Peru elections: ‘dangerous farce’?

Reuters takes relief that Peruvian markets jumped on April 11 as results showed two "free-market candidates" emerging victorious from the previous day's first-round presidential race. "Conservative" Keiko Fujimori, with an estimated 40% of the vote, will now face "centrist" Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, with some 22%, in a June run-off. Markets evidently reacted favorably to the failure of "nationalist" Veronika Mendoza to make the second round, winning only some 18%. As the headline put it: "Two pro-business candidates make Peru runoff, markets rise." The BBC News calls Fujimori "centre-right." New York Times also calls Kuczynski "centrist" and (more accurately) Keiko "right-wing." These labels reveal illusions, and the degree to which what used to be the right is now considered the "center." Kuczynski (known by his initials PPK) is a former World Bank economist and veteran cabinet minister under the presidency of Alejandro Toledo. He is the one who is actually the "conservative" of the "center-right"—a standard neoliberal technocrat. Fujimori's intransigent and unapologetic defense of her father Alberto Fujimori—who ruled as a dictator in the '90s and is now imprisoned for assassinations and human rights abuses—clearly places her on the far right.

Among the thousands who marched against Keiko's candidacy last week were survivors of a campaign of forced sterilization under the elder Fujimori's dictatorship which was arguably genocidal in its intent.  Over 300,000 women—overwhelmingly poor and indigenous—were coercively sterilized under the program, obviously motived by fear of the peasantry's demographic advance amid a mounting guerilla insurgency. Against all evidence, Keiko claims only a few hundred were sterilized. (Survival International via Facebook, April 10)

Of course the genuinely brutal Shining Path insurgency was the context for Alberto Fujimori's abuses, and his defeat of the guerillas is doubtless a factor in the current support for his daughter. So it might have helped her fortunes that a remnant faction of the guerillas staged a deadly attack on election eve. Eight soldiers and two civilians were killed April 9 when guerillas ambushed an army patrol accompanying election workers at the pueblo of Hatunccasa, Santo Domingo de Acobamba district, Huancayo province, Junín region. This lies within the pocket of jungle known as the Apurímac-Ene Valley (VRAE), one of the last areas of the country where remnant Shining Path forces still operate. Another five were wounded in the attack. (BBC News, Peru21, April 11; La República, April 10; Ojo, April 9)

The election has been marked by so many controversies and irregularities that even The Economist, ideological guardian of the neoliberal order, called it a "dangerous farce." Two candidates, Julio Guzmán and César Acuña, were disqualified by electoral authorities—although polls promised them almost a quarter of the vote between them. Guzmán was rejected because the small party that adopted him changed its procedure for choosing its candidate without informing the electoral authorities. Acuña was expelled for handing out a total of around $4,400 during a couple of campaign stops. But then videos emerged of Keiko Fujimori similarly handing out prizes of about $90 each to winners at a hip-hop competition organized by her party's youth wing. An electoral tribunal, in a judgment "smuggled out" just after midnight on Good Friday, ruled that she should not be disqualified.

Concluded The Economist: "If Peru is to remain a Latin American growth star, it needs reforms that only a strong and credible government can provide. The worry is that it will see social conflict and lawlessness instead."

In other words, Peru's very neoliberal elite are blowing their own legitimacy, thereby potentially empowering the "nationalist" (read: leftist) opposition—who are, by the way, being excluded by the most nefarious means.

The candidate with the best popular credentials was Gregorio Santos, president of northern Cajamarca region where he led the struggle against US-backed mega-mining schemes that threaten local lands and waters. Upon announcing his candidacy last year, he was placed under "preventative detention" while utterly dubious corruption charges against him are investigated. He actually ran his campaign from Piedras Gordas prison outside Lima. Despite this, he came in an impressive sixth in a field of 10 candidates—actually ahead of ex-president Alejandro Toledo (seventh place) and just behind another ex-president, Alan García. He easily took his own Cajamarca region, where he officially remains the elected regional president, although his vice president is actually governing while he is imprisoned. (InfoBae, Argentina, La Vanguardia, Spain, April 11)