Welcome Mr. President Alejandro Toledo, and Hasta la Vista to your entirely mediocre presidency after next month’s elections

  • Secretary of State Rice Arrives in Lima as Toledo comes to Washington
  • Peru right now is up for grabs as the U.S.-leaning Toledo defies the leftist trend taking place throughout South America
  • For Washington, Toledo was a model president and an apostle of the leisured presidency (where less is better than more) because he relished in a shortened work day, he was without strong convictions, was relatively pliable on the drug issue, entirely open to collaborating with the Pentagon on national security matters, and never met a neoliberal practice with which he didn’t feel comfortable
  • President Toledo, will your failed presidency be on the agenda, and would you for once commit an act of decency and pardon Lori Berenson as a humanitarian gesture?
  • Conservative, pro-free trade candidate Lourdes Flores has become Peru’s most likely next president
  • Former coup leader and retired army officer Ollanta Humala seems to be bouncing back in polls as he faces accusations of human rights abuses
  • Ollanta continues to court “pink tide” members elsewhere in the region. He recently met with Argentine leader Nestor Kirchner and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva

In what is most likely to be one of his last visits abroad as president of Peru, Alejandro Toledo Manrique will meet with President George W. Bush when he arrives in Washington on March 10. Toledo’s five year-term as leader of the Andean country will leave very little to be remembered in its wake, and the talks can be summarized as an opportunity for Bush to briefly thank Toledo for a job well done. It was the Peruvian leader who spearheaded the Andean country’s signing of a free trade agreement with Washington, despite widespread reluctance among many Peruvian political figures. In this, Toledo proved to be yet another Peruvian president who yields to Washington’s wishes instead of paying attention to the desires of his fellow citizens. The meeting between both heads of state need not take long, as the Bush White House, with the free trade pact in hand, has already obtained what it most wanted out of Toledo’s tenure. . Toledo’s wife, Eliane Karp, known as “Madame Karp” in Peru, will accompany her husband, which, given her reputation as a stylish dresser, should provide her with a good opportunity to do some shopping in downtown D.C.’s more expensive boutiques, while her husband speaks of poverty abatement to Bush – another acolyte on that subject.

A President to Forget
Toledo leaves office with one of the lowest poll ratings (averaging from 10 to 15 percent) of any Peruvian leader in history. He also will not be able to have a possible successor drawn from his party, Perú Posible, as its presidential candidate recently resigned from the presidential race (elections are set to take place on April 9). What he does leave in his wake are multiple debilitating issues that Peru will have to face for years to come, making it highly unlikely that he would receive a resounding crescendo of ballots should he decide to run again in the 2011 elections. Apart from the free trade agreement, which many of the presidential candidates have been reluctant to support (with the notable exception of the current front runner Lourdes Flores), the next president will have to deal with issues ranging from a major surge in the crime rate in cities like Lima and Arequipa, to the likely resurgence of the terrorist movement, Sendero Luminoso, in the Peruvian Amazon.

In April 2002, Toledo attended Harvard University’s Kennedy School ARCO Forum, where he declared: “I have a responsibility to do everything in my power to free my people from poverty.” However, Toledo has directed relatively little time to the poverty issue; in fact, he spent very little time relating to any of the kind of matters usually found on a chief executive’s agenda. Toledo thus earned a reputation for indolence and indifference to issues, including not adequately reviewing the nagging Lori Berenson case (a young American woman who is presently in jail serving a 20 year term for being a sympathizer of the Tupac Amaru guerrilla movement in Peru). Rather than committing one of his rare acts of humanity, he gave this suffering woman the back of his hand. Some U.S. career foreign service officers have been pressing senior State Department officials to take up the Berenson case as an issue of major importance to U.S.-Peruvian bilateral relations.

Toledo has boasted for several years that the country’s economy has turned in a very strong performance. The free trade treaty with Washington and the rumors of a pending similar treaty with China, are used by Toledo supporters as examples of significant achievements on the part of his administration. However the reality is that while the economy might have improved, average citizens of the country have yet to feel the benefits of this. In 2002, the country’s economy grew by 5.3%, however that did not prevent Peru’s 300,000 hurting teachers from going to the streets to demand better salaries and working conditions on numerous occasions the following year. Eventually, the teachers settled for an increase of $30, bringing their monthly salaries to a grand total of $230 per month.

In the election campaign leading up to the ballot of 2001, Toledo ran on a platform stressing his indigenous roots, and a lack of identification with any of Peru’s traditional parties – two aspects which made him tremendously popular at the time. Today, Toledo leaves office with a popularity rating that, for the past year, fell within the range of 10-15%. If anything, Toledo will be remembered as the incompetent and lackluster successor to Peru’s notorious dictator Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000).

Rice to be in Lima
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to Chile, Peru, Indonesia and Australia from March 10 –18, 2006. Rice’s stop in Peru, according to the State Department, comes after the successful conclusion of negotiations over a free trade agreement with the United States. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told the Associated Press that the Rice trip was “a significant development and part of a broader effort to promote trade, economic reform, and help the citizens of the region.” Rice’s visit comes at an important time, as Peru is scheduled to hold presidential elections next month. She is set to arrive to Lima on the evening of the 11th, after she attends Michelle Bachelet’s inauguration as president of Chile. She will begin holding meetings that evening in Lima, which will probably include a session with President Toledo on morning of the 12th. Her presence in Lima serves as a message that Washington has not forgotten about Peru and maybe even feels somewhat grateful that Toledo has not in any way been identified with the left-leaning “pink tide” movement that has swept most of South America. The visit could also serve as a boost to presidential candidate Lourdes Flores, who, among the three major candidates contesting the election, is the most ardent supporter of the pending free trade agreement between both countries. The secretary, in visiting Chile and Peru, will be touching down in one of few countries in the region where U.S.-Latin America relations haven’t reached their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

What to do?
Whoever emerges triumphant in April’s elections will have to focus on two major issues: the economy and security. The Peruvian economy has turned in a relatively strong performance, not because of anything that can be particularly attributable to Toledo’s efforts, but because the country has a relatively broad band of traditional and non-traditional products among its exports, including copper, lead, sugar, cotton and cattle among others – when one commodity is weak, another may be in high demand.

Arrangements like the free trade agreement with the U.S., and a possible one with China, will certainly destroy what little national industry the country has left. Thousands of Peruvians currently work in small enterprises, commonly known as “micro-empresas,” and many of them would most certainly lose their jobs should both deals come into effect. In a related matter, a recent article by Alberto Pasco-Font in the Lima daily El Comercio, helps to explain the necessity of improving the country’s ports, just one of hundreds of infrastructural sectors which urgently must be addressed for reasons of safety and competition. Throughout his presidency, Toledo, just like Fujimori before him, neglected these matters. Pasco-Font mentioned how, in contrast to Peru, Ecuador has focused on improving its port in Manta, and that Chile has done likewise. Meanwhile, the issue of security is ever-present, as Sendero Luminoso continues to grow, this time by making deals with drug traffickers and improving ties with the Colombian rebel movement, the FARC. If this threat is not dealt with swiftly and effectively, the Colombian civil war is almost certain to spill over to Peru, and it may very well be that the Bush administration will be coming up with a Plan Peru as part of the endless war in Latin America that it is prepared to subsidize.