Presidential elections in Peru: Ollanta Humala is the front runner
Two weeks before the Peruvian general elections of 2011, the political climate in Peru has risen to a high intensity. The five leading candidates have started a war of insults and offenses using the tactics of fear.
Out of 11 presidential candidates, one has already resigned (Manuel Rodriguez) and only five have a chance to move on to a runoff vote. Four of them are right-wingers. There are two clear options in the April 10th elections: the candidates that guarantee a continuity of the current “free-market” economic policies supported by the U.S. and the European Union, versus an “anti-system” candidate.
As I have stated in the last couple of months, leftist nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala is the favorite to win this elections. Even if there is a second vote in June 5th. which is more likely to happen, Humala seems to be the most eligible and appealing among the poorest Peruvians (the undecided). The also possible runoff candidates are Alejandro Toledo and Keiko Fujimori.
Ollanta Humala, accompanied by his wife Nadine Heredia, in a rally in a shanty town of Lima. March 27, 2011. Photo Reuters
Ollanta Humala is running in a moderate leftist platform of long-waited reforms, including a change of the current U.S. designed neoliberal economic policies, in order to guarantee a better distribution of the wealth. Humala intends to push a nationalist agenda, by continuing what has worked from previous governments, but pushing for a more socially conscious model along with a strong fight against corruption.
The “Gana Peru” alliance behind the Humala candidacy conglomerates over a hundred political and community, regional organizations, mostly leftists and independents from across Peru. Its government plan includes writing a new Constitution (replacing the current imposed by Fujimori), a national plan of internal development focusing on education, health care, housing, technology and the creation of an national market of production and industrialization.
A victory of Humala makes sense. The Peruvian right is weakened and divided, with several mafia-like political parties and groups fighting among themselves. After 21 years in power and plagued with several corruption cases –involving scams run by foreign corporations and drug trafficking groups- the rightist groups in power in Peru since 1990, are facing a growing social discontent and a clamor for change.
This was confirmed during the 2010 municipal elections, when the right lost in Lima (its stronghold in Peru) where leftist activist and educator Susana Villaran was elected mayor, not without after attempts of electoral fraud.
In what I call an attempt for distraction against the popularity of Humala, the rightist groups in power have presented four candidates: former president Alejandro Toledo, former minister and Wall Street banker Pedro Kuczynski, the young and improvised candidate Keiko Fujimori (daughter of the former dictator) and former Lima’s mayor Luis Castaneda. All of them represent the same economic and political platform, and the continuation of the current government policies promoted by pro-corporate, conservative president Alan Garcia.
The goal of these 4 candidates seems to be: distract the electorate, create an image that the conservative parties are still strong, while diluting the vote of protest. Confuse, divide and conquer. Whoever gets the more votes, will run against Humala in the second vote.
The 2011 elections ballot in Peru. Photo Reuters
For several months, the widely manipulated media of Peru (centralized in Lima) has tried to promote the candidacy of these four candidates, but mostly former president Alejandro Toledo, and they placed Humala in a shady fifth place. Right now, is obvious that most Peruvian voters are leaning towards a change.
The rising of Humala might come as a surprise for many observers in the world, especially for the political analysts focusing on Latin America, who often base their views on what the Peruvian media says. That is a mistake. While international image of Peru is of a nation with a booming economy and a succesful model for development, the reality for Peruvians is very different.
Recently, the NY Stock Market held the Peru Day in Wall Street celebrating the “economic miracle” of the Andean nation. But in the streets of Peruvian cities, a popular movement was being shaped. Little is known in the world about the true reality of Peru where inequality, crime and disparity have increased in the last two decades, much faster than its exports of highly demanded natural resources. The economic future of Peru is unsure, as it depends mainly in the exports of commodities and lacks of a national plan of development.
Last week while in Chile, U.S. president Obama praised Peru during his speech in Santiago:
Today, Latin America is growing. Having made tough but necessary reforms, nations like Peru and Brazil are seeing impressive growth. As a result, Latin America weathered the global economic downturn better than other regions. […] We’re moving forward with our Trans-Pacific Partnership — which includes Chile and Peru – to create new trade opportunities in the fast-growing markets of the Asia-Pacific.
What president Obama didn’t mention is that after 21 years of U.S. supported (even imposed) right-wing neoliberal governments in Peru, the gap between the rich and the poor has brutally increased, the abuse and repression of workers, human rights activists and Indigenous peoples has worsened, while the looting of natural resources by foreign corporations is out of control, leading to a generalized corruption.
Even though (or because) the U.S. military has now a permanent presence in 3 Peruvian military bases, but Peru is now the world’s biggest producer of cocaine and counterfeit dollars.
In the weak Peruvian democracy, the Judiciary, Executive and Congress are controlled by a corrupted political leadership, which lacks of any popular support. To this we must add the lack of independence of most of the Peruvian media. Thus we never know what is really happening in the country, as the information is controlled by interest groups. Even social media and blogs have been influenced by these groups.
So often, the news originated from Lima do not reflect the national reality of the country. In Peru as the rest of the world today, the media, pollsters and political leaders are submissive to economic and political interests of powerful groups, which in Peru include private corporations, conservative religious groups and true mafias. This has worsened in Peru due to the widespread corruption of the Alan Garcia administration.
The opinion polls are run by private companies owned by oligarchs of the right-wing sector, based in Lima. They often manipulate polls results in order to benefit their preferred candidates, although private results might be released to those interested. For months, I insisted in this blog that Ollanta Humala is the favorite among Peruvians, in the streets of Peru. But all the polls placed Alejandro Toledo as the favorite, while placing Humala in the fourth or fifth spot. This speculative tactic tried to encourage Peruvians to choose Toledo, but it didn’t work. Two weeks before the elections the true numbers cannot longer be hidden.
The international press also sided with Toledo. Associated Press broke the strange silence in the U.S. media about the Peruvian elections, and it posted an article which promoted Alejandro Toledo as the likely winner. Frank Bajak, the author of the note wrote “When Peruvians see Toledo the see themselves” in reference to his indigenous origins, while repeating the overused tale of “the shoeshine boy who raised from poverty and was educated in the U.S.” to later become the messiah of Peru.
This article made no mention of the blatant corruption that characterized the Toledo administration, nor the several accusations of misuse of public funds, his personal addictions, scandalous events in his private life, including the denial of his daughter Sarai, and other ridiculous stories he was involved along with his U.S. citizen wife Eliane Karp. The Toledo administration was characterized by its submission to the U.S. interests. President Bush visited Lima one year after Toledo won the 2001 elections.
Misinformed people are easy to be manipulated, but in the case of Peruvians in Peru it seems that they have realized they were being tricked by the media disinformation scam.
The four neoliberal candidates are presented publicly as rivals, although politically they are close allies to each other. They use insults and personal attacks in their fight for power. Truly, this has been the campaign of the insults, offenses and lies, all of which worked well in 2006 against Ollanta Humala. Everything seems like an orchestrated plan, at the expense of Humala. This has been a very intense battle.
The constant verbal attacks between the candidates, particularly against the opposition leader Humala, include remarks with sexist, homophobic, racist, pornographic and demagogic tones. They are spread by the media of Lima, obviously driven by money.
In this schizophrenic scene, the Peruvian constituency is been brutalized and manipulated as possible, they are being distracted from the real issues. Instead of creating a serious debate, or presenting credible proposals and accurate information so that Peruvians can decide their vote responsibly.
While Luis Castaneda and Keiko Fujimori are keeping a low profile, the biggest disputes in the press are between Toledo and Kuczynski, even though they are nearly identical candidates. Kuczynski was appointed twice as a minister by the Toledo administration, and both are U.S. citizens or legal residents. Kuczynski, has a strong reputation of being anti-Peruvian, among the older Peruvians.
Actually there is a notorious and growing anti-U.S. sentiment among Peruvians, due to the increasing dependence of Peru on U.S. policies, especially since the signing of the U.S. ” free trade” deal (FTA) which was imposed by the Bush administration and caused indirectly the Bagua massacre of 2009. Also, this can be possibly enhanced by the recent invasion of Libya.
Though its media, Lima tries to control and distract much of the country’s opinion -at least it appears to be the case. The local media show gross scenes and useless discussions, transmitted by TV and radio, which distract Peruvians from the important issues. Recently, the campaign team of U.S. naturalized citizen and Wall Street banker Pedro Kuczynski, made an old woman and a man touch Kuczynski ‘s genitals, presenting them as spontaneous acts.
