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".

Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses