Sunday, April 30, 2006

The suicide of Peru

In Brazil the Word for turkey is “peru”. Perhaps the Portuguese settlers called turkey the “chicken from Peru” as it probably came to Brazil via the Incas and Peru. Maybe the name stuck. Maybe I am completely wrong (any Brazilian reader?).

Inasmuch as the turkey is a rather noble animal in spite of the modern epithet associated to its name (Benjamin Franklin, nothing less, advocated for the Wild Turkey as the US national bird instead of the Bald Eagle) I was led to think about these cruel analogies reading about the political misfortunes of Peru these days. But before giving my opinion on the subject I think it would be good to review recent Peruvian history (a self-indulgence that kind readers forgive me).

It all started with the struggle between APRA and the privileged elites to make Peru a more modern country. The mistakes made from all sides lead to semi permanent strife until the leftist military dictatorship of Velasco Alvarado (who has been fondly remembered by Chavez). This one embarked on a policy of economic nationalism and populist measures that eventually failed when the loot was all distributed and new wealth failed to appear. Eventually, after 12 years of dictatorship the military returned power in 1980 to a reelected Belaunde Terry, from the center right.

But the bill of the authoritarian left adventure had to be paid and Belaunde was unable to do so: soon the economic collapse gave force to extreme left through the Tupac Amaru and bloody guerilla “Shining Path” of Maoist inspiration. The historical APRA finally made it to elected office with the youngest and most charismatic president in Peruvian history, Alan Garcia, who finished off his country during his messy and controversy plagued term. The totally discredited center left yielded two right wing candidates for the second round balloting of 1990: illustrious writer Vargas Llosa and unknown Fujimori of Japanese parents running on a bizarre coalition of evangelical and right wing populist promises that found echo in the Peruvian poor.

Fujimori won but the mess of Garcia administration was too much: in order to bring back some order Fujimori allied himself with the military and made a coup eliminating civilian rule except for his own power. If his tenure was widely controversial, it remains that Fujimori achieved what was thought impossible: bring stability to Peru after more than half century of chronic instability. He managed that by fighting a tough and successful war against the “Shining Path” and putting order in public finances. Though along the way human rights suffered greatly as Montesinos pockets were largely garnished, allowing him to create new ways for political corruption.

If Fujimori eventually failed, as do all autocrats eventually do when they outreach themselves, Fujimori will be remembered for creating the legal dictatorship model. That is, he wrote his own constitution and won his own elections, leaving enough room to the “opposition” to acquire a minimum of democratic respectability outside. That he tamed the most feared Shining Path certainly did allow many a country to turn a blind eye towards Peru. It is easy to draw the parallelism with Chavez: his own constitution which allows him to control all branches of government, while the price of oil forces many a country to turn a blind eye toward Venezuela’s government abuses.

But if Chavez achievement are far from been demonstrated, and less seen, one can say that at least Fujimori had economic achievements obtained without Oil money, through management and hard work. Alejandro Toledo has benefited of this economic recovery by getting a country in working order, if morally bankrupt, when he was elected as the first 100% Native American to reach the presidency in Peru. In fact Toledo will leave office in a couple of months as perhaps the most successful president in Peru’s history, the first one to leave a country in a better shape than when he got it, surviving in a democratic way a ferocious opposition that would have liked nothing better but to toss him on the garbage dump of Peruvian history. In 2005 Peru had the “best” (as in most solid and meaningful) economic growth in LatAm at almost 6% (Venezuela is higher but courtesy of high oil prices and a devastating 2002-2003 recession, barely making it to 1998 levels this year[1]). Toledo will also leave a country where now a native can reach the higher office, where institutions have regained some function and independence, where Peru is now a respected partner in foreign trade and politics.

And to whom will Toledo bequeath his great work?

This is where the problem starts: the victors of the presidential first rounds are two retrograde politicians that represent between them ALL the evils of Peru history. And thus the title of this post.

Alan Garcia

This ex president who had to escape Peru under indictment for corruption after finishing his miserable first term managed to make a surprise comeback in 2000 when he was surprisingly barely defeated by Toledo, hero of the resistance to Fujimori dictatorship. In all fairness, at least from this angle, Garcia did made strong opposition to Toledo but refrained himself from trying to push him out of office in the old APRA ways of before. It remains that his failed presidency casts real doubts as to how much he claims to have changed and even as to his learning a couple of things on good management.

Alan Garcia represents all the failed populists regimes in LatAm, with all their vices and lack of virtues except to bring an illusory social peace that always crumbles at some point. That he managed to get a quarter of the Peruvian vote in the first round makes one wonder if 15 years is an eternity sufficient to erase bad memories, of if democracy is all that is cracked up to be. I was watching on TV the other night a Peruvian commentator visiting Venezuela and he was saying that Garcia won in some of the districts that most benefited of Toledo administration, where full employment was all but fully reached! Talk about an incentive to excel in future Peruvian administrations…

At least, we can be assured of Garcia democratic leanings and his return to presidential palace of Lima is for a limited term. Which is far from being the case with the victor of the first round.

Ollanta Humala

What positive thing can be said about the man who grabbed 30% of the vote in the first round, and who might reach 50% + 1 vote at the second if he makes an agreement with the Fujimori camp by promising to free that one? The rumor is that Humala might be working on such a deal as Fujimoristas did get a good turnout in the parliamentary election when Fujimori’s daughter was one of the most voted representatives. By promising to lift judicial pursuit on Fujimori, Humala coudl not only get that 50% but even a working majority in the National Assembly!

Humala is a military (though I understand that he is better educated than Chavez, and perhaps less uncouth). But his family, and we all live with a family that we cannot discard that easily (look at the Chavez clan looting Barinas state), is a perturbing amalgam of racist, right wing, Stalinist, homophobic characters that Humala has not always disowned during the campaign.

What does the Humala score tells us? Let’s look first at that 30% he got. It is eerily the hard core 30% chavista that this blogger has always granted to Chavez even in the heydays of the Recall Referendum opposition hopes. Is it the third that all LatAm countries seem to have inherited from our convulsed past of caudillos and civil wars, a group of “resentidos sociales” that prefer to live in regimes of ideological order rather than the uncertainties that democracy always bring, amen of the necessity of facing personal responsibility. I will leave this for social studies and anthropologic debate, but if Humala wins, democracy will be toast again in Peru. Of this we can be certain.

And what about Chavez?

Linked to all of this we can detect the stench of Chavez intervention. But this is long enough to require a part 2 for this installment. Stay tuned.

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1) According to the CIA fact book the per capita income of Peru is now at 6 100 USD while Venezuela with record oil prices is barely at 6 500 USD !!!!!!!

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