Nearly 1/3 of Peruvian urban households lack of running drinkable water, the number rises up to 2/3 in rural areas. Photo in the outskirts of Lima, February 2010. Reuters
For the wealthy the ideas, for the poor the garbage.
There is a double standard in the Peruvian elections campaign. For the richer there are formal debates, for the poorer is all about block parties, free concerts, gifts give-away rallies and empty speeches. It’s the Banana Republic politics.
For instance, Pedro P. Kuczynski (PPK) presents himself as the succesful executive of prestige to the richer voters of Lima, but in the poor slums he is the cool gringo who dances accompanied by a giant puppet called PPKuy (a huge stuffed Andean guinea pig custom wore by some poor guy) smiling and telling jokes. This is because he being a White man with U.S. citizenship, PPK is desperate to create a more ‘Peruvian’ image. All the Kuckzynski TV ads include Peruvian music, especially from the Andes.
Another example I can remember of, is when Alejandro Toledo campaign used an Afro-Peruvian woman for a ‘circus’ scene at the Lima airport. The woman picked up Toledo in her arms, and the local media called her the “Black Zulu”. In Twitter some talk of her as “big nigger who lifted the cholo”. Toledo said that “the negrita” was very strong. Toledo calls himself a Cholo which is a racist slur but in Peru is widely accepted as colloquial.
Toledo is accused by his opponents (including some of his ex-allies) of being an alcoholic and a cocaine addict, and he travels the country in the “cholo” bus. In these trips, Toledo lies openly about his administration corruption cases, while wearing Native regalia to pose as the ‘most’ Peruvian among the candidates. He travels alone, and rumors has it he is hiding his wife Eliane Karp, who left Peru in 2006 upset at Peruvians blaming us of being ungrateful towards her husband. In his campaign, Toledo avoids talking about his close ties with powerful economic groups of the U.S. and Israel.
Meanwhile, Keiko Fujimori is running a populist campaign, using her father’s image as an electoral tool, trying to remind people of the good things that Alberto Fujimori did for them. She has held music concerts where gifts are given to attract followers. The 36 y.o. candidate is promising all types of assistance programs, instead of actually proposing the end of poverty. Keiko Fujimori has never been able to explain how she paid for her college tuition, at both Boston University and Columbia University while her father was the president of Peru.
The second debate. Photo CAPS
There had been two televised presidential debates, and seems that both were watched mostly by the wealthier electorate. The first debate was organized by the right-wing newspaper El Comercio (Lima), and it was broadcast only on cable and via internet stream. This means that only Peruvians in consolidated urban areas were able to see it. The second debate was organized by the National Elections Jury (JNE) with the support from the also right-wing TV station America TV (owned by El Comercio thanks to a transaction facilitated during the Toledo administration), and it was also held in Lima with a limited coverage.
These “debates” were good for people to know the faces and ideas of all candidates, who mostly repeated overused electoral slogans and promises. With the exception of some interesting interventions, especially from little-known candidates José Ñique and Humberto Pinazo, the debates were boring but at the end, were useful. Twitter comments expressed disappointment about some considered a plain exhibition of ideas, instead of a true debate.
But there was a growing rumor after those debates among Twitter users and Facebook optimists: the opposition leader Ollanta Humala remained very likable. In fact, Humala is the favorite among the poorest Peruvians, and his campaign has not included slurs or insults, but a very honest and direct speech that talks about real life issues. In the last weeks, Humala has consolidated his leadership, so the cuatro neoliberales have turned their attacks against him, using a campaign of fear.
The bad guy
It’s 2006 all over again. Ollanta Humala is again accused of being funded by “the gorilla” Hugo Chavez, because he was photographed hugging the Venezuelan president in 2006.
Update March 31st: The president of Venezuela who is called ‘dictator’ by the Peruvian media, said this week that he hopes that Humala wins the election, but Humala responded that Chavez “needs to stay away from the Peruvian elections”. The president of Chile Sebastian Pinera, a right-wing businessman, has warned that the bilateral relations Peru-Chile will change if Ollanta is elected. Unlike the intervention of Chavez, most press in Lima has made a few comments of the intervention of the Chilean president.
The media also accuses Humala of being a murderer of Peruvian civilians, in the town of Madre Mia during the internal war, even when Humala has been absolved by all Peruvian tribunals and this is a closed case. His opponents say that Humala will be a brutal dictator, who will scare away foreign investment, pushing the country into a financial crisis. Last week the Lima Stock Market fell after an international fall of the mineral prices. Toledo came out on TV blaming this on Humala. Some newspapers even compared Humala with the Libyan president Moammar Gaddafi.
