Peru: populist prevails in presidential poll; plutocrat prognosis pessimistic

Keiko Fujimori of the neoliberal-right coalition Fuerza 2011 formally conceded defeat to challenger Ollanta Humala Tasso of the nationalist-populist Gana PerĂş June 6 following Peru’s presidential run-off race the previous day. With 90% of the vote counted, Humala had 51% to Fujimori’s 49%. Humala had tilted to the center on the campaign trail, pledging to emulate Brazil rather than Venezuela, but was nonetheless demonized by the Fujimori machine as an extremist. International markets reacted quickly to the victory of the former army officer and veteran protest leader. The Lima stock market plunged 12%—the biggest single-day drop in the nation’s history. Shares also fell in global markets for mineral companies with large investments in Peru (Bear Creek Mining and Rio Alto Mining, both of Canada, dropping 6% and 13%, respectively). (La Republica, Lima, Andina, San Francisco Chronicle, Reuters, Miami Herald, June 6)

A field of more moderate candidates had narrowed in the April 10 race, leaving only Humala and Fujimori—representing polar opposites of Peru’s political spectrum. Keiko Fujimori is the daughter of the imprisoned ex-president Alberto Fujimori, hated by many for his corrupt and autocratic rule, but also widely hailed as the savior who defeated the Shining Path insurgency. Her aggressive “free trade” economic policies are identical to her father’s, she denies that he committed any crimes, and had pledged to free him from prison if elected. The closest she has come to a disavowal of his bloody reign is the equivocal construction: “I’m aware that big mistakes were made. I reject and lament the errors and crimes that were committed by officials in my father’s government.” (NYT, May 27)

Free choice of fatal diseases
Even Peru’s Nobel laureate writer Mario Vargas Llosa, traditionally a supporter of the free-market right, threw his support reluctantly behind Humala, saying he would vote for him “unhappily and with fear” because Fujimori posed the greater threat to democracy—describing the choice as one between “AIDS and cancer.” Vargas Llosa (who ran against the elder Fujimori in the 1990 presidential race) wrote an opinion in El Pais of Spain May 8 warning of a return to corrupt authoritarianism if Fujimori won, with the press converted into “propaganda machines” as happened “during the eight disgraceful years that Peru lived through” after the senior Fujimori shut down the country’s congress in 1992. Widespread accounts accused Keiko of emulating her father’s “welfare populism,” by distributing food packages to the poor at campaign rallies.

Vargas Llosa assailed Fujimori supporters for bemoaning the elder’s imprisonment as an injustice while remaining silent on the numerous journalists who were physically attacked or threatened by elements of the new Fujimori machine for having “humanized Humala.” (The editor and publisher of La Primera daily were sent wreaths bearing the words “Rest in peace,” to cite but one case.) He also harshly criticized Lima’s Archbishop Juan Luis Cipriani, who supported both Fujimories and kept his silence on the Fujimori regime’s sterilization of some 300,000 indigenous women during the counter-insurgency campaign—yet is now an opponent of abortion and condoms. (Committee to Protect Journalists, June 1; Americas Program, May 25; Reporters Without Borders, May 13; The Guardian, April 28)

Humala and the resource wars
Despite Wall Street’s reaction to the vote, Humala sent signals upon his election that he has made his peace with the empire. He immediately stated he would escalate the war on narco-trafficking in cooperation with the United States—”always respecting the national sovereignty,” as in Colombia and Mexico. (Pachamama Radio, Puno, June 6)

Militarization of the countryside and acquiescence to global interests are critical concerns in Peru’s highlands and jungles, repeatedly rocked by angry protests over resource exploitation in recent years. Aymara protesters who had seized control of the southern city of Puno last week agreed to stand down at the last moment to allow the election to proceed there. But they pledged to keep pressing their demands for cancellation of a local Bear Creek mining project. (Democracia Global, Lima, June 5) Continued unrest in the region is likely, with criminal charges pending against local protest leaders, and the failure by the government to pass a Prior Consultation Law that would give indigenous communities a voice in development policy, warned the National Confederation of Communities Affected by Mining (CONACAMI). (CONACAMI, June 3)

Humala predictably did well in impoverished rural and remote areas, but the popular movements generally expressed skepticism about the entire electoral process. Jaime Corisepa Neri, leader of the Native Federation of the Rio Madre de Dios (FENAMAD), in the hydrocarbon-rich Amazonian region of Madre de Dios, issued a statement during the race urging Peru’s indigenous peoples, “don’t believe in traditional politics, because they all mean more of the same… The traditional parties will not resolve our problems.” In an unsubtle swipe at Humala, he added: “It is evident that, once again, they are trying to confuse us and convince us in order to arrive in power, disguising themselves as candidates of the people, when they are not.” (FENAMAD, March 24)

