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Peru’s Ollanta Humala: a Lula look-alike

While comparisons with Brazil's former president are evident, Humala must now address challenges uni

In a shift to the left in Peruvian politics, Ollanta Humala this week takes over from Alan García as the country's president. He was elected in a two-round contest earlier this year, beating the right-wing Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori who is currently in jail for corruption and human rights crimes.

Humala has been a controversial figure. He first rose to prominence as the leader of a short-lived military rebellion in 2000 against the Fujimori government. In 2006, he surprised many analysts by winning more votes than any other candidate in the first round of the 2006 presidential elections, only to be then narrowly defeated by García in the second. On that occasion he posed as Hugo Chávez look-alike figure, not least because of his military background and his nationalistic rhetoric. He was eventually pipped at the post in the second round, with García rounding on him for supposedly having his campaign organised and financed from Caracas.

In this year's elections, Humala looked to Brazil's former president Lula, not Chávez, for inspiration. Strategists from Lula's party, the Workers' Party (PT), were actively involved in advising his campaign. Supported primarily by the poor and indigenous of Peru, Humala came from rank outsider once again to top the poll in the first round, displacing a number of centre-right candidates including former president Alejandro Toledo (2001-06). This time he proved more fortunate in the ballotage than in 2006. His narrow victory over Keiko Fujimori owed much to a willingness to sacrifice some of his more radical campaign promises to win over centrist opinion.

Humala's choice of cabinet - he made the final appointments at the weekend - also reflects the influence of Lula's experience. Like Lula, he has avoided upsetting the markets by appointing free-market technocrats as members of his economics team. Emphasizing continuity, he reappointed Garcia's central bank president and promoted García's former treasury vice-minister to the powerful position of minister of economy and finance. The new prime minister, Salomón Lerner, also comes from a business background.

However, his social policy team is left-of-centre. A key figure is likely to be Aida García Naranjo from the Socialist Party, the new social inclusion minister. Humala has promised a new deal for Peru's poor, whose interests were largely sidelined by Alan García in his enthusiasm for attracting foreign investment by whatever means possible. Humala will seek to protect peasant rights against the concessions given over to mining companies. He will also probably seek to build on the Juntos programme, a conditional cash transfer strategy introduced by Toledo and designed to improve health, education and welfare in poor neighbourhoods. The blueprint for Juntos was Brazil's Bolsa Familia programme, which is credited in substantially reducing poverty and inequality during Lula's eight years in office.

A key question, therefore, will be whether Peru will be able to emulate the Lula experience in Brazil. If Humala can pull it off, the political rewards may be high: Lula ended his period in government with 80% approval rates. He faces a number of challenges, though, and Peru is not Brazil.

Firstly, Brazil has a far higher tax base than Peru, where tax revenues only amount to around 15% of GDP. Humala has promised to raise taxation, especially on mining companies, but the economic elite in Peru is unaccustomed to paying the price for poverty relief. Secondly, Peru lacks a half-way efficient and honest system of public administration capable of administering a large-scale social welfare programme. Thirdly, unlike Brazil's Workers Party, Humala's Gana Perú party lacks any real presence in Peruvian society; he will be hard-pressed to rein in the often violent social protest movements that increasingly defied the Garcia government.

Much also will depend on the quality of leadership. Lula managed - eventually -- to win over the respect from friend and foe alike. Humala may well be able to do the same, but he has yet to convince Peru's wealthy and foreign investors of the need to make sacrifices in the interests of longer-term social stability.

Monterrico Metals: the Background Story

Earlier this month, British mining company Monterrico Metals reached an out-of-court settlement with 33 members of a peasant community in northern Peru who allege they were detained and tortured by police and mine security. The claimants had been protesting in 2005 against the Rio Blanco copper mine, owned by Monterrico Metals, when they were allegedly hooded, threatened and beaten over a period of three days. The protestors claimed the firm was complicit in their mistreatment. Though Monterrico continues to strenuously deny the claims, the settlement remains significant as the first time Peruvian peasant communities have successfully obtained compensation by initiating legal proceedings against an extractive firm abroad. UK-based campaigning organisation the Peru Support Group welcomed the settlement as "a significant achievement" but warned that "further tensions between local communities and the mine operator cannot be ruled out" when the Rio Blanco project resumes later this year.

John Crabtree is research associate at the Latin American Centre, Oxford. His latest book 'Fractured Politics: Peruvian Democracy Past and Present' has just been published by the Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London.

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times