Recently the right-wing newspaper El Comercio posted a front page with another baseless rumor: Humala will pursue a government of nationalizations, meanwhile newspaper Peru21 (owned by El Comercio) posted that Humala will shut down opposition media outlets “like Chavez”. Even the hugely unpopular president Alan Garcia has come out saying “there are only four candidates who will continue my good work”, ignoring that by law the president is not supposed to participate in the electoral process. At the end, any attacks from Garcia may easily favor Humala.
Repeating a 2006 tactics, Ollanta Humala is accused of being homophobic just because he met with the influential Catholic cardinal Juan Cipriani (like all the other candidates). Humala said then that he does not support gay marriage. So the rumors are saying Ollanta will kill homosexuals in his potential government. However, the Peruvian media has remained silent on the recent and shameful refusal of the Alan Garcia government to sign the UN Declaration on human rights for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people.
However, when it comes to offenses, no one exceeds the racist banker Pedro Kuczynski. In a recent interview, he suggested to the comedian and TV personality Magaly Medina that Peruvians are animals, using the word “herd” to describe us, adding that “we must take care of the genetics in Peru, we cannot have so much garbage out there…”.
An old woman searching for plastic residuals in the garbage, in Lima. Ollanta Humala has promised a retirement salary for all Peruvians older than 65 years old. Photo February 2010. Reuters
The role of the Internet has acquired a great importance in the Peruvian elections, especially among the wealthy and the middle class of the urban areas of Peru. This is obviously noticeable in Lima where 1 / 3 of the Peruvian electorate live. Most bloggers in Peru lean towards the center and right, but a growing community of leftist bloggers have joined efforts to support Humala, something this blog strongly supports.
The campaign of Pedro Kuczynski has received a strong support from young urban voters who might see the elections as a popularity contest. After an aggressive campaign using Facebook the “successful economist” has become an internet personality known as PPK. However thanks to the internet, his controversial past as minister and banker has been exposed, especially his conflicting ties with Wall Street banks.
Internet social media has been used both to inform and misinform. The level of abuse is growing with videos, retouched photos and email chains that spread all types of silly rumors. Keiko Fujimori might not be the center of debate yet, but she is already presented as a sadistic and corrupt fat woman, surrounded by “rats” or mobsters. Ollanta Humala is presented as a puppet of Hugo Chavez, a dictator wannabe, an educated soldier who lives like a millionaire, despite being “just” a retired career military. Kuczynski and Toledo are presented with images associated with the “enemies” Chile and the U.S., as an imperialist lobbyist weaving the flags of those countries.
The exceptions are a few young candidates for Congress and activists from all parties, who are using social media like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other sites to present their ideas respectfully, creating a constructive and inclusive debate, something that I truly hope will be the most influential trend in future elections.
In that sense, the only presidential candidate with a respectful advertisement -without offending or attacking personally any of the other candidates- is the most insulted: Ollanta Humala. This is something no one can argue.
The rest of Peru
The pollster companies of Lima usually ignore the rest of the country. They come on TV assuring that any of the 4 neoliberal candidates have a chance of defeating Humala. I don’t agree. The electoral battle in the smaller towns and rural areas is still a mystery to many Peruvians. In those disconnected regions there is a growing support for Ollanta Humala, Keiko Fujimori and Alejandro Toledo in that order. This is the vote of the disfranchised, those who are aware a change is needed in the way Peru is governed. Also in the poorer neighborhoods of Lima (conos) and other Peruvian cities, is likely that more people will join the outsider candidate, which in the runoff vote will be Humala.
Some Peruvian political commentators speak of the hidden vote favoring Keiko, motivated by her father’s extensive social projects in the Andean regions, and by the end of the internal war -which the dictator Alberto Fujimori had used in his reelection campaign. “My father defeated terrorism, and he is innocent” is a common phrase used by Keiko, as she is known popularly. But we’re not in 1995, so this might not work this time.
Among the candidates, Humala seems to be the one that has traveled the most around the slums of Lima and the remote poor regions of Peru. His budget is modest comparing to the other right-wing candidates, but he counts with a grass-roots effort of volunteers, mostly young new voters, independent voters, community groups, workers, women, farmers, miners and indigenous organizations. Add that to the leftists and a diverse list of independents including Christian evangelists and progressive LGBT leaders of Lima.
