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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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.