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28 April 2011

How Peru is poised to defy Washington

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

By Tom Kavanagh

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.

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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”.