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PORTSIDE  June 2011, Week 1

PORTSIDE June 2011, Week 1

Subject:

Humala is Best for Democracy in Peru

From:

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Date:

Wed, 1 Jun 2011 23:20:11 -0400

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Humala is Best for Democracy in Peru 

By Max Cameron and Michael Marx McCarthy 
Beyond Brics
May 31, 2011
http://blogs.ft.com/beyond-brics/2011/05/31/guest-post-humala-is-best-for-democracy-in-peru/#

This Sunday, when Peruvians go to the polls to elect a
new single-term president, they will be casting their
ballots in an echo chamber of analogies.

In politics, analogies can make game changing
differences. Saddam Hussein was an Adolf Hitler. Nelson
Mandela fathered a new South Africa. Obama represents
the Joshua generation.

Sometimes these analogies hit the mark. They can reveal
a profound truth by finding a hidden connection. Other
times, they are more like card tricks, revealing less
than they hide.

The front-runner in the first round of the election,
Ollanta Humala, has been compared to Hugo Chávez.
According to his critics, he would trample on Peru’s
democratic institutions and create a self-perpetuating
quasi-dictatorship.

The other candidate, Keiko Fujimori, has been called a
Trojan horse who would take Peru back to the decade of
the 1990s when her father ruled through a combination
of bribery, blackmail, and abuse of power.

These analogies are both true and false.

Humala would not govern like Chávez because conditions
in Peru are totally unlike those in Venezuela, which
occasioned a system breakdown and paved the way for
Chávez’s rise to power in 1998. Peru’s economy has been
booming like thunder for a decade and millions have
been lifted out of poverty.

No fundamental reversal of the policies that produced
this socio-economic change is at issue. Rather, an
urgently needed debate over wealth distribution has
been stimulated by Humala’s candidacy.

Peru’s economic boom has resulted in a substantial
reduction of poverty.

Today about a third of the country is poor, down from
half the country a decade ago. But growth has been
concentrated in Lima and the coast. In the south and
central highlands and in the Amazonian jungle, poverty
remains high and a ‘wild west’ approach to natural
resource extraction has intensified conflict.

Indigenous Aymara in the highland city of Puno have
captured headlines in the midst of the election
campaign with protests against plans by Bear Creek, a
Canadian miner, to open a silver mine that protestors
say would pollute Lake Titicaca. A combination of
negative environmental side-effects and a struggle over
economic rents generated from these activities could
fuel another cycle of violence and repression.

These pressures raise questions about Peru’s political
institutions, which are not as robust as those of Chile
and Uruguay, for example, often praised as poster
children for democracy in the region. But the sky is
not falling. A major collapse that would create an
environment fertile for a ‘salve patria’ mission is
unlikely.

To make Chávez-like changes, Humala would need a huge
coalition hungry for major political transformation.
This he does not have.

Moreover, one of Chávez’s most vocal critics in the
region, Mario Vargas Llosa, is now supporting Humala.

He and other liberal intellectuals, including his son
Alvaro, could convince undecided moderate voters that a
Keiko presidency would not be compatible with
democracy.

Their support for Humala stems from two factors:
Humala’s move to the center and pledge to respect
Peru’s democratic rules; and the direct connection that
exists between Keiko and her father Alberto Fujimori,
the former president who wielded power ruthlessly and
arbitrarily in the 1990s.

Keiko was part of her father’s government, if only as
“first lady” (a stand-in role that she assumed after
her mother was brutally mistreated by her father). She
has not repudiated her father’s policies, and we
suspect she would release him from prison where he is
serving a 25 year sentence for corruption and crimes
against humanity. In fact, her campaign appears to have
been run, in part, out of the penitentiary where father
Fujimori is incarcerated.

Critics say the very same dirty tricks he used to
perpetuate himself in power have been used in her
campaign.

When a journalist in one of two pro-Humala newspapers
revealed that the Peruvian military intelligence
service was engaged in dirty tricks to support her
campaign, the editor received a funereal bouquet.
Another newspaper that is more sympathetic to Humala
was purchased on masse to prevent circulation in
certain districts of Lima. Much of the media is heavily
biased against Humala, abandoning any pretense to
neutrality in news reporting.

If she pardoned her father and attacked the judges who
put him behind bars there is a danger that the entire
mafia that ran the judiciary and armed forces, and
which was never entirely purged by previous
governments, would be reactivated.

Then there is the key matter of powerful interests and
checks and balances, the main reason she represents by
far the greater danger to Peru’s democracy.

Keiko has few incentives to govern democratically,
while Humala faces constraints that may force him to
govern democratically.

She would govern with the collaboration of powerful de
facto interests – big business, the media, the armed
forces, the most socially conservative forces within
the Catholic and evangelical churches, and much of the
political establishment – which would be all too
pleased to watch as she imposed a “mano dura” (or iron
fist) on crime and dissent, applied band-aide solutions
for poverty, and asked for kickbacks in exchange for
continuing “open for business” economic policies.

Humala, on the other hand, would be hemmed in on every
corner. A hostile business community, rabidly critical
media, nervous armed force, and all the corrupt office
holders in congress, the courts and the judiciary would
do everything possible to keep him off balance. The
only way for him to govern would be to take the higher
ground and rule democratically, since the legitimacy of
his right to rule would not be backed by Peru’s
powerful private actors.

All this tells us that Peru has a long way to go before
it becomes a stable democracy with good governance and
laws. For these ‘democratic consolidation’ strides to
be taken, powerful actors will have to lose power.

Convincing elites that such a recalibration is a
positive sum game will be difficult. But if Peru’s
elites were to look east, across the Andes to Brazil,
they would find inspiration from an elite that learned
a worker’s political party headed by a worker could be
good for business, good for democracy, and good for the
welfare of society.

As the region’s weathering of the Great Recession
shows, the Latin American left can be quite good for
domestic and international business. Indeed, these
elections, beyond determining the future trajectory of
Peru, hold major implications for the ‘growth with
equity’ development model.

An Humala presidency would broaden the reach of that
social democratic model. A Keiko presidency would
damage democracy and pay lip service to equity while
growing the fortunes of the rich even more.

The bigger danger is not that Humala would reveal
himself to be a wolf in sheep’s skin. It is, we fear,
that he would turn out be like Obama: that he would
come to power and find himself able to do very little
to address his country’s deeper structural problems.

Max Cameron, a Peru specialist, is Professor of
Political Science in the Center for the Study of
Democratic Institutions at the University of British
Columbia. Michael Marx McCarthy is a doctoral candidate
in political science at Johns Hopkins University.

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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