavin de Huantar which freed the hostages from the Japanese Embassy takeover in 1997. Other military leaders have expressed similar concern. There are several reasons for this lack of broad support for a fellow career officer. The 2000 uprising, while it was staged against an authoritarian regime, seemed more like a rowdy, unorganized escapade – an “undisciplined act” – for which fellow Peruvian military officers instinctively had very little sympathy.

Furthermore, the nationalist rhetoric used in Ollanta (which does not necessarily reflect Ollanta’s beliefs), while being supported by all Peruvians, fails to have its feet in reality. In espousing its tenet of territorialism, the newspaper often mentions the necessity to gain back the territories Peru lost to Chile today during the 19th century War of the Pacific, and how Chile is a security threat, if not the outright “enemy.” The problem is that, while this type of rhetoric is popular and has been cited time and time again over the years, very few Peruvian military officers see the logic in threatening Chile today for the simple reason that they realize that a war with its southern neighbor would mean bringing on a disastrous defeat. Perhaps this is the core reason why Ollanta is disliked by the Peruvian military; the belief that if he is elected he will take the country down a warpath that Peru is hardly ready to carry out and which would bring with it catastrophic consequences.

Another group of officers (colonels and generals) do not want Ollanta as president for a more selfish reason. These are the officers that signed the infamous “Subjugation Act” of 1999 whereby they essentially swore loyalty to Fujimori and his intelligence henchman, Vladimiro Montesinos. These officers are afraid they will be forced into retirement (or made to stand trial) since Ollanta has the “aura” of being an extreme nationalist who would not tolerate politicized officers like those who submitted to Fujimori. Recently, Ollanta declared that he was against Division General Cesar Reinoso being selected as the new commander general of the army because, in Ollanta’s view, Reinoso was a political choice by President Toledo. At the same time, General Reinoso himself declared in his first speech that he would not allow politics on military bases. He could have been eluding to the very important fact that in the upcoming April elections, members of the Peruvian armed forces and police (around 150,000 overall) will be allowed, for the first time, to cast a vote in a general election.

A subject on which Ollanta has kept mum about has to do with the proposal by congressman Luis Ibérico of the government-allied FIM party, to offer amnesty to 618 military officers accused of human rights violations during the 1980’s and 90’s war against terrorist movements in Peru. Ibérico, chairman of the Congress’ Defense Commission, has said that it would be “unjust” if these officers would be forced to stand trial and that the current rebirth of insurgent movements in the country is due to the fact that the military is suffering from “an unacceptable judicial prosecution.” The 618 were accused by the 2003 report issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Toledo as well as presidential candidates like Garcia have declared themselves against any law that might forgive these accused officers. Ollanta undoubtedly is weighing where to position himself. Support for the amnesty might earn him thousands of votes when the military goes to the polls, but it might also alienate his support base in the Andes where the population suffered military atrocities as well as atrocities by leftist terrorist groups for decades. Meanwhile, the officers of Ollanta’s military academy class (who currently are mostly colonels) were too young (rank of majors) to sign the 1999 subjugation Act. It is unclear where they stand on the issue of supporting their classmate, Ollanta.

Future for the Worst or Best?
Retired army officer, failed coup leader-turned-politician Ollanta Humala today is a serious candidate for Peru’s presidency. The disaffection and alienation that the Andean nation’s indigenous and poor have towards traditional politics and the political elite is a card that has been successfully used in Peruvian history by newcomer politicians. Unfortunately, this tendency brought a 10-year costly and brutal dictatorship (under Fujimori) and, most recently, an incompetent president in the form of Toledo. Reading his speeches and interviews, it is easy to get the feeling that, should Ollanta be elected, he probably would be no friend of Washington. Then again, Ollanta’s stress on Peru’s greatness is in marked conflict with his declarations in favor of a Latin America unity based on General San Martin and Simón Bolivar’s dreams. His amalgamation of a stem of confused goals and ideas might get him elected, since they appeal to different sectors of the country, but it might not be enough to keep him in power for long or effectively enable him to rule.

One thing is certain, Ollanta is not the first former military officer who ran for the Peruvian presidency. In October 1931, lieutenant colonel Luis M. Sánchez Cerro was elected as the constitutional president of the nation (he had ruled the country for a year after overthrowing dictator Augusto Leguía in 1930). His main opponent at the time was the founder of the APRA party, Victor Raul Haya de la Torre who, like APRA candidate Alan Garcia today, was regarded as a silver-tongued speaker. Sánchez Cerro did not live to do much, he was assassinated in 1933, little over a year into his presidency. Since then Peru has foundered with little likelihood that whatever the outcome of next April’s elections, its problems will remain in front of it.