The shadow of the Dirty War
The legacy of Alberto Fujimori’s “Dirty War” against sympathizers of leftist guerillas in the 1990s was an issue on the campaign trail. When Keiko Fujimori arrived at a plaza in the Andean city of Cajamarca for a campaign speech, she was met by a barrage of eggs thrown by angry locals who called her a “murderer and thief”—actually a reference to her father’s rule, which took a grave toll in the region. (Upside Down World, June 2)

However, for all the demonization of Humala as a demagogue and firebrand, it was largely forgotten in the Peruvian press that he had also been charged in a Dirty War atrocity—the 1992 extrajudicial execution of a local couple at the village of Madre Mia in the Upper Huallaga Valley. Following a 2006 trial, Humala was cleared of being the notorious “Capitán Carlos” who threw the bodies of the two desaparecidos into the river. However, the acquittal remains clouded by an open judicial process investigating the alleged buying of witnesses in the case. (Living in Peru, May 27)

Whither “Etno-cacerismo”?
Humala is widely refered to as a “leftist” in the North American media, and portrayed in the Peruvian press as a puppet of Hugo Chávez. His last presidential run in 2006 prompted a diplomatic tussle between Peru and Venezuela when Lima accused of Chávez of meddling on behalf of the candidate. (While Humala won the first round of the presidential elections in April 2006, he lost in a run-off to the neoliberal Alan GarcĂ­a.) In fact, Humala’s brand of populism defies easy definition, and its almost mystical nationalism may actually place it on the right.

On Jan. 1, 2005, Humala’s brother Antauro Igor Humala Tasso and some 150 of his followers, mainly army reservists, seized a National Police station in the central Andean town of Andahuaylas in what appears to have been an adventurist putsch attempt against then-President Alejandro Toledo. The uprising, today known as the “Andahuaylazo,” was put down at the cost of five lives. Ollanta Humala was then a lieutenant colonel and had just been forced into early retirement as Peru’s military attachĂ© in South Korea, allegedly for his dissent from corruption in the armed forces. In the aftermath of the affair, Humala launched his first presidential campaign.

In October 2000, the Humala brothers had also led some 50 followers in a brief military uprising against the government of then-President Fujimori at Toquepala, in southern Moquegua region. The rebels escaped and went into hiding, surrendering to the transitional government after Fujimori fell from power at the end of the year. They were subsequently pardoned by an act of Peru’s congress.

The Humala brothers espoused an ideology they called “Etno-cacerismo.” The name combines a prefix meaning “ethnic”—in reference to indigenous nationalism—with the surname of AndrĂ©s Avelino Cáceres, a Peruvian army commander during the 1879-83 War of the Pacific with Chile who went on to wage a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the Chilean occupation after Peru’s defeat. Cáceres would also serve as Peru’s president from 1886 to 1890, and again briefly in 1894. The Humala brothers made much of the need to recover territory lost to Chile in the war—as Ollanta continues to do today.

In his political career over the past five years, Ollanta Humala has joined in militant protests against Peru’s Free Trade Agreement with the US (including in the very congress chamber), and in support of indigenous protesters in the Amazon region (allowing the Lima administration to scapegoat his “subversion” for the unrest). In the past he has proposed non-eradicationist solutions to the coca-growing economy in Peru’s countryside, which won him some support among cocaleros. However, the surviving remnant of the Shining Path insurgency, which maintains a base of support among coca-growing peasants in the ApurĂ­mac River Valley, has denounced the Humala brothers as “pseudo-revolutionaries and fascists.”

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  1. Peru: Humala brother gets reduced sentence
    Peru’s supreme court on Sept. 7 reduced to 19 years the prison sentence of a brother of President Ollanta Humala who was convicted of leading the 2005 military uprising in Andahuaylas. Former army Maj. Antauro Humala was initially sentenced to 25 years for aggravated homicide in the Andahuaylas incident. Four police officers were killed in the failed uprising, as were two army reservists under Antauro Humala’s leadership. Following an appeal, the high court changed the charge against to simple homicide and reduced his term. (AP, Sept. 7)

  2. Antauro Humala’s “golden prison”?
    The FiscalĂ­a, Peru’s attorney general office, has opened an investigation into charges that Antauro Humala has been illegally excercizing influence to win privileges from his prison cell. Amid much to-do about the imprisoned First Brother having officially prohibited Internet access via an iPhone and receiving conjugal visits from at least one attractive girlfriend (an image he sent of himself in an amorous embrace has been splashed all over the tabloids), Antauro has been transfered from Piedras Gordas prison to one at Virgen de la Merced, in Chorrillos. However, ex-president Alejandro Toledo protests that both prisons are within military installations, and demands that he be transfered to one under full civilian control. (, March 15, Terra Peru, March 16; RPP, March 14)