Humala is running under the political alliance Gana Peru, having as vice-presidents: Marisol Espinoza a popular congresswoman from northern Peru, and Omar Chehade a charismatic attorney and the leading prosecutor that extradited Alberto Fujimori from Chile.
A Peruvian American friend who visited in Lima in recent weeks, told me that he saw an impressive popular support towards Humala from the Peruvians. “This is something that I didn’t even see in the 2006 campaign” he added. Ollanta won the 2006 elections, but he claims a fraud gave the presidency to Alan Garcia. He is again a favorite in the southern Andes and all Amazonian regions of Peru, and his popularity is growing in Lima and the northern coastal regions where he lost in the previous election.
The huge amounts of money that Toledo and PPK have invested in this election campaign, are not a coincidence. Kuczynski is a millionaire banker in the U.S. where he runs financial companies in Florida and New Yok, businesses that he hasn’t declared in Peru when registering as candidate. Toledo is a well known economist who teaches in Washington, DC, and travels around the world giving speeches promoted by the World Bank and U.S. think-tanks. As a president he earned $ 10,000 dollars a month, in a country where public teachers earned $150 dollars a month. Toledo spent government funds for his personal entertainment, but now he presents himself to Peruvians as a humble man who “knows what is being poor”.
The combined amount of money investment by both candidates is an insult to the poverty faced by most Peruvians, especially in the interior provinces where the “economic boom” hasn’t arrived, regardless of what the official statistics might say.
The final stretch
By now, many Peruvians have already decided their votes, perhaps based on the plans presented by the candidates, all of which are posted online. Some of them are convinced by what they saw on the internet and TV or heard on the radio. Some are supporting the most appealing, who makes better jokes, who is “more” Peruvian, or who seems stronger against the attacks.
But others are still searching for information to decide, finally. Their lack of decisiveness might decide the election. In my blog, and in my Twitter and Facebook accounts, I get a lot of questions from voters about Ollanta Humala. The campaigns of fear have really made many Peruvians that the rumors are true facts. In Washington, DC, I run an informal poll among Peruvians and most of them are really misinformed. Watch here, in Spanish:
In the DC area, many Peruvians support Toledo saying he should be reelected because his government brought “stability” to the Peruvian economy. When I asked about the corruption cases, most said “Yes he stole, but he got things done”. Other Peruvians I met said they will vote for Humala, Fujimori, Kuckzynski and Castaneda in that order. All of the respondents said they get informed through the internet and Peruvian TV stations. Several respondents said they want to vote for Ollanta Humala, but they are fearful of the rumors they hear on the media, including the Chavez factor.
In Peru, my sources tell me that most Peruvians are willing to elect someone that will eliminate the rampant corruption, social injustice, the increasing gap between rich and poor, the worsening urban violence, the abuse of foreign corporations, the lack of jobs and labor instability, and opportunities for all Peruvians.
In one week, the final presidential debate will be held again in Lima, this time organized by the NGO Transparencia which has created an informative website. This will be an opportunity to better inform the Peruvian electorate, more seriously, and putting aside the insults and slander.
These are the most important elections we’ve seen in decades in Peru.
The current vote process shows well the inequality of Peru: millions of dollars are spent in this elections. In contrast, every year dozens of indigenous children die of cold-related diseases in the Andes of Peru. The government of Lima does almost nothing to prevent that to happen. In the Amazonian regions, dengue has reappeared killing innocent. In Lima, children are seeing begging for money on the streets.
Peru is today a very unfair nation. The Peruvian government would rather spend millions of dollars on irrelevant projects, instead of helping its poorest citizens. For instance, the celebration of the centenary of the looting of Machu Picchu will be held this year in the impoverished region of Cusco.
In this post, I have tried to describe the trickiness of Peruvian politics. In the corrupted Peruvian society, whre some people are content to get richer while the rest of the population can hardly make ends meet. All that needs to be changed, urgently.
As an independent blogger I would like to keep my neutrality in this debate, but this is too important for me. As a Peruvian, I have the right to participate. I have already decided to support Ollanta Humala for president of Peru. Is the best choice for Peru today.
Images that speak for themselves: I have collected these photos that will help you understand what is happening in Peru