How Peru is poised to defy Washington

Fujimori versus Humala is a battle of neoliberal continuity against progressive reform.

On 10 April, Peruvians went to the polls in the first round of the country's presidential elections. No candidate obtained the 50 per cent share necessary to assume the job outright, and so, in just over a month, Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori will go head to head in a contest that has ramifications that go far beyond the country's borders.

The duel certainly represents a clash of ideologies. Fujimori, aged just 35, is the daughter of the former president Alberto, currently serving a 25-year jail term for crimes against humanity committed during his ten-year reign between 1990 and 2000.

Harden your lines

Despite his transgressions, a significant number of people in Peru are grateful to Fujimori Sr for crushing the Shining Path guerrilla movement that waged a bloody, 20-year insurgency against the state. He also wins praise for reducing inflation and initiating food distribution programmes in poor districts.

Keiko, who enjoys near-blanket support from Peru's corporate media, has promised to institute peripheral welfare schemes in an effort to secure support from the nation's poorest. However, she endorses the neoliberal economic principles that have earned the country a deserved reputation as one of the world's most unequal societies.

Many also fear that she would pardon her father and his cronies and take a hard line against indigenous groups clamouring for a bigger slice of the nation's resource revenue.

She has endorsed the "security policies" of the former Colombian president and US darling Álvaro Uribe, who presided over a draconian police state, smashed the unions and gave weapons and impunity to paramilitary death squads prior to leaving office last year.

Human hybrid

Humala, who took 31.7 per cent of votes compared to Fujimori's 23.5 per cent in the first round, is a former army officer who has positioned himself as something of a hybrid of Hugo Chávez's radical wealth redistribution and Lula da Silva's more moderate social inclusion policies.

He was vocal in condemning the government's crackdown against a protest by mine workers in April, during which nine people were killed,. Such incidents are becoming increasingly frequent under the current president, Alan García. Humala attributes the labour unrest to a lack of dialogue between community groups and a government that tends to side with the interests of foreign capital.

Humala has pledged to renegotiate contracts between the state and multinational companies operating in Peru, particularly in the mining sector. He says his aim is to channel more money into desperately needed social welfare schemes and boost the country's pension reserves.

Polls place Humala 6 points ahead of Fujimori as the run-off approaches. Victory would make Peru the latest Latin American country to elect a progressive leader in defiance of the Washington Consensus. That has not gone unnoticed in the US, all too aware of its dwindling influence in a region once regarded as its "backyard".

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What Brussels can learn from the Italian referendum

Matteo Renzi's proposed reforms would have made it easier for eurosceptic forces within Italy to gain power in upcoming elections in 2018.

The Austrian presidential elections can justifiably be claimed as a victory for supporters of the European Union. But the Italian referendum is not the triumph for euroscepticism some have claimed.

In Austria, the victorious candidate Alexander van der Bellen ruthlessly put the EU centre stage in his campaign. “From the beginning I fought and argued for a pro-European Austria,” he said after a campaign that saw posters warning against “Öxit”.

Austrians have traditionally been eurosceptic, only joining the bloc in 1995, but Brexit changed all that.  Austrian voters saw the instability in the UK and support for EU membership soared. An overwhelming majority now back continued membership.

Van der Bellen’s opponent Norbert Hofer was at an immediate disadvantage. His far right Freedom Party has long pushed for an Öxit referendum.

The Freedom Party has claimed to have undergone a Damascene conversion but voters were not fooled.  They even blamed Nigel Farage for harming their chances with an interview he gave to Fox News claiming that the party would push to leave the EU.

The European Commission, as one would expect, hailed the result. “Europe was central in the campaign that led to the election of a new president and the final result speaks for itself,” chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas said today in Brussels.

“We think the referendum in Italy was about a change to the Italian constitution and not about Europe,” Schinas added.

Brussels has a history of sticking its head in the sand when it gets political results it doesn’t like.

When asked what lessons the Commission could learn from Brexit, Schinas had said the lessons to be learnt were for the government that called the referendum.

But in this case, the commission is right. The EU was a peripheral issue compared to domestic politics in the Italian referendum.

Alberto Alemanno is Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law and an Italian. He said the reforms would have been vital to modernise Italy but rejected any idea it would lead to an Italian Brexit.

“While anti-establishment and eurosceptic actors are likely to emerge emboldened from the vote, interpreting the outcome of the Italian referendum as the next stage of Europe’s populist, anti-establishment movement – as many mainstream journalists have done – is not only factually wrong, but also far-fetched.”

Renzi was very popular in Brussels after coming to power in a palace coup in February 2014. He was a pro-EU reformer, who seemed keen to engage in European politics.

After the Brexit vote, he was photographed with Merkel and Hollande on the Italian island of Ventotene, where a landmark manifesto by the EU’s founding fathers was written.

This staged communion with the past was swiftly forgotten as Renzi indulged in increasingly virulent Brussels-bashing over EU budget flexibility in a bid to shore up his plummeting popularity. 

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker even publicly reprimanded Renzi for demonising the EU.

Renzi’s vow to resign personalised the referendum. He gave voters a chance to give him a bloody nose when his popularity was at an all-time low.

Some of the reforms he wanted were marked “to be confirmed”.  The referendum question was astonishingly verbose and complex. He was asking for a blank cheque from the voters.

Ironically Renzi’s reforms to the constitution and senate would have made it easier for the eurosceptic Five Star Movement to gain power in upcoming elections in 2018.

For reasons best known to themselves, they campaigned against the changes to their own disadvantage.

Thanks to the reforms, a Five Star government would have found it far easier to push through a “Quitaly” referendum, which now seems very distant.  

As things stand, Five Star has said it would push for an advisory vote on membership of the euro but not necessarily the EU.

The Italian constitution bans the overruling of international treaties by popular vote, so Five Star would need to amend the constitution. That would require a two thirds majority in both houses of parliament and then another referendum on euro membership. Even that could be blocked by one of the country’s supreme courts.

The Italian referendum was closely watched in Brussels. It was hailed as another triumph for euroscepticism by the likes of Farage and Marine Le Pen. But Italians are far more likely to be concerned about the possibility of financial turbulence, which has so far been mildly volatile, than any prospect of leaving the EU in the near future.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv.com.